The Drought

Burning firebreaks.  With the bush tinder dry, fires pose a huge threat to wildlife.
Stone Hills is now in the midst of a second, devastating drought.   The 2011/12 season produced a mere 60% of our normal annual rainfall, and we lost animals - mostly amongst the very young and the old.  But this season has been far worse.  The little rain that fell started late and finished early, leaving us with no hope of relief until November at the earliest, and a dry spell of almost ten months.  Our browsing animals are feeding on dead leaf, while the brittle stems of our perennial grasses rattle in the wind – their nutrients being locked away in their roots throughout the entire winter.

Those long months from May to November are never easy - even in years of average rainfall - and for many years, a number of animals have been coming to the house on winter afternoons for a little supplementary feeding.

Stone Hills has always been known for its good water.  This year, the rivers did not run.
Hello, we are in trouble!
An ancient kudu cow called Betty started it.   She was quite wild – up to then, her only close contact with humans had been courtesy of the local hunters who regularly pursued her and her family for biltong.  With her teeth worn down to the gum she could scarcely feed, and her backbone was as sharp as a butcher’s knife.  Without some assistance, she wouldn’t have lasted another month.  Eventually, hunger overcame her fear, and she spent an entire afternoon standing at our fence, and staring fixedly at us through the windows of the house – until we could take it no longer.  We offered her a bowl of game cubes and after a little hesitation, she accepted them.

The warthog feed as fast as they can, then rush off to put their noses into everyone else's rations.
Then the bush telegraph went wild.  It wasn’t long before we were feeding around 40 animals – kudu, gemsbok, eland, warthog and giraffe – who have been turning up faithfully at 3.30pm every winter afternoon for their rations ever since.  It’s never been more than a token, but that food has given them a bit of extra through the difficult months.  And when the rains come, everyone quietly disappears back into the bush – until next time.

The giraffe tower over me benignly, drooling long strings of saliva.
Read more stories about our animals here...

This year is different, not just difficult, but the worst drought we have experienced in more than 20 years, and the greatest threat to our wildlife.   The animals we have been feeding at the house represent only a tiny fraction of the 800 or so large ungulates* on Stone Hills – and all must be fed until the next rains  - or face possible starvation.  Food is available – the best on offer being cotton cake containing 30% protein.  But we need tonnes of it, and that’s an expense that we cannot possibly meet ourselves.

Earlier in the year, we mowed some of the vleis, packing the still partially green grass into rough haystacks.  We’ll also use the chopped grass to bulk up the cotton cake when we start spreading this out on flat, exposed rocks throughout the sanctuary.  It certainly won’t take long for the animals to find it.
In order to preserve some of the last nutrients in the grass, we mowed the vleis and made some rough haystacks.
Update 22 September 2013
Following generous donations from all over the world we have raised the funds to purchase 53 tonnes of feed, and a further 15 plus tonnes is being donated by Centra, Front-Line Farming and Mac Crawford.

Stone Hills is one of the very few wildlife sanctuaries still operating in Zimbabwe today. Some of the large conservancies run on commercial lines deal with drought by culling their animals and selling the meat.  

For us, that is not an option, nor has it ever been – we want to save all our animals, but for that, we need to purchase large quantities of food. 

Read more at We are in trouble

Local children helping with erosion control

We have always had a strong involvement with our local community, particularly in relation to wildlife education. Our Conservation Club at the nearby Marula Primary School has been operating for over 12 years.  The club meets weekly and the children come on regular field trips and often visit Stone Hills on weekends to help with conservation projects.   We also assist the community with anti-poaching and fire control, and have the full support of the local District Council.
Our guarantee to you... 
100% of donations is being used for feed.

*Approximate numbers of ungulates: 150 wildebeest,  60 giraffe, 150 zebra, 250 impala, 65 sable, 65 eland, 6 gemsbok, 6 tsessebe, 20 kudu, 60 warthog, 10 klipspringer, 6 reedbuck, 6 steenbuck, 10 duiker.