Weekly roundup of news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, Fourth edition May 2011

TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Get daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

Fourth edition May 2011

 

 

Reporting in coming days will slow down some more as I am heading back to the African mainland later in the week where I will have an upcountry programme without internet connectivity. My regular daily reports will resume therefore by mid next week only at the earliest and I hope you can bear with me. Travelling is a tiring business it appears and the few days upcountry in East Africa will surely recharge my batteries and get me in the right mood for lots of more daily reports and weekly roundups.

 

 

Uganda News

NO CAUSE FOR ALARM FOR TOURISTS

Officials in Kampala have confirmed that two more suspected Ebola cases were reported in as the measures of the Ministry of Health and WHO officials to contain the disease were intensified to prevent any further spread beyond the immediate areas where the present outbreak was found. Confirmation by the Uganda Virus Research Institute is now being sought after supplying them with samples while other samples were sent to the CDC in Atlanta as a matter of urgency.

Tourism officials have in the meantime calmed the waters by pointing out that tourists are not ordinarily travelling to the location of the outbreak and would now not be able to as containment measures were put in place to strictly control movement in and out of those isolated areas. They also pointed to the success story of dealing with a recently ‘imported’ outbreak of Yellow Fever and the last Ebola outbreak some years ago, where the swift and comprehensive reaction by the Ministry of Health and their WHO colleagues swiftly contained the disease and in fact produced hitherto never recorded high survival rates.

Visitors to Uganda should consult the UTB website at www.visituganda.com and take any normal precautions vis a vis recommended and required inoculations and malaria prevention. Enjoy your visit to the Pearl of Africa, to track our mountain gorillas or see the splendor of our national parks, the source of the River Nile and Lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward, George and Kyoga.

 

RHINO FUND UGANDA PUTS FACTS RIGHT

The Rhino Fund Uganda, a duly registered NGO, has taken exception to the blatant misrepresentation and factual errors floated in the Ugandan media in regard to statements allegedly made before the current ongoing Commission of Enquiry, headed by Rtd. Justice Kanyeihamba, which is tasked to look into the use of the so called ‘Pamsu Funds’ under a major project deal financed by the World Bank. As a result this poor reporting, which was producing and peddling headlines like ‘Government cheated in Rhino deal’, has caused concern amongst the Rhino Fund’s supporters, their donors and development partners, prompting the Executive Director of the RFU, which first created and now manages the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, to put all the relevant facts on the table for everyone to see and to correct false impressions given by media reports circulating first in Uganda before being without any critical study reproduced abroad again ‘as fact printed in the local newspapers’.

This correspondent, having been chairman of the RFU during the critical years before, during and after the establishment of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, unconditionally supports Angie Genade’s statement, which represents all correct fact and details to the best recollection of the author.

Most notably, the RFU finances were and are regularly audited by competent and fully established audit firms approved to work with the Ugandan authorities, and at no time during this correspondent’s term of office between 2002 and 2008 were these accounts not meeting the standards our donors expected when disclosing the use of their funding.

It is also in order to once again thank Capt. Joe Roy and his company Ziwa Ranchers Limited for their outstanding contribution to wildlife conservation in Uganda, having granted RFU an initial 30 years land use right to establish the Rhino Sanctuary. Here below is the full text as distributed and published by RFU.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE BY RHINO FUND UGANDA – 19 MAY 2011

 

THIS STATEMENT IS MADE BY THE RHINO FUND UGANDA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

 

By way of this press release, Rhino Fund Uganda, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary wishes to correct the media with regards to the invalid, untrue and derogatory statements currently being published by the media. 

We therefore request that this statement is also published by so doing informing the public of the truth pertaining to the Uganda rhino reintroduction program

 

 

  • Rhino Fund Uganda : Is a registered NGO.
  • Co-founders of Rhino Fund Uganda : Ray Victurine, Rob Brett and Eve Lawino Abe in 1997.
  • Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary : Land 7000ha generously sponsored by Capt Joe Roy at no cost on a 30 year land use rights to Rhino Fund Uganda. 
  • Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the place that Rhino Fund Uganda operates from and runs the Uganda rhino reintroduction program and is a Public Private Partnership. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has since been registered as Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch and is in possession of the necessary license from UWA for user rights.

 

Abbreviations :

RFU          –           Rhino Fund Uganda

ZRS           –           Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

ZRWR      –           Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Reserve

ZR             –           Ziwa Ranchers

MTTI         –           Minister Trade Tourism and Industry

UWA        –           Uganda Wildlife Authority

UWEC      –           Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

EU             –           European Union

 

 

Project summary

Resulting from many meetings and discussions between RFU, MTTI and UWA, starting in 1998,  it was mutually agreed and approved that RFU starts and manages the rhino reintroduction program in Uganda.

With support from numerous organizations and independent donors, a 7,000 ha breeding sanctuary for black and white rhinoceros was established by RFU.  This sanctuary was named Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and  is centrally located in Uganda and at present, is home to nine Southern White Rhinos.

HISTORY OF RHINO IN UGANDA

Both Black and White rhinoceros were present inUganda– the Eastern Black in the North and Northwest, and the Northern White in the Northwest on the west bank of the riverNile. After the years of civil unrest, the rhino became extinct inUgandain 1983.

BACKGROUND OF TRANSLOCATIONS

 

  • Two White rhinos were successfully translocated from Kenya 2002.  These two rhino are at UWEC in Entebbe for educational purposes.
  • Four Southern White Rhino arrived from Solio ranch in Kenya in July 2005.
  • Two Southern White Rhino arrived from Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida, USA in September 2006.
  • During 2009 and 2010 three rhino calves were born on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

 

 

OBJECTIVES

 

  • To successfully breed rhino on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
  • When the breeding nucleus herd is large enough release excess rhino back into the National Parks in Uganda
  • Become self sustained
  • Add value to the tourists experience in Uganda by offering on foot rhino tracking.

 

BENEFITS

 

  • We currently employ 110 Ugandan staff members
  • Have a cattle feeding program for local farmers
  • Have an education program for Ugandan school children
  • Assist UWA with anti poaching efforts
  • Sensitizing in our district with regards to conservation and poaching is ongoing
  • Facilitate security meetings in our district
  • Work closely with local leaders and community
  • Have created a new tourist activity with on foot rhino tracking

 

       

GENERAL

 

The success of  Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary will play the key role in the eventual re-introduction of rhino back into the wild inUganda’s National Parks. This will boost tourism on a national level, as it will provide facilities to attract tourists and visitors, enhancing Uganda as a tourist destination. Being one of the Big Five, the rhinoceros represents a welcome addition to safari itineraries.

RESPONSE TO  STATEMENTS IN NEWSPAPERS

 

Statement in Media      –           THE white and black rhinos imported by the Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) are making profits for a private farm and not the Government, an inquiry has heard.

RFU response                        –           All the rhino in Uganda were imported by Rhino Fund Uganda.  UWA and MTTI assisted with the permits and documentation needed to import these animals.



Statement in Media      –           The rhinos were imported in several batches from South Africa, the US and Kenya, starting around 2005. It was a pilot project to restock the herds that had been extinct.

