Friday, 20 June 2014

Running for Thirsty Elephants

The unthinkable has happened!  A couple of weeks ago I became an Old Aged Pensioner (minus the benefits).

So, to celebrate, challenge and defy my descent into decrepitude, I’m going to run the Victoria Falls Half Marathon on June 29th.
And by doing so, I’m hoping to raise some money for the wonderful Friends of Hwange Trust who have been fuelling and maintaining ten major waterholes in the Hwange National Park since 2005.

We visited the park during the horrendous droughts of 2012 and 2013, and saw wave upon wave of desperate elephants come running down to drink at Nyamandlovu pan. Animals were forced to range for miles away from water in search of food. Hundreds died, and had it not been for the crucial work of the Trust and some private concession holders, there would have been many, many more casualties. 

Hwange is our flagship national park but like everything connected with wildlife in this country, its survival is down to private individuals, like the members of the Trust, who dedicate themselves to the job for no reward. 
These people are 100% trustworthy, and all their work is entirely funded by donations. As they say on their website <
"Fancy buying a couple of drinks? A donation of just US$10 is enough money to provide water for 250 elephants for one day. It is estimated that there are around 40 000 elephants in Hwange as well as millions of smaller animals. Every donation helps to prevent animal suffering."

If you can help, please take the details from their website and send me a message so that I can acknowledge.  $10 is all we need...
Thank you so much!

PS I took up running a couple of years ago - and at first I didn't think I'd get past a couple of kilometres without falling over.  But I gradually improved, and although I find it a pretty hard slog most of the time, the benefits are very real.  Apart from feeling great and far stronger, there's that post-run high to look forward to and the sense of achievement when you've given it your all.   I told Rich that I was running away from old age, to which he replied (mournfully):  "or else you're running towards it".  You can tell whose glass is half-empty!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


(written as a magazine article)
Photos by David Peek

10th March 2014 – the three of us, my husband Richard, son David and I, took off from Bulawayo for the Chimanimani mountains at the southern end of the Eastern Highlands.  Moody and magnificent, the mountains stretch for 40km from north to south, along the border with Mocambique.  

Our friends, Doug and Tempe van de Ruit had organised a two-day hike up to Terry’s cave – a climb of around five hours for those who like to take it easy.  After weeks of rain, mist was still swirling around the tops of the mountains, but that morning, the sky was at last beginning to clear.  From our starting point at National Parks base camp, those seemingly impenetrable walls of broken quartzite looked pretty intimidating, but we were going to take the easiest route – through the “Banana Grove” - and there was no rush.  The van de Ruits and their porters were all seasoned mountaineers, so we knew we’d be in very good hands.
It was a perfect mountain morning – still and sunny – with that special clarity that comes after a long spell of rain.  We drank at every swift flowing stream we crossed, and swam in a tingling cold pool on the Bunde River, where we had our picnic lunch.   
The climb from the Bunde was the most challenging – straight up from the river on a slippery path and mostly at a crawl, grabbing onto tufts of grass and rocks to haul ourselves up.   Over the top and we were almost there –  a dark triangular hole in the rocks was the marker for Terry’s cave – with only a matter of 750m to go.
I left Rich photographing a pocket of wild flowers, and went ahead, very ready to swap the backpack and the sweaty clothes for a swim in another deliciously icy pool. Moments later, I heard a cry of pain and found Rich sitting on the side of the path, holding onto his right foot.  It had somehow twisted under him on the uneven path with what he described as “a loud snap”, and he was in agony.   David and a porter supported him as far as the cave; our peaceful hike having suddenly turned into a very tricky situation indeed.
Rich’s leg cramped in the night, causing him intense pain, as the muscle affecting the ligament in his foot went into spasm.  By the morning, it was clear that this was no ordinary sprain, and that he could not possibly get off the mountain without some serious assistance.   We’ve been members of BUPA for years, but we had very nearly cancelled our last sub because of the cost. Now, we are onto the least expensive option -  the Essential Scheme -  which basically covers emergency air evacuation, hospitalization, out-patient surgery and cancer.    Very fortunately, we had charged cell phones with us, so with the help of a number of wonderful friends, we managed to contact BUPA overseas and request a casevac by helicopter.   This wasn’t simple.   BUPA handed us over to MARS, their local partner, and it took 24 hours of phone calls, many of which were not returned, before a chopper finally arrived, perching itself on a patch of flat, open ground 100m from the cave, where one had apparently landed some years previously for another mountain rescue.

