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News - October 2012

This newsletter is late, I know!

Goodbye to Meryl:

We were very sad to see Meryl Harrison once again leave the country. She has put the plight of animals in Zimbabwe on the global map and the animal welfare industry will be the poorer for her departure. 

Masvingo lions:

The recent saga with the Masvingo lions has just epitomized the huge problem that exists in the Zimbabwean animal welfare/conservation scene. Having recently read Richard Leakey’s “Wildlife Wars”, it appears that it is a universal problem in this innately emotive industry.

After our last visit to the lions in June 2012 when two of them were trans-located to Bally Vaughan Animal Sanctuary, a leading welfare organization lost their patience with the ‘softly softly’ approach and opened a cruelty docket against the landowners. Since we had worked alongside this organisation, when we offered to implant the remaining lionesses with contraceptive devices in July (since some had commenced mating behavior again) we were denied access to the lions. Subsequently another welfare organization got involved and brokered the release of 2 more lions from the facility. It appeared all parties wished there to be no lion breeding, and so wished us to implant the remaining lionesses with contraceptives. However, it took 6 weeks of increasingly acrimonious to-ing and fro-ing between all stakeholders to actually get a signed letter from the landowners that AWARE could work on the lions.

Lioness up tree avoiding dartKeith injects contraceptive implantFinally on October 2nd, Keith and Erick made the 330km trip to Masvingo and implanted the rest of the females (19 in total this year), and immobilized 2 more for translocation to Bally Vaughan. The working conditions were treacherous once again due to inadequate management pens. Keith had to dart a charging male (in order to get access to the females) a couple of meters below a gaping hole in the fence. Fortunately the lion seemed not to notice the hole, or else Keith would have surely been killed. The last female ‘treed’ herself in the middle of the pen in an attempt to evade being darted. Keith managed to dart her anyway and then ‘coax’ her down the tree with some well placed mud-clogs before she fall asleep. After an exhausting day the vets drove home only to be woken the following morning by a call saying that the last lioness had now escaped from her pen altogether and was sitting in a tree near the workers’ compound. She faced being shot if we did not react. Erick got back in his car, and drove the 330km again where he managed to get the lioness safely back in the pen with an accurate dart. He returned to Harare at 11pm, only to have his car broken into and some equipment stolen at 2am! No good deed goes unpunished!

Thanks go to Virbac/Peptech Australia who donated the contraceptive implants, and Helen Fairnie for organizing them. The lionesses will not be able to breed there for about 18 months. AWARE has taken the decision to suspend further free veterinary treatment at this facility, as we feel that the landowners should be paying for this service now.


The AWARE PWMA dehorning teamIn late July AWARE completed 2 re-dehorning operations in our National Parks where a total of 16 white rhinos were safely dehorned.

These populations were last comprehensively dehorned in 2010 and we are pleased to say that both areas have not lost a rhino due to poaching in that time. There have also been four births in the one area within the last year.

There were some ‘interesting’ moments in the op, such as when three big males absolutely refused to leave the side of a female that we had darted, despite the helicopter buzzing overhead. The ground team, including some veterinary student volunteers and a crowd of PWMA rangers, had an adrenalin pumping stand-off with the charging males, as we tried to urgently get to the side of the immobile female before she had anaesthetic complications. In the end a ranger had to fire two shots into the air, and even then the bulls only retreated to a distance of about 50m whilst we quickly dehorned the female and woke her up again.

Sadly, a female rhino Carolina, and her calf, died due to natural causes in one of the Parks. We were first called to treat the calf whose mother had abandoned her in early July. She was so weak she let us walk right up to her and inject her with medication. She died the same night. The mother became recumbent about 6 weeks later when we were in Kariba. Dr Rob Rees was called to treat her and he managed to pump in 18 litres of fluid intravenously without any sedation (never a good sign!). She too died overnight. We performed the post mortem examination of this animal together with Dr Foggin of the Wildlife Veterinary Unit. Her teeth were so eroded from old age that when we showed the pictures to veterinary dental specialist Dr Steenkamp, he was amazed that she had still been alive and carried a calf with almost no teeth in her mouth. It is a rare privilege for a rhino to die at such a ripe old age. Well done to the Parks rangers for keeping her alive that long.