RFU response                        –           The rhino were imported in three batches namely :

 

  • The first two rhino that were imported were funded by Crane Bank (rhino named Kabira) and Sheraton Hotel (rhino named Sherino).  These two rhino arrived in Uganda in 2002 and were placed at UWEC for education purposes.  The two rhino are still at UWEC.  No money was received from Government, MTTI or UWA for the purchase, transportation or import of these two rhino.
  • The second lot of rhino, were four rhino purchased from Solio Ranch in Kenya in 2006.  The purchase and the transportation of these rhino was paid for by the European Union.  No money was received from Government, MTTI  or UWA
  • The third lot of rhino, were two rhino imported to Uganda in 2005 from Disney Animal Kingdom in the USA.  These two rhino were donated to RFU by Disney Animal Kingdom and Disney paid for the cost of transporting these rhino to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.  No money was received from Government, MTTI or UWA.

 

Ziwa rhino sanctuary is not a pilot project but a sanctuary for the natural breeding of rhino.  The mutual agreement between MTTI, UWA and RFU was that there should be a breeding stock of at least twenty rhino on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and that the parks should be safe and secure enough with staff well trained in rhino conservation and monitoring before any rhino will be released back into the National Parks.  This is a long term project taking into consideration that the gestation period of a rhino is 16 months, and the releasing of rhino back into the National Parks is a process that needs to be approved by the African Rhino Specialist Group as well as the East African Rhino Specialist Group.  Even when the rhino release starts, the breeding stock should remain at Ziwa rhino sanctuary for a secure ongoing breeding project.
Statement in Media      –           The rhinos were put on Zziwa Ranch, a 70sq. km expanse which later became Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary, as a holding ground until UWA prepared a safe place for them in the wild.

RFU response                        –           Ziwa rhino sanctuary was never a temporary project or holding facility for rhino.  It is a sanctuary for the safe breeding of this highly endangered animal which would later enable Rhino Fund Uganda in conjunction with UWA to release young rhino back into the National Parks. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was later licensed with UWA as Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch.
Statement in Media      –           The sanctuary, initially a ranch, is owned by Captain Roy Magara.

RFU response                        –           The land that Ziwa Rhino sanctuary / ZRWR is located on is owned by Captain Joe Roy.

Statement in Media     –           The Rhinos have since been left on the ranch which has grown into a full-fledged tourist destination with the rhinos attracting foreign visitors, according to information availed to the commission of inquiry.

RFU response                        –           With the rhino poaching statistics in South Africa alone at 333 rhino poached in 2010 and over 140 rhino poached up to end April 2011, it is not possible to just leave rhino on a piece of land.  RFU has well trained rangers that monitor the rhino 24 hours a day and this project is run with good management and structures.  As RFU does not receive Government or UWA funding and rely on International and other funding, on foot rhino tracking has become an activity that tour operators have added onto their itineraries which tourists enjoy.  The income from the rhino tracking assists RFU with their annual operating costs.
Statement in Media      –           The commission, chaired by the retired Supreme Court judge, George Kanyeihamba, heard that UWA recruited, trained and deployed staff at the ranch and still pays them though no returns are realized from the ranch. It is also not clear if UWA is paying Zziwa ranchers to keep the rhinos.

RFU Response           –           UWA has never paid the salaries of the rangers or any other staff members

of RFU or Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary (ZRWR) 

  • UWA assisted RFU with recruiting staff before the sanctuary was opened.
  • During the construction of the fence around the sanctuary, UWA had one staff member monitoring the fence workers.  This UWA staff member’s salary was paid by UWA.
  • On a temporary basis UWA had two staff members stationed at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary before the rhino arrived assisting with conservation training.  These two UWA staff member’s salaries were paid by UWA during this time.
  • When the RFU rangers attended the same training that the UWA rangers attend, on two occasions (alternatively 2 months and 3 months)  UWA assisted RFU by sending 4 UWA rangers (4 each time) to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary as substitution staff.  These UWA rangers salaries were paid by UWA during the 2 – 3 months that they worked on the sanctuary.  The RFU ranger training costs was paid by RFU.

 

Statement in Media      –           The Commission is investigating alleged mismanagement of US$ 38m World Bank loan and grant as well as sh1bn from the Government of Uganda, by the UWA under the PAMSU project.

Response by RFU      –           Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary/ ZRWR or RFU has never received any money from World Bank or any money under the PAMSU project.  If any of these names reflect in any letters or documentation of RFU/ZRS/ZRWR it is an administration error.  All donor money received by RFU or ZRS/ZRWR came from private donors.  The money that was donated by the European Union, according to their legislation, was given to UWA specifically for the Rhino Fund project and that money was paid over to RFU by UWA.

Statement in Media      –           The UWA former board chairman, Andrew Kasirye, appeared before the commission and denied knowledge of any UWA official having shares in Zziwa ranch.

RFU Response           –           No UWA official has any shares in the Ziwa Ranch, RFU or ZRS/ZRWR.

Statement in Media      –           The number of rhinos is expected to be over 20. About 14 of them are white rhinos imported from South Africa and two from Florida, USA. Some of the rhinos have been born at the sanctuary. The black rhinos were imported from Kenya.

RFU Response

  • No rhino have ever been imported from South Africa. 
  • There are only 9 rhinos on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary / ZRWR of which 6 are the original adults imported with donor money and 3 are calves that have been born on the sanctuary due to a good secure environment and management.
  • There are no Black rhino in Uganda and there have never been any black rhino imported from anywhere for the RFU project.

 

Statement in Media      –           Kasirye, however, blamed the World Bank conditionalities and the Government teams’ ineptitude in negotiations, which he said allows foreign partners to dictate terms of the agreements.

RFU Response           –           RFU / ZRS / ZRWR has no knowledge of the World Bank PAMSU money and how it was used or for what it was allocated.

RFU / ZRS / ZRWR – FUNDING AS RECEIVED BY :  (Monetary or in kind)  :

 

  • UWA (70 million ugs Emergency funding in 2009)
  • UWA (Loan of 2 vehicles and 2 motorcycles) – maintenance done by RFU and still in use
  • UWA (12 Firearms for protection of rhino) – still in use
  • UWA (Veterinary surgeon in case of treatment need for rhino)
  • MTTI (CITES and import permits for rhino)
  • Augsburg Zoo
  • Brevard Zoo
  • Coke Uganda
  • Crane Bank
  • Disney Animal Kingdom
  • FUT
  • Good year Uganda
  • Intermax
  • KNIP (Kleinschalige Natuur Initiatief Projecten)
  • PAPS (People and Park Support)
  • Private Donors
  • Prins Bernard Natuur Fonds
  • Save the Rhino International
  • Sheraton Hotel
  • The European Union
  • The Save Foundation
  • Total Uganda
  • USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Services)
  • UNDP (United Nations Development Program)
  • Ziwa Ranchers (in kind free of charge 30 year land use rights)

 

STATEMENT

 