BUPA insisted that Rich should see an orthopaedic surgeon in Harare, so MARS
left him at the Avenues Clinic - but that wasn’t the end of the drama. 
He was charged a $50 admission fee to casualty – which left him with $10.   The doctor would not look at his foot, which was still strapped with a dirty length of mutton cloth, before it was x-rayed, but Rich didn’t have the $90 to pay for them. Nor did he know anyone in Harare he could call. The option on offer was to be turned onto the street. He finally persuaded the hospital to let him wait out the night in the “observation ward” until something was worked out.  At 10pm, thanks to a very kind friend of the girls at the Frog and Fern cottages who came to his rescue, Rich was x-rayed.  The doctor on duty took one look at them, and assured him it was only a sprain – nothing that a two-week rest wouldn’t sort out.   He still refused to examine the foot – even though Rich was adamant that there had been soft tissue damage.   The friend paid Rich’s bills at the clinic, including a steep $118 for two hours in the observation ward - where no one had come near him – and took him home for the night.
He saw a sports injury doctor the next day, and was operated on by Dr. Bowers at St. Anne’s a few days later – for a ruptured tendon.   And St. Anne’s was great!  Rich is in a leg cast for six weeks, and a month in a walking boot thereafter.
So – happy hikers – remember this.  First rule of travelling in remote places – don’t leave home without full medical insurance covering emergency evacuations. 
And always take fully charged cell phones with different provider options if possible (there was no Net-One signal from the top of the Chimanis), a credit card, a supply of cash and your medical aid details.
Expensive though it is, we can recommend BUPA – but remember you are in local hands after that, so you need to be prepared for complications and delays.
Lastly, unless you are totally confident of your own abilities –  go with a guide.
Things went as well as they did for us because of our friends in Chimanimani – first, Doug and Tempe van de Ruit, who have spent their lives in the mountains and have taken part in many an emergency rescue.  We’d follow them anywhere!

Incidentally, Tempe looks after the lovely Kweza Lodge, Torhaven and The Farmhouse ( – all self catering, fully equipped cottages and very reasonably priced.

After the helicopter had left, and the feeling of having just taken part in a particularly dramatic episode of Survivor had passed, the rest of us packed up and headed home, this time via Bailey’s Folly:  a notoriously steep plunge straight off the side of the mountain back to base camp, where we had left the vehicles.   We spent the night at the Frog and Fern, run by Jane High and Dee Schafer– a truly delightful and luxurious little  lodge amongst the msasas, a couple of kilometres above the village.  It’s a perfect place to base yourselves for a few days – and not just for over-ambitious mountaineers like ourselves.   You can walk for hours from the Frog and Fern – to the nearby Bridal Veil Falls and Eland Sanctuary, up to Pork Pie or Greenmount – and Jane and Dee are wonderful and informative hosts.  Again, the cottages are very well equipped for self-catering and reasonably priced.  Check their website for everything you need to know about Chimanimani from history, safety and security, road conditions and how tourism is helping disadvantaged local children.

Aside from the drama, hiking in the Chimanis was one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives – but next time, we’ll be better prepared!

Saturday, 26 April 2014


 This stuff is hollow and springy, more like quills than fur, and it wasn’t long ago that it was used for stuffing saddles…

Which didn’t please its rightful owner, the klipspringer,  who finds it invaluable as insulation from extreme heat and cold, and as protection from injury when he is leaping around in the rocks. Or, in this case, as a camouflage when your mother has been gone for far too long, and you are hiding in the grass, desperate for food.
And that’s where Scout Khanye found him, bleating, and putting himself into great danger of being discovered by baboons or one of the four leopards who are presently active on Stone Hills.

Out of all the African antelope, klipspringers ("rock jumpers" in Afrikaans) are the most devoted of spouses.  They are rarely more than a few metres from each other, and this closeness continues until one of them dies.
For their first two or three months, mothers hide away their babies, who instinctively stay still and quiet, so when you find one of only a few days old continuously calling and alone, chances are that the mother has died.
Sweet though he was, the last thing we ever want to do is to remove animals from the bush unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Wild animals belong in the wild.  Care of orphans is fraught with problems and rehabilitation is often unsuccessful, so Khanye and later David, stayed in the area for another few hours hoping that the mother would return.

