In the beginning of the year, a short
break in the rains allowed a 4X4 incursion into Cangandala National
Park, even though the road conditions had deteriorated
substantially. It was a good opportunity to put to the test the new
Land Cruiser kindly donated by Toyota Angola, and sure enough there
were plenty of good challenges for us to negotiate on our way
through the mud. Things seem to be evolving naturally in the
sanctuary, with the animals consistently split in two groups, one
comprising the old cows and most of the hybrids, and a second herd
with most of the young sables.
surprisingly, this time the second group was not accompanied by the
bull Mercury, but by his younger sibling Apollo, who at age two is
still very inexperienced. More worrying is the fact Mercury did not
show up at the trap cameras, nor could we pick up his radio signal
anywhere. Maybe he has been spending some time on his own, and it
was by chance he has gone undetected, but it is a bit suspicious.
With Duarte and Ivan out of the picture, and the hybrid bulls
castrated, he should be enjoying a comfortable dominance without
competition inside the sanctuary, and I can’t think of any reason
why he would leave his girls unattended… something to be followed up
in future visits.
We were not able to confirm the number of
sable calves, as the long grass, soft terrain and thick vegetation
typical of the late rainy season, made it very hard to approach the
herds. They were generously photographed in the trap cameras, but
not simultaneously and similar aged calves are hardly
distinguishable individually. In any case, we believe most calves
have survived, and the animals look happy and healthy. Once again we
could confirm the presence of several intruder roan bulls inside the
sanctuary, but no females. On the other hand, the roan herds out of
the sanctuary have been producing lots of calves, consistently
recorded in the cameras. One curious event revealed by the trap
cameras was seeing that one old female - Paula, broke her left horn.
Females often interact aggressively as they establish their
hierarchical positions within the herd, and sometimes it can result
in traumatic lesions. The broken horn however hasn’t reached live
tissue and should bring no consequences to Paula, apart from
hindering her dominance ambitions. And on the other hand it will
make her much easier to be identified from now on.
trap cameras however also brought us a sweet-sour surprise.
Remarkably, out most popular character – crazy Ivan "The Terrible"
resurfaced! Following an absence that lasted for more than six
months, we had lost hope to locate him alive and assumed he had
probably been another casualty of poachers. Well, he is alive yes,
but unfortunately we were not that much off target in our fears. He
did fell victim of a poaching incident, having been caught in one of
the many infamous snare traps that are constantly being mounted in
the park and neighboring areas. He has become a shadow of the Ivan
we knew, and if it wasn’t for the white ear tags and VHF collar I
would find it hard to accept that he is the same individual that now
appeared in photos since January 3rd.
old Ivan, strong and proud, mighty and threatening, undefeated… is
He is now a poor masculine figure, humble
and skinny, feeble and frightened, beaten. Ivan has lost weight and
has even lost his shiny black coat, having turned brown, almost
female-colored. He is certainly not the same imposing bull, and on
his left front leg carries a nasty ring-shaped scar, evidence of the
cable snare that almost took his life. The incident must have
happened many months ago and he must have gone through hell before
finally attempting a hesitant return to his territorial duties.
It is likely that the worst has passed and
he will survive, but it is hard to predict if he will make a full
recovery. This was yet another shocking proof that the poaching
curse is far from resolved, even in Cangandala. It is highly
frustrating that in spite of all the effort put into the project by
the various stakeholders and the very significant successes obtained
over the past few years, we still do not seem to be winning the war
against poaching and the recovery and survival of this magnificent
and iconic species hangs by a thread.
Photos can be viewed on Picasa Album through following Link: