Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservancy is a 10,000 acre reserve in Zimbabwe, and is dedicated to protecting wildlife with a specific focus on the protection and breeding of the critically endangered Black and White Rhino. I’d heard really good things from several people who had previously volunteered there, and so myself, my son, and daughter in law booked up and spent two weeks there at the end of April. The praise I’d heard for Imire beforehand was well justified, and we had a fantastic time.
This post is about the three elephants that live there; they were orphaned at various ages in different areas of Zimbabwe, and Imire provides them with an environment that is as close to their natural habitat as possible, whilst maintaining both animal and human safety. Had they not been saved and given a home at Imire, they would certainly have died in the wild.
The first elephant they rescued is called Nzou. She’s the oldest female elephant on Imire, and as elephants are very social creatures who naturally live in a herd she was introduced to the buffalo there. She now thinks she’s one of the herd!
Ivory and rhino horn poaching in Africa is rife, and to protect the other two elephants and rhinos, they sleep either in a secure boma or are tethered at night, not too far from the area where some of the staff live. This is the best way to ensure that there are armed guards, proper lighting and communication systems in place in the event of any incident threatening their safety. The elephants are completely free to roam and browse the whole conservancy during the day (accompanied by armed rangers,) and we were in the wonderful situation of being able to interact and walk with them.
The elephant above is called Mac, and on many afternoons our last duty was to walk home with him. Wherever he is on the conservancy he’s simply given the instruction to go home, and off he heads, knowing exactly which way to go to get back to the bomas. It was great to be first in line behind the ranger, but not a good idea to get too close as he does tend to fart extremely loudly and also drop huge piles of poo on the way! (We were grateful every time he pooed en-route though, as it meant there would be one less shovelful when cleaning the boma next morning!)
Being on the ground only a few feet away from such a massive and magnificent creature was thrilling and I was able to take photos from a really low angle – something that’s not possible from a game viewer.
Imire staff do their best to provide stimulation and enrichment for the elephants, and one of these is to have a couple of volunteers walk away with a ranger and go and hide somewhere. The route the ranger takes zig-zags through the long grass, around trees and boulders, and after 15 minutes or so Mac is given the instruction to ‘find the poachers’. It was incredible to watch him take exactly the same route, just as a dog would do when following a scent. The other elephant called Mandebvu just follows behind him.
One day we were sitting watching Mac and Mande, and the two rangers and our volunteer coordinator were really engrossed reading a book on the various flora in the area. I thought it made a great photograph.
On our last full day of volunteering we were treated to breakfast with the elephants. Words can’t describe how amazing it was to sit and eat only yards away from them.
Although we’d chosen to volunteer at Imire because of the rhinos, my favourite part was being able to get so close to the elephants 🙂 Rhinos to follow in my next post……