Proposed expedition to Hwange National Park to do track location and clearance
Or How to see Hwange and wildlife on the cheap (campsite fees are normally something like
$100/site/nite nowadays- not cheap). This was posted on a 4wd newsletter, but I am sure
they would welcome a few yanks on this endeavour. I drove and bush camped in the '90's
some of the Western tracks. It is remote and really wild. During all the days I was driving
those little used tracks, I didn't see one tourist and only one anti-poaching patrol -
kinda surprised them. But saw lots of wildlife.
Greg Rasmussen, the Research Director of Painted Dog Conservation, Jane Hunt of the Lion
Research Unit and Bongani Ndlovu, Wildlife Officer at Hwange National Park HQ have jointly
requested the assistance of our club.
The successful opening of the Middle Jesse Road in Mana Pools last year has lead to our club
being approached by the organizations above and the objective would be to open up tracks in the
west of Hwange National Park.
Both the research organizations need to be able to travel to the western boundary of the park to
locate and monitor animals. The Parks would like to be able to access the areas by vehicle as
part of their anti-poaching patrols. It is also hoped that once a disused track has been opened,
there will be a few hardy tourists (or 4x4 club members) willing to venture away from the
‘racetrack’ nearer Main Camp in future.
Due to years of poor funding, low tourist numbers and other challenges, many of the tracks in the
West of the Park have only been driven once or twice in the past decade. Brush re-growth,
fallen trees, long grass and erosion by weather or animals has erased any clear designated
tracks in many places. The first challenge for our club will be to locate and plot where we think
the track is by using old maps, satellite imagery and some pre expedition scouting. Once we are
in the park and on the trail the work will involve navigating the correct route; making as many
kilometers of track visible and passable, in the time we have.
There is 420km of track needing to be located and opened. The conservation projects will
already have been to some areas before we arrive in July. The general outline of the project will
be the same regardless of which particular section of track we work on.
Mitswiri, Shakawankie, Cement, Tamafupa areas are the likely place we will work. It is a long way
for most of our members to travel just getting to Hwange NP. The area where we intend to work is
then over half a day from Main Camp. For any meaningful amount of work to be done we are
going to need a core of people who can commit to a minimum 5 day expedition but I would hope
that several of us could set aside a week and allow 2 more solid days of work at the coalface.
We are targeting the dates of 5 – 9 July for this project. If you would like to join us please
contact Pat Gill (see above). This will give the committee an idea of the numbers we need to
organize for. It is possible we will be given a waiver on both entry and camping fees by Parks.
We have already been assured we will be able to camp in the remote areas where we will be
doing the work.
It goes without saying that this is an incredible opportunity for us to a good deed. It is also a
fantastic chance to visit a remote section of Zimbabwe, with good friends and be able to camp in
an extremely wild area not normally allowed. Each vehicle would need to be totally self sufficient
in fuel, food and camping equipment but there will be drinking water supplied to the expedition by
Friends of Hwange. While not everyone can use a chainsaw or winch there will be work for ALL
who can join this event. Vehicles need to be driven at walking speed while someone walks ahead
with GPS or badza, meals cooked, small bushes slashed down, holes filled in with spades etc –
even a small contribution will add up to a lot done at the end of the day. If you have them please
bring along your own chain saws, etc.
Damn, I wish I was a bit closer...
The western section of the park is amazing. I came across waterholes that were not on any maps I had at the time, including topo maps. Lots of wildlife- especially herds of buffalo and ellies. I camped not to far from the waterholes, so the game often past by quite close, including lion, leopard and there was a pack of wild dog late one afternoon that cruised right through my camp and to the waterhole.
Consider contacting http://www.lroc.org.za/ and see if an announcement can be made there. Perhaps some additional interest can be generated there. They seem quite active in various similar projects. Another group is http://www.landroverclub.za.org/
Last edited by unseenone; 04-20-2012 at 06:36 PM.
Plenty of South Africans and Zimbabweans going. Giving Expo members a chance to participate. Nothing like clearing tracks while in the African bush. Lions, buffalo and elephants, oh my!
