Mom and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Imire, a safari park and rhino conservation area about 100kms from Harare (just outside the town of Marondera)
The park has been a rhino conservation and breeding area since the 1980s and has gone from strength to strength despite the volatile political climate of the country and the effect of poaching. Tragically the park lost almost all of their rhino population back in 2007 when a gang of poachers killed the animals whilst they were in their night time enclosures. Despite this terrible event they have managed to successfully calve their female Black rhino (Shanu) who gave birth to a beautiful girl who they aptly named ‘Tafika’ A Swahili word which means “we have arrived”
Apart from their rhinos, Imire boasts a plethora of wildlife within its park and I felt so fortunate to see these animals at such a close proximity. The only predators on the park are a pair of Spotted hyenas and a male lion who are all accommodated within their own (separate) enclosures which means that the rest of the wild life can freely roam without fear of being eaten!
We spent the majority of the day atop a game viewing vehicle and what a treat it was to have someone else drive! We could sit back and enjoy the feel of the cool wind rushing by and watch these beautiful creatures around us, just bliss. We stopped for a gorgeous lunch overlooking the park from a hill, after this we got to experience something very special:
Our guide gave the call for a the oldest elephant they have(46yrs), a female by the name of Nzou to come up close to where we had been for our lunch. Nzou is an interesting case when it comes to herds, because since she was 2 years old, has been the matriarch of a herd of buffalo! Apparently she suffers from a case of identity crisis as she seems to think she is a buffalo despite the park’s efforts to integrate Nzou with the other elephants. But they have left her to it as she has proved to be an invaluable head of the buffalo herd and does a good job leading them. The additionally odd fact to this story is that buffalos exist in patriarchal herds, meaning that it is a male buffalo (a bull) who leads the herd, so here we have a buffalo herd governed by a female elephant…
So with Nzou approximately 20 metres from us, one at a time we were offered the chance to feed this glorious giant. Each of us took a handful of pellets and walked up towards her, waited for her to outstretch her trunk and we deposited the pellets into it, upon which she transferred them to her mouth. Words can not hope to explain how it feels to look into the brown, gentle eyes of this magnificent animal as she towers over you.
Just before sunset we were loaded once again into the vehicle which took us across the park to where the rhinos are enclosed. All of them are led to these pens each night and kept there till 6am, this is done for their safety, to protect them from poachers. Imire’s elephants are chained at night with ankle braces and then released in the early morning. This may sound sad but it is a fact of the life here that they are in constant threat for their horns and ivory. Asides from their overnight accommodation, all the elephants and rhinos have park guides which accompany them throughout the day, walking with them. These guides are armed, not for their own protection but to prevent any poachers from harming them or the animals.
We only spent one night at Imire and on the morning of our departure we were granted the opportunity to walk with the black rhinos as they foraged through the bush for their morning snacks. This was not a matter of walking alongside and stroking them! We were 15-20 metres behind them, observing their behaviour. There is something quite special about waking up and going for a walk with such a fascinating animal as ones first activity of the day.
My trip to Imire, although brief left me with such a strong connection to nature and I genuinely felt a rush of emotion and sadness for all the hurt that we cause ALL the animals of this earth. As humans we have placed ourselves atop the food chain and governers of the beasts that inhabit ‘our’ earth, is it not their earth too? Surely as persons of responsibility we should strive to protect them and ensure their happiness? Not neglect, harm and abuse them?
I beseech each and everyone of you to take an interest in these creatures around us, whether they are pets or wild animals, or domesticated ones who provide us with food, treat them with the love and respect they deserve. I thank Imire and all their staff for a wonderful night away, our guide especially, Edmore, was fantastic. So knowledgeable and a true conviction of wanting to do the best he can for the creatures in his charge. If you are ever in the country I would highly recommend a visit, you can either stay overnight or just make a day trip but you have to book in advance. I will leave the website here too so that you can have a look, they also offer a volunteer programme.
I wrote this poem a few years back but I had forgotten about it, after this trip though I feel it is more apt than ever:
Intelligent beyond any expectation
Creation in objects at mastery level
The ability to build and construct
The ability to heal, cure and prevent
The ability to aid, rescue and recover
Yet so much seems at a loss
Neglected peoples within our own societies
Wasted time, effort and expense on superfluous items that mean nothing
Induced and practiced suffering caused by our fellow humans
Catastrophic damage to our environment, thoughtless
Unprovoked attack on the fellow sentient beings who abide on this earth
Shared space, shared time, shared resources
Yet one dominates the other
OBLITERATES the other.
No thought, no emotion
They fulfil the human need to eat, to clothe, to entertain
Such devoted creatures, forever at our side
All that is needed is compassion and respect
LOVE LOVE LOVE
All images by Mary Snook