Imire, Zimbabwe – Volunteer tasks

Imire is approximately 90 minutes away from Harare and below is the lodge where all volunteers stay. It’s shabbier inside than it looks on the outside but that’s par for the course with volunteer accommodation and was perfectly adequate. However, I hadn’t expected it to be in such a beautiful setting – it’s right on the edge of a dam so we were treated to glorious sunrises and sunsets each day, and would often hear the call of a fish-eagle and see kingfishers darting into the water.

The two images below were not taken by myself but I’m unsure of who to credit….

Sunsets and sunrises below.

Work started at 06.15 each morning, and the first tasks were mostly shovelling s**t ! The elephants were let out of their overnight bomas and we did 30 minutes or so of enrichment with Mac, the largest of the two. (Mande can’t be trusted, so she is only approached by the rangers). Enrichment with Mac consisted of us touching various parts of his body and telling him what they are, then instructing him to touch those parts with his trunk, or lift a particular leg, raise his trunk, or kick or throw a football. Each time he performed the task correctly we rewarded him with pellets which we put in the end of his trunk. The purpose of this is not only to keep him stimulated, but to ensure that if he needs veterinary treatment he’s happy to be touched wherever necessary. Mac & Mande would then wander off, leaving us to clear up the hay and piles of poo. As you can imagine, this was multiple wheelbarrow loads! If we weren’t cleaning the elephant bomas it was the rhino bomas, but this took a lot less time!

Each time we fed pellets to either the elephants or the rhinos several warthogs would appear – they run around all over the place and are very habituated to humans – normally in the wild they turn tail and run away the moment a vehicle stops, so getting a decent photo is really hard. It was easy at Imire! By the way, warthogs kneel down when they eat because they have short necks and relativity long legs. If you didn’t know this, you may have been concerned about the one on the photos below having deformed front legs! Males have 2 sets of warts on their face, one close to the tusks, and one close to the eyes that offers protection to this area while fighting other males. Females however don’t engage in dominance fights and don’t require such protection, therefore they only have one set of warts that are substantially smaller. Unfortunately Disney got it wrong with Pumba in the ‘Lion King’, giving him only one set of warts!!

In contrast to the warthogs, there were a few beautiful Nyala who used to hang around when the rhinos were being fed at another location.

One of our tasks during the first week was a really unpleasant one. A dead Nyala had been spotted in a ditch and we needed to go and pull it out and then cut it up to feed the rescued lion who lives on Imire. Luckily some of the volunteers are far less squeamish than me and I have to confess that I did nothing except stand at a bit of a distance as the smell was pretty bad. We then hauled the bits of it into our vehicle and drove to the butchery where it would remain frozen until needed. Sitting with it under our feet wasn’t the best of experiences as it was pretty stinky and yes, the photo below is its head being held by two of the volunteers! Some samples were sent off to a lab in Harare to ascertain how the Nyala died, and it transpired that it was full of parasites.

Regarding the lion mentioned above, his name is Mambo. He was rescued from a zoo or park that I think went bankrupt, and lives in a huge enclosure with plenty of space to roam and run. He’s very beautiful but deadly! A lioness was introduced to him so that he wouldn’t be living alone, but he killed her. You only have to look at him and he throws himself against the fencing with a huge snarl, and is truly terrifying. One of our tasks that took several sessions to complete was to weed and clear a minimum 3 foot zone around the outside of his enclosure so that it’s easy to spot any holes in the fence, as the last thing anyone wants is for him to get out. He was locked into a small area of his enclosure whilst we were working on the fence line, as he once managed to kill an eland through the fence! It was grazing right at the fence and he grabbed its nose in his mouth and suffocated it. Considering that the eland is the biggest antelope of them all, that’s one badass lion!

There are several Eland living on Imire. One of them was very badly infested with ticks, and we spent several hours on a couple of occasions driving around searching for it in order to treat it with Frontline. This was done by setting up a square feeding station that had rollers at the top on each side. These rollers were doused in Frontline, so as the Eland reached over the rollers to feed, the Frontline would be transferred and absorbed into its body, thereby killing the ticks. This needed to be done several times and was an ongoing process when we left. It was good to see how much care, time and money goes into the welfare of all the animals on Imire though.

At Imire there are also several giraffes, many different species of antelope, and Christian the crocodile pictured above.

