Article Sarah Todd

My first insight into Savé Valley Conservancy’s conservation initiatives began within two minutes of entering their airspace. I was treated to two remarkable sights, both of which I will never forget. Our first sight was an aerial view of the biggest herds of elephants I have ever seen gathered around in a small dam. My blurred photographs (helicopter vibrations and Perspex windows are anathemas to photographers) reveal close to 200 animals in that one place. A few minutes later we spotted a black rhino mother and calf standing at the edge of a waterhole. Seeing one of the world’s most endangered species standing in the African bush with her infant brings mixed emotions: melancholia, recalling the way rhinos roamed our continent centuries ago and hope that perhaps this species can be saved from extinction. Savé Valley Conservancy is one of Africa’s largest private wildlife conservancies, allowing visitors to experience the true “African Bush”.

There are no fences between the different operators within the Conservancy, which allows the game to move freely over the almost 750,000 acres of pristine natural bush.  The first few nights of our ten day safari were spent at a recently refurbished camp called Gunundwe. The thatched rondavels are comfortable with good ablutions. We prepared and ate our meals under an open living area overlooking mopane trees and a manmade waterhole filled with borehole water. This attracted a couple of troops of baboons, several impalas and a duiker. After filling a birdbath in front of the living area we were treated to some truly wonderful birding, including drongos, orioles, goshawks, starlings, buntings, canaries, woodpeckers, weavers, redbilled hornbills and emerald-spotted doves.  Plains game is plentiful and large herds are common. We were spoiled for choice with frequent sightings of kudu, nyala, bushbuck, waterbuck, zebra, warthog, giraffe and mongooses. Everywhere we looked it seemed an animal or bird was keeping an eye on us. Each member of Africa’s “Big Five” made an appearance during our visit, from a leopard relaxing in the golden grass during a late afternoon drive to several herds of buffalo at various times of the day and a young lion drinking from the Turgwe River at sunset.

I was delighted to see several members of the Conservancy’s African Painted Dog (Wild Dog) packs strolling near the road as we drove to our lodge. Our guide told us the pack was moving to a new den but nobody was sure of the new location. Incredibly four southern ground hornbills, including one juvenile, were on the other side of the road, wandering around fallen logs and branches while keeping a large lashed eye on our vehicle. Both species are endangered which makes any sighting of them extra special. It is encouraging to learn that Painted Dog numbers are increasing at the Conservancy. During our stay, I was invited to watch a team of vets remove a snare that had become deeply embedded in a male black rhino’s rear leg. The group, comprising vets from the government, the Conservancy and the private sector worked for almost an hour on the injured rhino, before he was revived.  Watching him trot off into the African bush we could see he was walking better, and undoubtedly feeling more comfortable after the wire snare was removed.

Accommodation at the different lodges is small, comfortable and reasonably priced, ensuring the number of visitors does not impact negatively on the Conservancy. There are no tourist buses filled with clients rushing to photograph the latest lion kill. Instead, highly qualified and extremely knowledgeable guides are available to take visitors around the Conservancy.  This means everyone visiting Savé Valley Conservancy has a truly unique safari because every day in the Zimbabwean bush offers different, unknown and exciting experiences. I made a second trip to Savé Valley Conservancy in December 2020 and saw a completely different place to the one I had previously visited in September.  The dry golden bush and brown strip roads were replaced with lush green vegetation and mighty flowing rivers. The Msaize River had flooded overnight and washed away part of the low-level bridge. We abandoned our vehicle on the side of the road above the river and crossed by boat, retrieving the car the following morning when the water levels were slightly better. While it is difficult to spot game when the bush is so thick we still made a few wonderful bush memories. One night we went up “Moon Rock” for sundowners and a braai, and witnessed the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

In an African night sky full of twinkling stars, the sight of our solar system’s two largest planets passing just 0.1 degrees apart was even more special. A colony of red-billed buffalo weavers busily repairing their massive nest after a heavy storm was another special sighting. Although I was fortunate enough to fly into Savé Valley Conservancy for my first visit in September, I have to admit the road trip undertaken for the second visit was not as difficult as I had expected. We drove from Harare to Mutare and headed south toward Chipinge and Birchenough Bridge. The drive is nowhere near as stressful as using the very busy Harare-Masvingo route because there is far less traffic and it is a more scenic route. Birchenough Bridge is Zimbabwe’s most beautiful bridge (in my opinion) and the sight of the Savé River in full flood when we drove across it will not be forgotten.

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