  1. This rhino reintroduction project was started with the permission of UWA and MTTI.  All discussions prior to RFU being registered were held with the above two Government institutions and the necessary permission was given to RFU to go ahead with the rhino reintroduction program.
  2. RFU still works closely with MTTI and UWA and has one member from both institutions on its Board of Directors as stated in our constitution.
  3. Capt Joe Roy, who’s land the rhino project is being run on namely Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary / Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Reserve has never received one shilling from this project. There has never been any kind of agreement or arrangement that Capt Joe Roy would benefit financially from this rhino reintroduction project.  The 30 year land use rights was given to RFU by Capt Joe Roy at no cost as this was his contribution as a Ugandan Citizen and Business man to conservation in Uganda.  Capt Joe Roy does not and has never received any kind of financial or in kind compensation from RFU, ZRS, ZRWR, UWA, MTTI or The Government of Uganda.
  4. No UWA or MTTI official received in the past or currently receives any kind of financial compensation from RFU or ZRS / ZRWR.
  5. ZRS / ZRWR or RFU does not receive funding from MTTI, Government or UWA.  The only funding received from UWA is the 70m shillings in 2009 as emergency funding.
  6. No ZRS / ZRWR or RFU staff member’s salary is paid by MTTI, Government or UWA.
  7. RFU or ZRS / ZRWR has never received any money from PAMSU or World Bank via UWA or any other way.
  8. RFU and ZRS / ZRWR does not make any kind of profit. All income generated by this project is used as running costs and we still need annual funding to cover the shortfall between income and expenses.

 

MINISTER AT IT AGAIN OVER MUSEUM

On the very day that the new parliament, after swearing in all newly elected members of parliament, was formally constituted, did outgoing Minister for Tourism, Trade and Industry Hon. Kahinda Otafire stir fresh controversy when he pronounced at his farewell party at the ministry – a new government is also due to be announced imminently by President Museveni – that the building of a 60 storey tower at the site of the Uganda Museum would go ahead regardless and that those opposed to his ideas were ‘enemies of development’ while the Uganda Museum itself was tagged by him as ‘a museum piece itself’.

Legal teams representing several building conservation groups in Kampala will be closely monitoring if the current court order – the main case is still due to be heard before the High Court in Kampala – has been violated or the ministerial utterances amounts to contempt of court.

Sources closely associated with the case have expressed their hope that a new ministerial team, State Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Hon. Rukundo was defeated in the last general election – will take a fresh and unbiased look at the damage done in the public eye in recent months, over the UWA saga and more recently over the Museum saga. As the saying goes, if there are no controversies create some. Watch this space.

 

540 AVIATION OFFERS JUBA FARE VIA NAIROBI

At a cost of US Dollars 398, terms and conditions apply, for a return flight has Fly 540 now gone into direct competition with Air Uganda for passengers to South Sudan’s capital Juba. Initial feedback has it that a number of passengers are ready to fly the slightly longer distance via Nairobi, as it permits them to catch two flies in a stroke, combining a business or private visit in Nairobi with their final destination of Juba.

Fly 540 is using their CRJ aircraft on both sectors while Air Uganda, which flies nonstop from Entebbe, uses both their CRJ and as demand increases their remaining MD87.

Special fares on the route are now expected to counter this latest competitive twist in the East African skies, where in particular Kenya Airways has made headway in carving out greater market shares on the Kenya domestic but also the regional market. The current tourist low season has not yet seen any significant reduction in capacity for instance between Nairobi and Mombasa / Malindi leaving aviation observers wondering when a major realignment of capacity and prices will be sprung on the market.

Watch this space for regular aviation updates from Eastern Africa.

 

SOURCE OF THE NILE GETS BREWERY SUPPORT

The Municipal Council of Jinja and Port Bell based Uganda Breweries have yesterday put pen to paper, signing a 5 year support deal under which the Diageo owned brewers will invest as much as 2.5 billion Uganda Shillings in the site.

Already now are Uganda Breweries signboards evident, as the company had in the past secured the advertising deal and face lifted the site on several occasions, but the latest Memorandum of Understanding is clearly a much more comprehensive deal and more lucrative for the municipality and the ‘Source of the Nile’ site itself.

Notably the site is also known for the place where some of Gandhi’s ashes were immersed in the river and a memorial was opened a few years ago by the Indian Prime Minister in recognition of Gandhi’s peace efforts, for India and for Africa.

In the old days the ‘source’ was actually marked by the Rippon Falls, where Lake Victoria’s waters took their first step in the long journey to the Mediterranean Sea, but the building of the Owens Falls dam in the 1950’s submerged the falls as water levels behind the dam started to rise, now only showing rocky outcrops and the fast running waters swirling around them.

The Source of the Nile is a major tourist attraction in Jinja and also brings many Ugandans from all over the country to the site over the weekends and in particular on public holidays. The site is surrounded by the Jinja Golf Club’s course, offering more options for visitors right next door while below the Owen Falls dam river activities like rafting, bungee jumping, quad biking and much more earned Jinja the title ‘Adventure Capital of East Africa’.

 

Kenya News

JETLINK DROPS HARGEISA – PROMPTS SOMALILAND REACTION

Jetlink, one of Kenya’s privately owned airlines, has reportedly halted operations between Nairobi and Hargeisa, the capital of the selfproclaimed region of Somaliland, in the face of low passenger numbers and for added ‘operational reasons’. Last year East African Safari Air Express also withdrew from the same route, eventually halting all traffic, before being taken over by Fly 540 Aviation.

The withdrawal of Jetlink is now leaving Fly 540 as the only scheduled airline to serve the route, which has according to a source in Nairobi caused an angry reaction by the government of Somaliland.

The ministry overseeing air transport in Somaliland has served the Kenyan airline with notice now that their traffic rights had been cancelled as a result of stopping flights causing an additional spat between the parties over allegations from Hargeisa that suggested ‘lies had been peddled’ – something which could not be independently verified however other than confirming that Jetlink was definitely off that route. Watch this space for regular aviation updates from the East African region.

 

Rwanda News

MARRIOT KIGALI TO HAVE OVER 250 ROOMS

The visit of the Marriott delegation to Kigali, where they inspected the progress of the ongoing construction, has also brought clarity about the size of the new luxury city hotel. Mr. Billy Cheung, who let the delegation, spoke on Monday to the media and announced that the critical room shortage in Kigali’s capital will be bridged when the 254 room and suite Marriot Kigali opens its doors next year. The hotel is expected to be opened in Q3 or Q4 of 2012, depending of progress of work and in particular the interior finish which will create the hallmarks of a Marriot Hotel like seen elsewhere in the world. Mr. Cheung also mentioned that this is the first of such projects by Marriot in sub Saharan Africa and will probably be a yardstick for further expansion and investments in Africa as a whole.

While in Kigali the group met with relevant government officials and sections of the business community to discuss the progress of the project, issues of sourcing materials and their importation to Rwanda but also future cooperation and to establish early ties with key stakeholders in the Rwandan economy.

 

Seychelles News

PRESIDENT MICHEL SWORN IN THIS AFTERNOON

(Crowds assemble at State House Victoria to witness the swearing in and celebrate ‘their’ election win)

 

Late afternoon on Tuesday 24th of May saw the formal swearing in ceremony take place at the State House in Victoria on the island of Mahe, capital of the Seychelles following the announcement of the election results by the Commissioner of Election in the early hours of last Sunday.

The front lawn of State House was decked out in the national colours of blue, yellow, red, white and green and seats for invited guests had been arranged under party tents, an indication of the celebration party which was to follow the official ceremony.