HWANGE TRACK CLEARING REPORT. July 2012
An expedition with a purpose - it can't get any better. The 4x4 Club Zimbabwe recently
completed its main annual conservation project. Once again this was in the form of track
clearing. At the behest of National Parks, the Lion Research Unit, and Painted Dog
Conservation our club assisted in reopening disused tracks in the west of Hwange National
Park. This work complimented a larger track clearance program being organized by Jane Hunt
and carried out by a contracted cutting crew. Both Lion Research and Painted Dog Conservation
have funding for future programs aimed at locating/monitoring animals in the more remote areas
of Hwange National Park and specifically to identify if there is any cross border activity of these
Once Hwange had been identified as this years project, dates were set after much debate. Club
circulars canvassing for participants were edited by Pat Gill and sent out by Neil Greenway. Pat
then took on the task of compiling the ever changing list of who was coming. A report in a South
African 4x4 circular of our planned venture resulted in several interested participants from South.
My task was to liaise with Jane Hunt (our source of advice on what to expect and where we would
be working) and Bongani Ndlovu (Wildlife Officer, National Parks, Hwange). Tim Thorburn, our
chairman, spent many hours plotting the tracks on Google Earth and converting this data to
tracks we could all load onto GPS. Many of the tracks had not been cleared or even driven for at
least ten years so were now just elephant trails. Where a track came to a pan area it was very
difficult to locate the correct route away so these GPS co-ords saved lots of time.
This all boiled down to having seven fully equipped 4x4's and sixteen able bodied people to do
the job. We had two South African vehicles and one German/Czeck contingent in the mix.
Well burdened with water, fuel, food, tools and camping equipment all except Greg and Linda
Harris were in Hwange Main Camp by mid afternoon on the 4th.
GPSs were loaded by Tim, equipment checked and then a final briefing held. After a welcome by
Parks the plan of attack was outlined and all was set for a 6.30am departure. Next morning Jane
made our life easy by leading our convoy the 4 hour drive into our work area. Despite having
previously made a cunning plan to meet the Harris’s at a designated point in the park I failed to
do this (my bad!) so they were quite relived when Justin, the leader of Janes cutting crew located
them and lead them to camp later in the day.
After quickly setting up camp and having lunch in a grassy basin near Mitswiri Pan (about 100km
west of Main Camp) our group split into two teams and set off to work. Team 1 on the track south
from Mitswiri to Xixi-amabandi and Team 2 north towards Dina. This afternoon’s work on Day 1
resulted in 6.4km cleared by Team 1 & 6.6 cleared by Team 2. No surprise then there was a whiff
of competition in the air, along with wood smoke and the smell of meat braaing!
Back in camp around the campfire stories were swapped and the realization of how big the task
was for following days set in. Justin Seymour-Smith arrived in camp with his contact crew of four
axe men so Day 2 saw each team allocated two axe men and an armed Parks Ranger.
Despite my dire predictions of hypothermia the night time temps were cold but not unbearably so
(5-7 degrees) and the days saw us working in temps of up to 37 degrees – hardly what mid winter
should be like. The area of operation was already dry due to rains ending early so most of the
pans have dried up and the animals have moved away to the next available water. Despite this,
good sightings of giraffe, impala, kudu, gemsbok, and elephant were had by all. While working
out on the tracks the spoor of lion, hyena, buffalo, eland, and many small cats were always seen.
The nights were very quiet, with only hyena and lion being heard in the distance on the rare
moments Roger snored quietly.
On day 4 some expedition members departed the area and began the journey home so it was a
reduced crew on Sunday. Despite this we managed to clear the allocated section in record time
giving us the afternoon off and a chance to relax by Shakwankie Pan, 11km west of base camp. It
was a very pleasant place to spend a few hours and a chance to spotlight our way home after
Day 5 saw all other expedition members head for home, some with an early start and others only
after helping Justin relocate the work camp and cut another 4.5km of track before lunch.
