Help ALERT recover after COVID-19

by African Lion & Environmental Research Trust
Help ALERT recover after COVID-19

FINAL REPORT

We would like to thank our friends and supporters who contributed to our “Help ALERT recover from COVID” project.  

We all know how devastating the pandemic was and the long reaching effects it has had.  ALERT managed to keep functioning although we lost all but 3 of our staff, as the Trust was unable to financially support salaries and some projects.  The three remaining staff operate at Chizarira National Park in the north of Zimbabwe and despite the difficult conditions, managed to continue with the lion and elephant projects as well as the Community projects although the latter was at a very low level as schools were out and mixing with Community residents was not recommended.

Despite taking all normal precautions, all three staff contracted Omicrom, and had to self-isolate at the ALERT research station in Chizarira National Park.  We were at various stages of infection and severity so someone was always able to look after others.  Being so isolated meant that proper medical care was not possible but in any case, our symptoms were not severe.  Apart from tiredness and lack of appetite the small ALERT team was soon back on duty once tests had shown that we were negative.  

The lion and elephant projects are doing well and new movement data is coming in daily which also helps us with our human-wildlife mitigation project.  We have resumed our Environmental Education program in a rural school just outside of the park, and this is well received by the Secondary School students.  Recently a tree planting day was held which was also a success.  Only fruit trees are planted as water is scarce and the possibility of fruit to eat is an incentive for students to ensure that they are watered.

THANK YOU so much to you who identified with our project and who could contribute

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Whilst COVID-19 was a sudden and unexpected blight in our lives which caused a great deal of heartache and financial stress, the waning of this pandemic has not produced immediate positive changes.  Businesses are not able to immediately bounce back into full recovery and our previous business sponsors doubt that they will be in full production before the end of 2022.

ALERT was supported primarily by two businesses that had tourism as their core business.  With Covid-19 travel was stopped and the tourism industry mostly collapsed.  Funding for ALERT came to a halt from this source but we were approached by Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF – Harare), who wanted us to continue our lion and elephant research in the 1,910km² Chizarira National Park.  Their support also extended to the work we are doing with the surrounding communities. 

This funding certainly helped to keep the projects going and a local business (not involved in the tourism industry) decided to pitch in and help with fuel and vehicle services.  Another business onated a full set of tyres for our ageing research vehicle.  Despite this generous support, we were still left with a running monthly deficit of funding but through GlobalGiving and the assistance and sacrifice by families of ALERT staff we have been able to fulfil the commitment that we have made to conservation and research.

Our achievements can be viewed by clicking on the link https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-4bI2oukEva08_QFILzPCplcV1p_yxZE/view?usp=drivesdk

We would like to thank all of those who have helped us to continue our work and to achieve so much despite the difficult times that we all faced.

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We all thought we were seeing the end of COVID 19 and that life was due to take on a semblance of normalcy. Now the new variant has taken the limelight and added restrictions have been imposed. We carry on more determined than ever to make progress on all our projects.

The ALERT team, whittled down to just three staff, has steadily carried on with the many tasks before them. During the period covered by this report we have collared two more lions and two more elephants and have been able to track them both remotely through satellite and on the ground.

Finding the animals on the ground means driving to an area closest to where the last satellite point was transmitted and then going in on foot and tracking the animal using the VHF function of the collar. By using a directional aerial it is fairly straight forward to locate the collared animal although it could mean a strenuous 5 kilometer plus walk, down into gorges, up steep slopes down into gentle valleys – and then reverse the process to the vehicle. The team is assisted by two undergraduate attachment students and a National Park ranger when carrying out darting and collaring and when locating the animals to obtain demographic data.

On the 11th November 2021, the team accompanied by the two attachment students and a Park ranger, located a large heard of 64 elephants (this large number was made of a number of family herds). A mature male was successfully darted and collared and revived without incident. Another bull that was collared In March has travelled 180kms outside of the park, wandering to other Protected Areas, forestry areas and through settled subsistence farming land. The route taken is showing us the possibility of traditional wildlife migratory routes. When these are positively established we will lobby, together with other conservation NGO’s, to have them recognized as such so that they can be kept open.