(Front section of State House in Victoria, decorated to fit the day)

 

This correspondent was invited to witness the occasion, probably as a result of previous articles about the Seychelles elections, both prior and from the Election Day itself and admission into State House was swift as the name was known at the gate house.

At half past five in the afternoon, Seychelles time, did President James Michel take the two oaths, the one of allegiance to the constitution of the Seychelles and then followed by the oath of office, administered by a fellow Ugandan who serves as Chief Justice in the Seychelles.

This was immediately followed by the swearing in of the Vice President Danny Faure and both of them are now commencing a 5 year term of office.

In his inaugural address President Michel spoke to all Seychellois and assured them he would be working for them even those who voted for the opposition while thanking them for their support at the polls and giving him another mandate. He pledged tough measures against the use of drugs and drug trafficking into the archipelago, before this evolved into a big problem although he mainly focused on his theme of building a ‘New Seychelles’ for the benefit of all through economic stimulant measures, support to Seychellois to open their own businesses, focus on education and training to create a skilled workforce and further administrative reforms. President Michel also spoke of the need for discipline and hard work and to work together as a nation, undivided by political differences.

After ending his inaugural address the president went to greet those present and hundreds of Seychellois from all walks of life made their way to the centre stage where they were able to shake hands with the president,  a moment when they were all visibly proud to be Seychellois.

Notably were the three opposition candidates who ran against President Michel absent again, as they already were at the announcement of the results in the early hours of Sunday. A number of opposition supporters in the hotels this correspondent stayed in while in the Seychelles in fact left no doubt over this affront when asked and openly spoke about their disappointment over the way their candidates handled the election results. Said one: ‘all candidates went to a church service, prayed together and promised before God to work together regardless of the results. Now my SNP candidate was not there when results were announced. This is a broken promise and it is not good. We must live together and work together if we vote government or opposition. I am disappointed in him’ while another commented about their absence at the swearing in ceremony: ‘Thousands of my fellow Seychellois wanted to go and see the ceremony. We could not go because of work and limits on numbers. But our leaders at least should have gone there. This is a national event and if they stay away who can take that serious. We will try again in five years but maybe with more mature leaders for SNP who know what we expect from them. This election was not rigged and votes were not bought, there were no glaring problems anywhere when people voted last week but we lost, that was not good for us SNP supporters but now it is time to work and build nation.’

It is understood that the announcement of a new cabinet, very likely with both old and new faces, was expected later in the week although it is expected that President Michel will retain the portfolio for tourism to again signal that this sector remains on top of the list of economic priorities.

 

(President Michel is sworn into office by the Chief Justice of the Seychelles)

(The President looks on as the Vice President is sworn in)

 

KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S GATES – A RETURN TO THE MAIA LUXURY RESORT

Very few resorts have captured my attention and admiration like the MAIA Luxury Resort which I was privileged to visit 15 months ago. Back then I said it was hospitality made in heaven and sent down to earth for us to enjoy, and during this recent visit to the Seychelles I dared to knock on heaven’s door and lo and behold, I was admitted through the front gate.

What immediately struck me was the way the gardens had matured even more since my last visit, undoubtedly aided by good rains and the extra special care of the Maia’s gardening team I met also last year and who showed me around the tropical paradise they had helped to create and shape by including much of the exotic vegetation they found on site before even commencing construction of the 25 villas spread across the 25 hectares of land.

Sadly my visit to the Maia was even briefer than the last one, but I nevertheless did manage to explore it some more and even got sand between my toes and my feet wet.

 

As every villa has a private and shielded infiniti pool outside the main bedroom, a dive into the refreshingly cool water came as a welcome change to the slightly humid afternoon, and restored this correspondent’s mettles in no time. A chilled fruit juice, just prepared, helped still the thirst and the lounger on the terrace then provided a perfect opportunity to put the tired feet up, take in the scenery across the Indian Ocean with all the catamarans and the Kir Royal moored below in the bay adding a scenic and adventurous backdrop.

The evening was dedicated to the sailors, champagne cocktails and all but ended all too soon as the competitors were heading back to their boats to sleep while those luck to be accommodated at the Maia counted their blessings and enjoyed a good night’s rest in a ‘luxurious cocoon’ aimed to take care of all creature comforts.

Even chronic insomniacs like this correspondent tend to sleep once in a while and a bed like this, when turned down by the villa’s own butler, on call 24/7, provides the incentive to actually do exactly that.

Breakfast at the Maia, either in the villa served at the appointed time or at the main restaurant by the beach and poolside, is thankfully ordered a la carte and not picked from a buffet, a ‘hint’ that in small and exclusive places silver service is also available for the first meal of the day and not just for dinner when it is expected as a matter of course. The menu for breakfast shows it can, and in fact should be a proper full scale meal and the Eggs Benedictine were again heavenly as were the crepes with  wild tropical fruit compote.

As ever, when one really wants to stay put, other pre-arranged meetings and visits took their toll, and in this case it was to board the Kir Royal for a last time, and as the last, having stretched the time at the Maia to the last second. When casting a last look back across the widening gap between the rapidly accelerating ‘Sea Legs’ and the resort I swore to myself that it will be ‘Kwaheri ya Kuonana’ rather than bye bye for ever.

The Seychelles are noted for both top end luxurious resorts, as the Maia or like North Island where the Royal Couple recently had their honeymoon, the larger properties of excellent value like Banyan Tree, Four Seasons, The Raffles Praslin or the Constance Hotels’ properties on Praslin and near Port Glaud on Mahe.

The other end of the market finds that they too can afford a holiday there, as airlines offer special fares and Bed and Breakfast’s and locally owned and managed Guest Houses, Holiday Villas and apartments offer a stay for much less and yet one is on the same islands as the rich and famous of this world.

‘Affordable Seychelles’ and ‘Seychelles – Another World’ both await visitors and the smiles of the Seychellois are for everyone walking past them.

 

A DAY ON THE ‘KIR ROYAL’

www.lekirroyal.com

Few opportunities arise which are as tempting to accept as spending two days on an ocean going yacht and shadowing a catamaran ocean regatta from the closest possible positions.

An invitation by the Seychelles Tourist Board while on the archipelago to cover the presidential elections however did make this a reality and turned out to be the highlight of a recent visit to the islands.

Watching globally renowned top skippers in a battle of wits and experience to ‘slug it out’ against ocean currents and changing winds, treacherous swells and the cunning strategies of their opponents beats watching any sporting event from the homely armchair hands down.

Most of the invited guests on board the ‘Le Kir Royal’ over the two days I sailed with her, were knowledgeable sailors themselves and directional changes attracted immediate comments from them, eyeing every move of the field through binoculars to observe the skippers and crews in action.

The weeklong regatta, which will see 7 separate races being run around the main island and ‘across’ the sea to Praslin and La Digue to determine the overall winner, has attracted media interest not only from the local stations and papers but also the specialized sports news channels and from dedicated sailing magazines, which sent photojournalists to cover the event, which in turn is hoped to attract more up and coming new skippers measuring themselves against the ‘old masters’ at the helm of their catamarans.