It was while moving camp and to the new work area I had a chance to drive all the sections that
Team 2 cleared and I decided then that distance cut should not be the only criteria to decide the
‘winning’ team. Putting aside any bias I might have had for Team 1 I drew up the following
categories for judging
1 Distance ‘cleared’ per day
2 Width track cleared
3 Smoothness of completed track i.e holes filled in, objects removed
4 Trees and obstacles cleared so the track is back to its original graded line
5 Difficulty of terrain encountered
Based on this I am happy to report that my team (Team 1) were clear winners. They get nothing
but a pat on the back accordingly.
Seriously, all members of the expedition worked very hard and every meter cleared is a legacy to
be proud of. Everyone tended to find a tool that worked best for them and used it to effect. The
chainsaw attrition was high – three out of the four saws being unserviceable by day 4. Next year
we need to address this and also make sure each work team has one or two old snatch straps
available. These proved just the ticket for pulling heavy tree trunks aside without the 4x4s losing
power to the deep sand.
Sunday afternoon saw the arrival of Jane Hunt with her boss into camp. Dr Andy Loveridge was
‘home’ for a few days having flown in from the UK to meet with project sponsors and check the
work being done in Hwange. An open fire, good company and a wee dram are a great setting
anyway but when you are privileged to have dedicated people like Andy and Jane in your
company it is a good time to do more listening than talking. Long may the Hwange Lion Project
last. The Lion Lady, Jane Hunt. Track clearance project manager, Justin Seymour-Smith. Dr Andy
Loveridge – the big boss.
Blistered hands, cuts, scratches, and aching muscles across the board but I am happy to report
no major injuries occurred during the event. A near miss from a large tree trunk that pivoted while
being snatched, and a nibble of the kneecap by a chainsaw being the two closest calls to
Our two Rangers and four very skilled axe men pose by Marietta’s Landrover.
Some trip stats;
Total track cleared 58.5km
Getting to/from the project
Harare to Hwange via Nkayi and Lupane. Well worth doing 584
Within the Park, including road clearing and game viewing: 350
Return Harare via Lupani and Nkayi 580
Total Distance 1504kms
Fuel used (The Gills Nissan Patrol 4.2 Turbo diesel) 282 lts = 7.1 kpl
Participants: Muzza Black and Wilma Hoefnagels Mitsubishi Pajero
Michael and Pat Gill, Roger Ellis Nissan Patrol
Kelvin and Tina Weare, Tim Thorburn Toyota Landcruiser
Mareitta van der Werff and Wayne Conradie Landrover Defender TDI
Rene and Andrea Bauer Nissan Patrol SWB
Andre van Wyk / Shelton Thorburn from S. Africa Toyota Hilux
Greg and Linda Harris from S. Africa Toyota Hilux
For the second year we drove some serious bush tracks and no vehicle suffered a puncture.
The only mechanical problem anyone had being a broken rear hydraulic brake line on Kelvins
Landcruiser (we have since been told the easy way to bodgey that). Tribute to the preparation of
the expedition vehicles – well done all.
I know our efforts were much appreciated by Parks, Lion Research Uniit and Painted Dog
Conservation and we have been invited (almost commanded) to return next year. They say they
have a lot more roads for us to clear. For those of you wanted to see what we did – sorry, you
can’t go there. For the foreseeable future the area we worked in will remain off limits to all except
Parks staff and the Research vehicles.
Since the trip we all have had to return to our work and more mundane existence. Hats off to
Andre and Shelton, Greg and Linda for coming so far to join us. Not content with the effort he put
in on the trip Andre returned home to Joburg and promptly set about trying to source items on a
‘wish-list’ Jane had mentioned in conversation around the camp fire. One portable fridge/freezer
will soon be making her life in the bush a bit more luxurious because I am sure just one or two
beers can be squeezed in next to the veterinary supplies and darting drugs…….
Where to next year? Back to Hwange as per invite? What about Matusadona?, Chizarira?,
Gonarezhou? All have tracks in need of re-opening. Watch this space……………
Meanwhile, many thanks to all from me personally and on behalf of the 4x4 Club. It was a great
Safari njema, MUZZA.
Zim 4x4 Club Environment and Conservation Officer.
Quote of the trip comes from Wayne Conradie (after loaning him a small tube of Voltarin…) “Are
you sure you don’t have a 20 litre chikubu of this stuff so I can bathe in it? Even my eyelids