By the afternoon, it was clear that she would not – so Klippie arrived in our guest bedroom, very sure of a welcome and extremely hungry. His tiny mouth couldn’t manage any of our teats, so Rich cunningly plugged a length of soft rubber hose onto the end of syringe, which had him feeding in no time – with Rich on one end with the syringe, and me on the other, dabbing his bottom with a wad of wet cotton wool to stimulate sucking.  His mother would have been licking it - and she’s welcome.  
All went beautifully for the first couple of days until, inevitably, Klippie developed diarrhoea from the change in diet.   That’s pretty normal, but it can’t be allowed to last long, as dehydration can kill very quickly.  Within a couple of days, he was onto rehydration solution and antibiotics, which meant a series of jabs into an almost non-existent muscle in that tiny leg.
He must have been feeling very weak, but that didn’t alter Klippie’s cocky attitude.  
Not only did he try to head butt us, but he was determined to jump - anywhere, all the time.  Onto anything lying on the floor, off our laps, out of our arms, or just on the spot – because that’s what he’s designed to do on the tips of his hooves, like a ballet dancer en pointe:  an adaptation that makes it possible for them to bound sure-footedly up and down the steepest rocks.   Most of the jumps ended up with Klippie flat on his face or crumpled on the floor, but that didn’t stop him practicing. 
His arrival came at a tricky time – we were off on a hiking trip with David to the Chimanimani mountains four days later – something we had promised to do before he took off to Brazil.   Caring for young Klippie wasn’t like having a puppy that anyone with commonsense could manage –  this little chap was a mighty challenge, and if he didn’t receive the right treatment, he wouldn’t last long.
And that’s when Baye Pigors came into the picture – with her menagerie of Umfazi, the year old female baboon, rescued by Baye when the whole troop was destroyed on a local farm;   Bange, the young male warthog - another orphan - and her two enormous dogs, Tipsy and Sooty, plus a couple of Jack Russells. Chaos is king at the Pigors' house. Umfazi leaps about, never far from Baye , but apt to tease the others, and not above the odd exciting foray over the wall for a bit of pilfering from the neighbours. It was hard to believe that our tiny fawn, weighing in at a mere one kilogramme, could last more than a couple of minutes with that bunch of heavyweights at large.  The baboon would be jealous of him, the warthog would want to butt him, and the dogs would probably have him for breakfast. But Baye didn’t seem at all worried.  Feeling guilty and relieved all at the same time, we left her standing calmly in the driveway, with a box full of ideal milk, syringes, towels and medicines, and Klippie in her arms.
Some people are good with animals;  some have an instinctive “way” with them – and that’s Baye (and her helper, Kumbulani, who lets Umfazi sleep in his bed when Baye is away).   When we returned 10 days later, Klips was running with the pack – best friends with Umfazi, and bossing up Bange.  At first, anticipating a pushover, Bange knocked him down.  Then Klips got to his feet and charged – giving the little warthog a good butt in the side.  Even at that age, he demanded respect, and he got it.
Umfazi and Klippie with carer Kumbulani. 

Two months later, Klippie is a healthy 4.1kg and still with his new family.  Reintroducing him to Stone Hills could be disastrous. Like 90% of orphans, in our experience, he’s a boy (doesn’t that tell you something?) – so he won’t be tolerated by the adult males who are highly territorial.   But he might just have to take that chance.  Then again, Baye has plans to set up a primate rehabilitation centre on a large piece of land, which may be another, safer option.  Whatever we decide, though, it will be in the best interests of little Klippie – and as close as he can be to a natural situation.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Summer Days

Some we fall in love with...

Some are delicate and beautiful...     

Others may not look so appealing, but they're doing an important job!

Summer Days

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Rain - we can't get enough of it!

This is how our first weir looked until a couple of weeks ago. 
  The rains normally begin in November, but what’s “normal” about the climate these days?  There was much shaking of heads on Stone Hills through Christmas and beyond when temperatures soared into the late 30’s. Another drought was almost certainly looming, and no amount of supplementary feed was going help the animals through this one.

And then suddenly the rains arrived, giving us the best New Year’s present we could ever have wished for.   We are heading for a total of 500mm (20 inches) to date and with any luck there will be more, as we need late rains to see us through winter.  Now the place is bursting with babies – warthogs, impala, wildebeest, zebra and eland – many of whom owe their lives to the support  (whether it was financial, in kind, advice or passing the appeal onto your friends) that so many of you gave to their mothers through that devastating drought.  We lost some of course, particularly amongst the older animals, with the sable taking the hardest knock – but they too are recovering now that their bellies are full of new green grass.