In the old days the Seychelles used to be a supply stop for the informal but economically hugely important race from Hong Kong to the UK with the tea bearing ‘tall ships’ in use in those days and while discussing the regatta and related issues with the tourist board staff an idea came up to once again bring back those tall ships for a race ending in the Seychelles, or else alternatively starting from here. The beautiful weather and the backdrop of these magical islands would create a setting second to none for such an event and the remaining fleet of ‘tall ships’ would probably queue up to sign the registration forms. What a coup that would be for the ‘little island nation’ which has grown to be recognized around the world as ‘Brand Seychelles’ and not only reaffirmed its standing as an exotic paradise island get away in recent years but also made a new name for itself with the range of novel activities like the ‘carnival of carnivals’, aka the ‘Mother of all Carnivals’ which in 2012 will see its second editions coming up, larger and better still if that is possible at all.

Meanwhile did the yachtsmen set out today for their second leg, which will round part of Mahe from the Maia Luxury Resort to the Beau Vallon Bay for their second night stop, before heading across the ocean to Praslin and other islands for the longer races. The Le Kir Royal will be at hand to ‘see it all, close up and personal’, although this correspondent did this the late afternoon disembark in Beau Vallon Bay and left the rest of the invited guests to continue alongside the catamarans until they return on Saturday to Eden Island’s main marina outside Eden House for the prize giving ceremony.

The second leg of the regatta was notably won again by Hyundai, while the Maia’s own ‘Sealegs’ came a respectable third in their own catamaran, prompting some friendly  banter what had been put into the glasses of the other competitors the night before but all in the best of spirits of course as can be expected from the yachting fraternity.

The Le Kir Royal is a 30 metre ‘classic’ yacht with a crew of 6, sleeping a total of 8 passengers and offers plenty of comfort for trips around the inner islands on a day trip or for longer periods, able to safely take them to all the inner islands, cast anchor overnight in a secluded bay and give the travelers that extra bit of special treatment.

The yacht, which relocated from France’s Mediterranean coast line to the Seychelles via the Atlantic, can be booked via the MAIA Luxury Resort or by contacting them via the Kir Royal website as shown above.

Classy classy comes to mind, and a stay at for instance the MAIA combined with a little cruise surely appeals to the most discerning travelers. I           n closing, the MAIA’s chefs did the catering on board for the duration of the regatta, assuring us invited guests of meals fit for kings and queens and their courts. I should know I was there and am now spoilt forever – though some may disagree here and fire back ‘just spoilt some more’.

Reporting live from the Kir Royal, Beau Vallon Bay, Mahe, Seychelles – ‘Another World’.

 

SEYCHELLES REGATTA KICKS OFF

 

The official opening of the Tourist Board sponsored ‘Seychelles Regatta’ saw also the other sponsors, including and importantly Air Seychelles being recognized, before the skippers and their crews were introduced to the sizeable number of invited guests and international journalists.

Held at Eden House on Eden Island (www.edenisland.sc) with the participating yachts moored for all to see along the main jetty, this third edition of the 7 race regatta went underway on Monday morning proper. At 9 a.m. sharp the yachts cast off from the jetty and so did the race committee, accompanying boats and myself and other invited guests on the Le Kir Royal www.lekirroyal.com to have a leisurely cruise to the starting line a few miles offshore.

The race went underway in windy conditions and all but one of the catamarans did cross the starting line swiftly but one, which was caught out and kept trailing for the entire day.

The swell also made some of the invited guests a little uncomfortable, but not this correspondent whose ‘sea legs’ are kept trained on Lake Victoria as and when possible.

The course took the participants along the entire stretch of the coast from Victoria with fine views before eventually sailing into calmer conditions on the leeward side of Mahe. The resorts of Banyan Tree and Four Seasons were passed before eventually reaching the bay off the Maia Luxury Resort where we anchored to have some overdue lunch on board while awaiting the catamarans to catch up with us.

Cheers went up from the spectators when the first two in close contest became visible in the distance followed by the others trailing considerably, and the day’s race was won by locally skippered ‘Hyundai’ to the prolonged applause by all Seychellois witnessing the accomplishment.

The Maia Luxury Resort hosted the opening evening for the crews and invited guests with a splendid ‘champagne only’ cocktail function and a mouthwatering dinner, but mindful of six more racing days ahead of them the crews soon called it a night under the star lit sky above. As mentioned previously some of Europe’s if not the world’s top sailors are participating in the Seychelles Regatta, which – sponsored by the Seychelles Tourist Board and Air Seychelles amongst others – promises to become another fixed point in the annual calendar of events for the archipelago, which has successfully re-invented itself over the past two years as one of the world’s most recognized island destinations offering visitors almost on a monthly basis now a key event to watch or even participate in.

Seychelles – truly ‘Another World’

 

BREAKING NEWS – PRESIDENT MICHEL DECLARED RE-ELECTED

At 12.58 a.m. did the Electoral Commissioner declare President James Michel as re-elected, after addressing a team of election observers and from the Diplomatic Corps.

Out of the four contestants the main opposition candidate Wavel received 23.878 votes or 41.43 percent, against President Michel’s 31.966 votes, giving him the victory with a 55.46 percent majority. The two other contestants managed to poll a combined 3.11 percent or 1.789 votes.

The President was at hand for the announcement and upon being declared duly re-elected addressed the people of the Seychelles and those present.

The result is in line with unofficial pre-election polls – no official polls were conducted – and a result of a remarkably transparent and entirely peaceful voting process as witnessed by this correspondent amongst about 100 other election observers from SADC and the Commonwealth.

The eTN team extends warmest congratulations to President Michel of the Party LEPEP upon his election win and to the losing candidates for a fair campaign which between 27th April and 15th May unfolded equally peacefully, without a single incident of violence.

 

ELECTIONS SEYCHELLES STYLE – IT TRULY IS ‘ANOTHER WORLD’

The slogan used by the Seychelles Tourist Board ‘Seychelles – Another World’ immediately sprung to mind when observing the elections on Saturday at the main island of Mahe, where this correspondent managed to visit about a dozen polling stations across the island and throughout the day, which were open from 07.00 hrs until 19.00 hrs, with voting compulsory for those above 18 years of age.

Had it not been for the election posters, on electricity poles, in front gardens and on large banners one could be fooled to think it was just ‘Another Day in Paradise’ and while it was a public holiday on the occasion, life on the island continued almost as normal, or so it appeared for the tourists, had it not been for the closure of banks and the less than usual Saturday traffic in and out of the capital Victoria.

Elections in Africa have in many countries become the bane of tourism, due to the tension between the ruling parties and the opposition, and are now wary to have a holiday in destinations with a ‘reputation’ for pre-election and post-election violence, as most recently seen in Uganda where a minute, and in terms of numbers almost insignificant number of people, spurred on by opposition (mis)-leaders – punt fully intended – took to the streets to the joy of international media vultures who were swift to portray our capital city as a war zone, dealing tourism a crushing blow in the process.

Yet, here in the Seychelles the people seem content, almost happy and as witnessed they patiently queued in long lines early in the morning to discharge their duty as citizens to elect their president. In fact, several couples were observed strolling hand in hand towards the polling stations to cast their votes in what must be one of the most unique ways to conduct elections, walking to the polls and back home in the warm sunshine of a Seychelles morning.

