The border crossing into Zimbabwe was completely smooth. Unlike in 2019, we experienced an almost empty border with very relaxed border officials. After a total of 30 minutes everything was done and our donkey had Zimbabwean dust under the wheels – we were back in our favorite African country. From Pandamatenga to the westernmost park entrance of Hwange National Park, the gate at Robin’s Camp, there was a small track that we drove for about 45 minutes. For two nights we checked in at Robin’s Camp to explore the surroundings, which were unknown to us until then. We didn’t know that the annual Gamecount took place exactly on this weekend. During the first full moon in October, volunteers count the wildlife in Hwange. People position themselves at waterholes throughout the park and keep tally sheets for 24 hours, from 12 noon on Saturday to 12 noon on Sunday, counting the animals they see during that time.
Bushfire at Robin’s Camp
The volunteers come from Zimbabwe or from South Africa and use the opportunity to spend a few days in Hwange National Park before and also after the census. Therefore, contrary to our expectations, the various picnic spots, which are used as exclusive camp sites from the evening, were mostly not available. As a so-called walk-in guest, i.e. as a spontaneous visitor without pre-booking, Zimparks charges very good special rates. For this you have to take what is available and can only be choosy in exceptional cases. Spots like Deteema, Masuma Dam or Ngweshla, the place where we spent two nights in 2019, were now occupied by the Gamecount helpers and not available for us.
On the second day at Robin’s Camp, bushfires were spreading in the area. Bush fires are common. Despite all the cruelty involved – many smaller animals die at the mercy of the flames – old, dry grass is removed and provides new space. Since the grass tended to be low in this region, there was an increase in smaller wildfires, which were accompanied by smoldering fires.
The region proves to be almost animal free
Although the park staff tried hard to fight the fires, in the end this endeavor was rather unsuccessful. The resources are limited and the grasses have grown vigorously everywhere – thanks to the last very good rainy season. Now, shortly before the new rainy season, the soil is dry as dust. On our game drives on the second day we saw very few zebras and occasionally impalas in the mopane forest. Elephants were scarce and when some were spotted on extended drives, they were exceptionally nervous and fearful. We guessed it was a combination of the fire, elephants can smell fire for miles, and the hustle and bustle from the census. In any case, we barely stopped to avoid adding stress to the elephants. We waived after the second night in Robin’s Camp on the morning game drive, still relaxed and then drove the about 70 km to Sinamatella Camp in peace and comfort.