APPEAL: We have been asked by PWMA to appeal for donations for 3 solar powered borehole pumps for the area in which we have our camera trap study. There is an imminent drought looming in the southern half of the country and already the black rhinos in this area are straying out of the park to look for water, where they easily pick up snares in the surrounding communal lands. By reviving the streams in the middle of this park we will be able to contain the rhinos within the park and greatly reduce the risk that these animals will encounter outside the park where they are not protected by teams of rangers. The pumps cost around $2500 each. Please help.


Massive Kariba bull undergoing treatmentAt the request of the Kariba Animal Welfare Trust, in July we drove up to treat an elephant on Antelope Island. This elephant had a swelling beneath its eye, partially closing the lower lid and an abscess on its inner foreleg. He was a massive bull with huge tusks and went down from the dart in a sternal position, which is a dangerous position for the anaesthetic as the elephant’s weight impairs respiration. Due to a sharp mopane stub next to the animal, we had to push him onto his right side, which unfortunately meant we couldn’t get a good view of the problem eye. Despite a crowd of us trying to roll the animal after the mopane stub had been dealt with, he just wouldn’t budge, so Lisa had to perform an ophthalmic exam and administer treatment on her back under the massive beast’s head like a mechanic under a vehicle. Keith meanwhile lanced and cleaned out the abscess on his leg, and he was injected with long acting antibiotics. He was the only elephant on Antelope Island at that time. Cavan Warren went back to try and find him the next day but he had vanished – he must have swum back to the mainland overnight after we disturbed him.

In other rehab cases by AWARE, a weak and feverish zebra was treated by Lisa and Keith at Lake Chivero National Park; a stray zebra was rescued from a farm on the Shamva Road and taken to Bally Vaughan; and 3 stray zebra on the Shamva road were darted by Anton and Erick and loaded onto a Pioneer truck for relocation to Umfurudzi Safari Area.


Erick examining blood smearsIn June we were fortunate to have a volunteer vet student from Cornell University, Kelsey Shaw, who, together with Erick, carried out a donkey disease research project in the tsetse infected region behind the Matusadona mountain range. In addition to Erick’s normal clinics, the pair collected blood samples from 200 donkeys to test for Trypanosomosis (wet preps, Giemsa thick and thin blood smears, buffy coat smears and FTA cards for PCR);blood protein levels; and PCVs. Faecal samples were taken and worm egg counts performed. Serum samples were taken for the later testing of Brucellosis. A detailed social survey was also performed. This data should elucidate the relationship between poor body condition and symptoms like abortions and the presence of disease, or worms, or just malnutrition. This will make the clinics Erick performs better able to target the real cause of a donkey that ‘just looks dull’, and not waste valuable money treating something that may not be that important.

In early September SPANA’s veterinary director Andy Stringer visited the project and brought equine specialist Rachel Conwell with him to talk at the Zimbabwe Veterinary Association’s Annual International Congress, convened by Lisa as part of the ZVA committee. Rachel and Andy visited Erick’s clinics in Karoi and provided their usual expert guidance. We hope that SPANA will be expanding the donkey project in 2013. Erick will be attending a SPANA veterinary regional meeting in Ethiopia in November.


Unfortunately due to a lack of finances we have not managed to do a single spay campaign this year. Without better public support AWARE cannot function optimally. Please renew your membership for 2013 in December, and don’t forget the animals at Christmas time!



The Lloyds

SAVE Foundation

Virbac/Peptech Australia

Ali Travlos

Dave Bradshaw

Zoe Van Zyl

Charlie Pinkham

Marney Phear

Kelsey Shaw, Matthew Bridge and Gemma Campling

Debbie Davies


Sabrina Jenrich

Nigel Hullet

Pam Marabini

Project Vets

Silent Heroes Foundation



Address: 16 Southam Road, Greystone Park, Harare, Zimbabwe

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