From many conversations with voters leaving the polling stations it was soon evident that the campaign had been peaceful too, no scuffles and no fire spitting rhetoric either, with the opposition almost perceived as running a lackluster campaign.

This surely is a lesson for Africa, seeing free and fair elections being organized in a fellow African country, and several SADC election observers freely admitted on condition of anonymity – there were not authorized to speak to the media – that they had not seen such a well organized and almost leisurely conduct of elections in many of the other African countries they had been to for the same purpose.

Election results will be in after midnight, and will be broadcast live on Seychelles TV, and going by the words of a staff of the hotel this correspondent spoke with before leaving for the ‘observer duty’ it will be ‘life goes on tomorrow as normal and if my candidate loses we will try again in 5 years time. But we will accept. There is no point in protesting because the elections will have a result and when that is clear we just move on. The Seychellois people are very peaceful by nature, we do not like to fight and politics is not worth fighting over like you do on the continent.’

Passengers on the flight as well as tourists in hotels, or met on the streets of Victoria, too spoke up when asked their opinion, with most of them however professing that apart from the elections posters they had no idea that Seychelles was holding elections while they were on holiday and adding ‘so what, we are here for a holiday and one does not even realize they are in election mode here’ while on in particular strenuously denied that Seychelles was even part of Africa – so much for Geography lessons made in America.

Wise words for many a politician to heed ahead of the next election campaign on the African continent, especially in those parts of Eastern Africa where some deluded individuals still seem to think they can capture government by violence. Not in the Seychelles for sure and no longer wanted at home either.

Watch this space tomorrow for election results and related updates.

 

IT IS ‘BYE BYE SEYCHELLES’ FOR THE ROYAL COUPLE

Having been amongst the very first to accurately predict the Seychelles as the honeymoon destination of the recently married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Royal Couple aka Prince William and his it was satisfying to be in destination, when officials on the archipelago finally broke their long self imposed silence on the subject and confirmed that the honeymooners had left yesterday after spending 10 blissful days on North Island, arguably the highest rated honeymoon resort across the entire Seychelles and from here on the focus of many many more wishing to also spend their first married days where the Prince and Princess spent theirs.

It is understood that the Seychelles Coast Guard had thrown a secure cordon around the island, supported by Royal security officers, to ensure the paparazzi were kept a long distance away. The couple, as happened on their arrival, were flown by Zil Air helicopter from North Island to the International Airport on Mahe from where they took the long flight home to Britain and to start married life in earnest.

The Seychelles Tourist Board had remarkably lived up to their commitment to keep this under wraps until the Royals had departed for home, although amongst close observers it was an open secret for some time, with the repeated security checks of North Island probably the biggest hint one could unearth, although Royal security was thought to have done decoy recces to put the media on a wrong course.

For the archipelago this honeymoon is a priceless opportunity to gain a yet higher profile around the world, if this is at all possible, having catapulted the destination over the past years right to the top of the world’s ‘must visit’ destinations. Yet, a Royal honeymoon will like little else find their way into the glossy travel magazines, the wedding magazines and other media and remain there for a long time, giving the Seychelles free PR and exposure where other destinations are both struggling to worm their way into the media’s good books and having to pay for it.

While obviously no official statement was available from the palace at this time it is understood from the same impeccable source which gave the first tip off to this correspondent, that the Royal couple was clearly very happy on North Island and enjoyed every moment of their time there, probably pointing to one or the other significant anniversary being spend again in the future in the Seychelles.

Happy Landings to the Royal couple back home and well done Seychelles for this media coup extraordinaire.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS TO FINALLY ADD THIRD FLIGHT AGAIN

While on the islands opportunity arose to also discuss air connections to and from the African mainland with my hosts at the Seychelles Tourist Board, which are grossly under represented compared to now double daily flights by Emirates from Dubai on A340’s and daily flights from Doha on Qatar Airways using the A320. The Seychelles Tourist Board CEO during a meeting today in fact stressed the fact that arrivals to the archipelago from the African mainland were doing well but future growth was limited by the number of seats available between Nairobi and Mahe, the absence of any flights between Tanzania and the Seychelles and also between other Eastern and Southern African countries with the exception of South Africa, where Air Seychelles flies to Johannesburg. Precision Air had expressed interest to start flights to Mahe from Dar es Salaam, just as soon as their fleet expansion programme for jet aircraft has gone underway, but this maybe some time away, leaving the main connections from the Eastern African side of the continent to ‘The Pride of Africa’ for the time being.

It did however emerge during the talk that Kenya Airways was apparently set to add a third flight per week between Nairobi and Mahe from mid of this year onwards, helping the tourism industries of both the Seychelles as well as of Eastern Africa to promote twin centre holidays as well as bring more citizens of the respective countries to make visits to ‘the other side’ across the vast expanses of the Indian Ocean.

 

IRISH HOSPITALITY STUDENTS ON EXCHANGE VISIT TO SEYCHELLES

As many as 24 students of hotel management courses at the Shannon College in Ireland have arrived in Mahe under an agreement to host student exchanges between the Seychelles Tourism Academy and the Shannon College of Hospitality Management. They will be deployed across several top class resorts where they can gain practical experience and on the job knowledge, for a period of three months, counting against their study requirements back in Ireland.

At the same time it was also learned that 15 Seychellois students will proceed to Ireland later this year where they will study for advanced diplomas in hotel management, a course STA has for years been teaching very successfully.

The Seychelles Tourism Academy has in recent years established itself as a leading hotel and tourism school in Africa and the building of a new campus, which recently began, is sure to propel the institute to yet greater heights, satisfying the demand for a skilled workforce by new resorts opening up across the archipelago as the tourism industry continues to boom.

 

ALL ROADS LEAD TO SEYCHELLES – ELECTIONS OR NOT

Elections for the office of president are special anywhere around the world with the biggest exposure every four years given to the US presidential elections of course, around which an entire media circus has been created, which comes to the TV screens, like it or not, weeks before the actual day and at times weeks afterwards, in case of contentious results like in the Bush – Gore race.

Presidential elections, in fact all elections in Africa are regularly eyed with concern, to put it mildly, by the global tourism fraternity, when they take place in key tourism destinations like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Southern African countries and of course also in West and North Africa.

Experience over the 3 ½ decades I have spent in East Africa shows, that not all those concerns are baseless and it is in fact wise to liaise closely with contacts on the ground to remain informed and get constant situation updates. Hence, election times are times tourism in many of these countries hits the proverbial ‘bump in the road’ with distinct downward spikes in arrival numbers as tour operators and travel agents prefer, if for nothing else but to elude any liability claims by their clients should they end up in ‘trouble’, to book them elsewhere.

Not so in the Creole paradise islands of the Seychelles however, where presidential elections are now going underway, and will last three days due to the great geographic expanse of the archipelago.

A quick interaction with aviation personnel at the Mahe International Airport shows that to the contrary flights to Mahe are getting fuller, elections or not, and a quiet background check also revealed that seemingly no travel agent has bothered to even take elections cycles into account when booking their clients to the Creole island paradise.