Another hot and hard task was to build protection from the winter frosts around some new trees on an elephant gravesite. Toto the elephant was having a procedure to resolve a cracked tusk, which was driving an infection closer to his head. The most experienced vet team in Zimbabwe were brought in, together with a veterinary specialist in dentistry and maxillofacial surgery from South Africa. Unfortunately Toto fell and sustained an irreparable fracture in his back leg during the operation. The vets, after exploration of every possible alternative, had no option but to put him to sleep. The area where he is buried now has some small trees planted in commemoration and we had to dig four holes around each tree into which a fence post was inserted. These posts would then have wire wrapped around them with straw and grasses weaved into them to protect from frost. Making the holes was backbreaking and extremely tough work in the heat of the day. The ground was rock hard and the tools very basis – it was like trying to make a hole in concrete with a dessert spoon attached to a heavy iron bar 🙁 I was pretty rubbish at it as I’m just not that strong, so my time mostly consisted of squatting down scooping out the loosened soil with my hand. Previous volunteering experiences had given me the benefit of knowing that I’d need a good strong pair of gardening gloves with me.

One ‘road’ on Imire dipped down over a stream and this needed building up. We had to collect rocks in a trailer, and then lay them down on the road. Sitting on the roof or standing up in the back of a pickup truck is a fun way to travel for a short distance. I’ve done it several times on various volunteering jobs and whilst I love the wind in my hair I’m always aware that it’s a really dangerous way to travel. There’s no such thing as ‘Health & Safety’ at many of these places!

We didn’t finish the job but a couple of our group were staying on for a week after we left, and it was finished then. Thanks Robbie for the photo!

A Monday morning at Imire often consists of loading up a trailer with hay bales and distributing them to various places around Imire.

End of the day duties involved cutting down branches to take back to the bomas for Mac and Mande to browse on when they get back for the night. We also had to put hay down again for them.

Whilst cutting down some branches at the side of the road this young boy trundled past with his oxen and trailer.

We’d also regularly give Mac some more pellets before leaving him for the night.

When volunteering it’s always a case of ‘go with the flow’, and that was certainly the case for one of our group who is a paramedic back in New Zealand. During lunch break one day we heard that one of the rangers had been injured whilst being charged by a rhino and I had horrible visions of him having been gored. She was asked to go and help and we were all anxious to hear the outcome. It transpired that he had fallen over whilst being chased, and a stick had gone into his leg just below the knee leaving a nasty hole. Luckily she had brought latex gloves with her, together with a small medical kit including antibiotics, and was able to patch him up sufficiently for him to be taken to hospital. My daughter in law took over ‘nursing’ duties changing his dressing a few times in the following week, and when we left Imire his wound was recovering well.

There were other tasks during our two weeks there, but plenty of fun activities too such as a team building afternoon, tracking the rhinos and learning to identify the various animal footprints,(which I found fascinating) a team quiz, paint ball shooting, a couple of braai nights (BBQ), and one truly terrifying climb up a rock formation via a series of wooden ladders that had been made by other volunteers. The purpose was to ‘enjoy’ a glorious sunset but a couple of us were extremely uncomfortable up there and getting back down, as one slip meant falling to our deaths hundreds of feet below. I’m not exaggerating!

Our schedule for the two weeks.

One of our last tasks was to pick up the children of the staff who live behind the volunteer house and take them to the library on another part of Imire. They all piled into the vehicle with us and even the young ones were happy to go off with a load of white strangers. We then spent an hour with them helping them to read English or use the computers, or simply using crayons and colouring sheets if they were very young. The girl in the green headscarf was carrying her baby brother on her back as her parents were working, and that’s very normal for older siblings to look after the young ones.

And finally a few random photos! Water lilies were in abundance on Imire.

Below are the brightest, biggest, and hairiest caterpillars I’ve ever seen – probably about 3″ long.

Proof that nobody is born racist….

That concludes my posts about volunteering at Imire. If anyone is thinking of going there – I can wholeheartedly recommend it as an ethical organisation. Some parts of it were really hard work, but you’re not there for a holiday just to lie around for two weeks, and all of us were sad to leave…….

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2 thoughts on “Imire, Zimbabwe – Volunteer tasks

  1. Julie -this is absolutely fascinating and such amazing photography. It sounds like an amazing experience and We’ll worth doing. We’re in Kenya at the moment so it’s especially interesting reading your blog whilst watching impala out of our tent! We visited a Jane Goodall chimpanzee sanctuary yesterday and I must say that I could have just stayed there. Who knows, they said they do volunteering placements… Mary

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