Last week we attended an Elephant Management Meeting and next week on the 5th we have a tree-planting day set for a juniour school located on the park boundary.

Keep safe everybody. Keep positive and strong and don't give up!

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We would like to thank all of our supporters for their support of this fund-raising exercise. Not surprisingly the funds raised was slow and only 15% of the projected amount was raised in over a year.

We are mindful of the fact that there are many people faced with challenging issues caused by the virus and are just grateful to those who were able to so unselfishly contribute help. We have decided to close this appeal but would like to share with you what we have achieved despite the restrictions caused by Covid-19.

The ALERT team has continued with its work in Chizarira National Park and surrounding Communities in the face of a third wave of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe. On the 22nd June our small team was able to successfully dart and collar a large bull elephant and have been keeping track of it throughout the period covered by this report. This project is aimed at obtaining population dynamics of elephants in the park and also to come up with elephant-human conflict mitigation.

We have taken on two attachment students from the Zimbabwean National University of Science and Technology that are carrying out research for their BSc (hons) degree in Forest Resources and Wildlife Management. The one project is aimed at obtaining density estimates of carnivores using two methods: road transect spoor surveys; and camera trap surveys. The camera traps are set out along the spoor transect route. Carnivores are mostly nocturnal and are often difficult to see. These methods are an acceptable way of determining what carnivores are around and give a measure of density. The other student is carrying out an insect survey in six different vegetation types. All of this information is available to the Park Manager and staff so that they can be supplied with ecological information that they would not normally have of this 1,910km2 park.

Our school conservation programs have been put on hold but as soon as restrictions have been lifted we have some exciting projects for the high school students living on one boundary of the park.

Thank you all once again for your support. We wish you safety and a positive attitude as we face the uncertain future.

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Covid -19 has affected us all.  We are grateful to those who have donated towards helping ALERT continue and recover from the pandemic, despite their own difficult circumstances.  Whilst the response to our appeal was not great, the donation received nevertheless went a long way to helping us continue our work in two National Parks in Zimbabwe (Chizarira and Victoria Falls National Parks) and in the surrounding communities.  We have been able to make regular trips to the Chizarira National Park which is very isolated and which does not carry any danger of COVID-19 contamination.

At Chizarira National Park (which is 1,910km2) in extent, our researchers and research assistants have been busy mapping out vulnerable tree plots and carrying out measurements so that we have base-line data before a plan is put in place by the Park Authorities to bring in more elephants.  The existing elephant population in the park which is at an ecological balance with the vegetation, has not decimated a preferred tree species Brachystegia boehmii (common name “Prince of Wales Feathers), and there is a healthy regrowth of this species.  This may change once the population is increased.  Getting base-line data is important so that ALERT and the Park Authorities can measure the effects of the planned introduction.  We have continued to monitor the movements of the elephants we collared in the Victoria Falls and Chizarira National Parks.

The researchers have also been carrying out wildlife spoor (footprint identification) counts to get some measure of the wildlife species and numbers occurring in the park.  This is done by have an observer sitting securely on the front bumper of the research land cruiser who located the prints and a recorder who writes down the details.  Photographs are taken of any print that is not immediately recognized for future positive identification.  Interestingly prints of wild dog (painted dog), were identified.  This identification places wild dogs in the park which is a rare occurrence.

Bird records are also being kept and the rare Ross’s Turaco was seen and recorded during this exercise.  An article has been sent to the Honeyguide magazine for inclusion in their National Reports.

Our school conservation classes in the surrounding local communities has been put on hold due to Covid-19 but we have a new syllabus and a team eager to start again once schools are fully operational.   

Keep safe and thanks again for your support!

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Organization Information

African Lion & Environmental Research Trust

Location: London - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @lionsinafrica
Project Leader:
Norman Monks
Bulawayo, Matabeleland North Zimbabwe

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