Has ‘Brand Seychelles’ pushed concerns about elections in this African country – yes the Seychelles are geographically and politically part of the African continent – so far aside that no one seems to bother but the Seychellois people actually going to the polls, with about half of the roughly 90.000 citizens eligible to vote? Seemingly so, inspite of the archipelago’s political past which was described to me as ‘intense’, in other words with the main protagonists spitting fire at each other. There have been energetic debates in parliament between the opposition, which has never managed since independence to actually win enough seats to form a government, and the ruling party of President James Michel, who is facing 3 challengers to his quest for re-election in coming days.

Expect some reports from polling stations around the main island of Mahe over the coming days, but also feedback, if any that is, from tourists presently holidaying on the archipelago, many of whom many of course be blissfully unaware that it is election time in the islands, so relatively quiet, for foreign visitors at least, was the build up to these decisive three days.

In the meantime, for this correspondent, it was ‘Seychelles here I come, elections or not’. Watch this space.

 

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL – THE SEYCHELLES’ INTERNATIONAL REGATTA

When talking ‘regatta’ the mind is quick to conjure up pictures of several dozens of boats or yachts lining up, awaiting the horn sounded by the regatta officials and then swiftly crossing the starting line en masse, sails fluttering in the wind and soon turning into distant white specks.

The international regatta in the Seychelles, sponsored amongst others by national carrier ‘Air Seychelles’, in contrast is limited to a maximum of 20 entries only and the 12 participants this year came to the archipelago’s main port in Victoria with 40 – 70 ft catamarans to race each other between the scenic inner islands, traversing the Indian Ocean around Mahe before also touching La Digue and Praslin and eventually crossing the final finishing line at Eden Island at the end of the 7th race, spanning over the week. The annual event has been described as ‘semi professional’ where ‘amateurs’ measure themselves against true professionals, although at this level of the sport ‘semi’ surely does reality little justice as even the so called amateurs train and sail relentlessly in order to hone their skills and get the best out of their boats and crews.

Saturday 21st of May will see the opening ceremony held at Eden House, while during the day the skippers and participants will have received their briefings and done a spinnaker speed test to ascertain the rating of the boards. Amongst the participants this year are illustrious names which reportedly have a ring to them amongst the global sailing fraternity.

Newcomer to the Seychelles International Regatta Loick Peyron has just won the Barcelona World Race in April and is amongst the best known skippers in France, reportedly eyeing the next qualifying round of the America’s Cup where the ultimate challenger will be determined. He will measure his skills against Frenchman Francois Gabart who is the 2010 French Solo Offshore champion but both of them will have to contend with the aspirations of an all ladies team on the ‘Heineken’, skippered by Samantha Davies, determined to put up a spirited fight for the overall prize.

This correspondent will be able to cover some of the races and will file additional updates in coming days, reporting live from the Creole paradise islands of the Seychelles, truly ‘Another World’.

 

South Sudan News

SOUTH KORDOFAN ELECTIONS RIGGED CLAIM SPLM SOURCES

In the best tradition of the regime in Khartoum was the ICC indicted Ahmad Haroun declared winner of the gubernatorial elections in South Kordofan. He, as his ‘boss’ regime leader Bashir, are alleged to have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, and this spells certain doom for the African population in South Kordofan, an area traditionally belonging to the Southern tribes but ‘stuffed’ with voters from the North to subvert and compromise fair and free elections.

The SPLM team had already several days ago withdrawn from the election supervisory body when evidence of massive rigging and electoral fraud emerged and the body was standing by idle, set to endorse the stolen election.

The Electoral Commission in Khartoum yesterday announced Haroun as winner by a mere 6.500 votes, setting the stage for the regime to unleash renewed terror on the African population, which by the hardline Islamic regime has been treated as inferiors, second class citizens and often well near like slaves in the worst tradition of Arabic penetration of the African continent.

Haroun’s reputation precedes him and the African population in South Kordofan, which was not included as part of the South during the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, is now expecting another round of repression, psycho terror and real terror, as the regime attempts to hold on to a part of the country which deeply resents the imposition of Sharia Law and being denied their democratic right to determine their own destiny alongside their Southern brethren.

Meanwhile has the African Union commission for the Sudan called upon both sides to refrain from the use of force in Abyei, another potential hotspot and equally part of the South, although Khartoum has already vowed not to let go under any circumstances of this oil rich state, come what may.

Questions are now arising after the blatant fraud in South Kordofan, if indeed Khartoum is preparing the stage for renewed armed conflict to which a regular source in Juba had this to say: ‘it is clear the election was stolen from us. We know the majority of people in South Kordofan are with us in the South. This is beyond doubt. Khartoum is probably seeking a reason to renew their war against us Africans but we will not take the bait. If Khartoum brings in troops or uses their proxy militias, we now have allies in East Africa. They will use diplomatic channels and pressures on Khartoum but if the regime drags us back to war, we will also not stand alone this time. We promote peaceful discussions and resolutions but if attacked will defend ourselves. It will expose Khartoum for what they really are and put pressure on the world to assist us like those seeking freedom in Libya.’

Often have doubts been expressed to this correspondent by readers about the peaceful intent of the Southern Government in Juba, but this will once again underline the fact that with Independence won for the 10 states in the South, some other areas too will want to have their say over where they want to belong, to their free brothers and sisters in the South or to be imprisoned, enslaved and terrorized by the regime in Khartoum. Fair question, predictable outcome – they too want to be free.

 

 

And today again some interesting material from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ produced week in week out by Gill Staden:

 

 

Painted Dog Foundation

Project Update April 2011:

The Ukusutha move one step closer to life back in the wild.

Friday, April 29th was an unforgettable day. It was the day we moved the “pups” to the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve (VFPGR) and so one step closer to life back in the wild.

Ukusutha, which translates roughly as “very full,” as in having eaten too much food, is the name we

gave to the pups that were brought into the PDC Rehabilitation Facility in July 2009. The five pups were at their den but it was apparent that lions had killed their parents. With only an old male dog and yearling dogs evident, it was felt that the chances of the pups surviving were remote. With fire also threatening the den, the difficult decision was made to capture the pups and raise them at PDC.

The pack has been supplemented with the addition of Sithule, now a three-year-old male, who had

walked into the PDC Rehabilitation Facility with his brother, Sibuyile in May 2009, both of them at death’s door. They were integrated into the illfated Bambanani pack, which was released into

Hwange National Park in August 2009. Sithule survived the snares and road traffic that obliterated the Bambanani and we brought him back into the Rehab in October 2009.           

The move to VFPGR started early. Moving the dogs during the cool of the morning was the priority, not our sleep. Once the light in the eastern sky gave us enough illumination we moved quickly, but quietly, into position.  Everyone knew his or her roles. We had done this before and were well-prepared. Our custom-built dog trailer was in place, with a funnel, created by boma sheeting  already erected. The plan was to move the dogs slowly and quietly into the trailer.

The “driving” team walked into the enclosure that housed the dogs while Washington Moyo waited

to operate the slide gates. Rehab Supervisor, Xmas Mpofu, waited on top of the trailer, for instruction to drop the gate and lock the dogs inside. At first the dogs, ever curious, approached the driving team rather than walking away! They soon realized that something was afoot however, and moved to the slide gate that connects the two enclosures. On my signal, Washington opened the gate and the dogs rushed through. We followed quickly and Washington closed the gate behind us. Now we were all in the enclosure with the trailer and boma-sheeting funnel. Standing shoulder to shoulder the driving team moved slowly and quietly forward, pressing the dogs towards the trailer. It was essential not to panic the dogs as they would simply race past us or even between our legs and chaos would ensue.

Sithule jumped in to the trailer, then jumped out! Nyeza, Dutchie and Gaia jumped in, then jumped

out! The tension was tangible. Slowly we pressed forward until a standoff developed. The dogs just

lay on the floor at the entrance to the trailer and we stood, crouched just meters away. Dogs moved in and out, but I wanted all six in at once before I could give Xmas the signal to close the

trailer. In and out they went. Two dogs in, four out; three in, three out; four in, two out. I almost gave the signal to close, accepting the four and knowing I would have to dart the remaining two. I

told myself to be patient. We edged half a step forward and the last two jumped in. On my signal

Xmas dropped the gate and we had them safely inside. Big smiles all round as we secured the gate and hooked it up to my Land Rover ready for the two-hour drive to VFPGR.

It could not have gone more smoothly. The welfare of the dogs was and is always of paramount importance. They were inside the trailer, wide-awake, probably anxious, but certainly not stressed. It was still only 06:30 so we would have them in their new home long before the heat of the day was upon us.

The drive to VFPGR was uneventful. We arrived in good time and backed the trailer up to the gate

of their new home. Xmas had spent a week at the VFPGR preparing the boma that would now hold

the dogs for up to two months. Research and experience have taught us that the dogs need to be

held in a safe enclosure in the place we ultimately want them to stay. If we simply opened the trailer

and let them go they would make every effort to return to Hwange as soon as possible. Unless they got killed on the way they would probably make the 200km journey in three or four days. So they are now being held until the end of June, when we will then open the gate of their new enclosure.

They have already had a fence line encounter with lions, which is a good lesson for them, as they

need to understand that lions are bad news if they are to make it in the wild proper. When we release them in June we will closely monitor their progress but feel confident that they will make a

quick transition into the wild, with Sithule leading the way.

We would like to acknowledge and thank Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority for their unstinting support and cooperation during this entire exercise, which extends back to the original capture in July 2009. The Owners, Management and staff of Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve for their equally vital support and of course you, for the tremendous support you afford PDC. Thank You

 

OLIFANTS RIVER GAME RESERVE SHARE BLOCK LIMITED

(Gill: This is interesting as it shows that the poachers are thinking up ways to avoid being noticed.  Olifants River Lodge is about 120 km east of Pretoria … if you are like me and don’t know the geography of the area.)

News flash     19th May 2011

From : Mario Cesare

 

It all started on the 16th May, when Patrick Daly of unit 26 reported one dead White Backed Vulture hanging in a tree, and another sick looking individual at the water’s edge at Double Dam.

Subsequent investigation led us to another three vulture carcasses in the vicinity of the dam. This also happened to be close to the carcass of the lioness that had been killed about a week earlier by three new male lions that have taken over our previous pride’s territory. These three males have since been dubbed “The Three Musketeers.”

Of course suspicion and conjecture as to the possible reason for the vulture deaths immediately focused on the closest, culprit, which having been decomposing for over a week, was literally under our noses. All eyes and thoughts were focussed on the fact that there was something amiss with the lion carcass.  Having seen her a day or so after she had died, and seeing the terrible wounds inflicted by other lions was, in my opinion, what killed her. This conclusion was backed up by the fact that another lion carcass was found the same day, killed in the same way.  There was now concern that “muti” hunters had laced the carcass with poison, post mortem.  However, the carcass had not only been fed on by vultures, but by black backed jackals, civets and mongoose as well, so I was also looking for these other, less conspicuous scavengers.

 Two things bothered me. Firstly, that there weren’t more vulture carcasses in close proximity, and secondly, there was the no sign of dead jackals, civets or mongoose. I remained open to the fact that those vultures found, were poisoned elsewhere…but where??

Our trusty anti poaching team was also not convinced that the problem lay with the lion carcass and backed my suspicion that the source of the poison was further away and less obvious. But, my immediate concern was to try and find any more dead or dying vultures, in the case of the latter scenario, if found early enough, sick birds could be saved.

We noticed about thirty vultures sitting in the trees way off in the bush between Double Dam and the four pylons, approximately 400 metres from the lion carcass. I sent the team in to investigate the bases of those trees in order to locate any more unfortunate vultures that may have succumbed.  In the meantime, Glenn and Karin cancelled their leave and rushed the one surviving vulture to Hoedspruit where veterinarian, Pete Rodgers managed to pull the bird through.  The other carcasses that had been kept cool but not frozen were stored in Meagan’s air-conditioned office overnight. Needless to say, it will probably be a month or two before the smell dissipates completely.  These were sent to my long time friend and veterinarian Gerrit Scheepers who did a preliminary examination.  In his opinion and based on his experience, the preliminary prognosis is that the pesticide Adicarb or Temmic is the possible culprit. Gerrit has sent tissue off to the pathologists for a detailed thorough analysis and confirmation.

The investigating patrol sent in search of more vultures, found none, but rather they uncovered other shocking evidence, evidence of our greatest fears… Rhino poachers were in our midst. Cable snares as thick as your thumb were set within earshot of Double Dam. While many unsuspecting people were having sundowners, these bastards were plying their trade of treachery.  No guns, no helicopters, no chain saws, but silent and equally deadly strangulating cable snares.

I made a phone call and a Helicopter was scrambled, Meagan made a call and yet another was put on standby. Within 25 minutes! Yes, in less than 25 minutes the helicopter was on the scene. Half an hour later, Rian Ahlers’s tracker dog was brought in and regional wardens Craig Ferguson along with Rian, and Glenn who had now returned from Hoedspruit were there to help. Colin Rowles of Klaserie was standing by at the Trig beacon. The support was incredible.

From the fresh boot prints we surmised the poachers had laid low when they heard the chopper searching the area.  That night was full moon which they used to their advantage by escaping over the railroad bridge through Doreen and then probably back to Phalaborwa.

Fortunately we were able to react quickly and thwart what could have been a far greater tragedy. Another twelve hours and the scene may have been much uglier.  A thorough sweep of the area enabled us to remove well over fifty snares in two patrols. Only two impala had been caught and killed in snares, a third was found alive and rescued. Two grapefruits laced with poison, unconfirmed as yet, were found near the big snares targeting rhino. These grapefruits will also be sent in for analysis.     

I suspect an attempt was made by the poachers to poison the vultures by lacing the two snared impala remains with poison. This was done in an attempt to get rid of these early warning systems, so that they could operate undetected by the eyes in the sky. Fortunately, they did not leave much for the vultures and only a few birds got enough ingested. This time, it back fired on them, but next time they may not be so sloppy!

This was not the end of it; this was merely the tip of the iceberg, a scourge which is going to be floating in our sea for the foreseeable future as an ever present danger and threat.  It has been a wakeup call for all of us, and it has tested our resolve it has also shown how small things can lead to bigger things, to this we urge members to please keep your eyes peeled, particularly for vulture activity and report on this immediately. Vultures are our sentinels.

This is a war which will not be won by reactive response alone, so we are putting plans in place with emphasis on defence and prevention, the details of which will not be discussed here for obvious reasons. 

 

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