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Wednesday 30 January 2013

Waterfalls of the world

Another extended section feature for the Victoria Falls Guide, this time on Waterfalls of the World (all articles researched and written by Peter Roberts).

Waterfalls of the World

Types of Waterfalls

Highest Waterfall in the World

Waterfalls in Africa

Photo Credit: The Victoria Falls (Peter Roberts)

Monday 28 January 2013

Butterflies of the Victoria Falls

butterflies of victoria falls
The other page I've added recently, first part of the Insects of the Victoria Falls section, Butterflies of the Victoria Falls. Note that this is by no means a comprehensive list - only key species have so far been listed.
Image: Papilio demodocus (Peter Roberts)

Saturday 26 January 2013

Victoria Falls Vulture Restaurants Attract South African Clientele

Here's a story which we picked up on for the Victoria Falls Guidee on ringed vultures turning up at the local vulture feeding spots in Victoria Falls. Researchers confirmed that the vultures were originally ringed the Pilanesberg (South Africa).
Victoria Falls Vulture Restaurants Attract South African Clientele
Photo Credit: Vultures (Peter Roberts)

Thursday 24 January 2013

Dexter's Global Village

dexter shoestrings
Local 'artist in residence' at Shoestrings, Victoria Falls, Dexter and his amazing Global Village. Written for the Victoria Falls Guide.
Dexterous Dexter
Photo Credit: Dexter (Peter Roberts)

UPDATE: 2015 - Dexter is doing really well and has relocated to the Elephant Walk Shopping Village, where you will find him still making his fantastic moving sculptures.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

A myna problem?

From the Zambezi Traveller, June 2012
The common or Indian myna, Acridotheres tristis, a controversial non indigenous species in southern Africa, has been recorded breeding in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, generating much debate among ornithologists.
Read more: Zambezi Traveller - A myna problem?
Photo credit: Zambezi Traveller

Friday 18 January 2013

Counting Hornbills

Here's another series of linked articles from the Zambezi Traveller (June 2012), this time on conservation efforts to save the southern ground hornbill and encouraging tourists and safari guides to submit their ground hornbill sightings from acorss the region (all articles researched and written by Peter Roberts).
Wanted! Have you seen this bird?
Counting Hornbills
The Southern Ground Hornbill
Hornbill - Unite to save iconic bird species
Southern Ground Hornbill Sightings
Photo Credit: Zambezi Traveller

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Dynamite - The Livingstone Lion

dynamite the livingstone lion

Here's a series of articles I wrote for the Zambezi Traveller on the amzaing story of Dynamite, the Hwange lion who went walkabout and turned up on the outskirts of Livingstone, Zambia, having crossed the Zambezi River below the Falls. These stories are from the March 2012 issue of the Zambezi Traveller.

Dynamite - The Tale of the Incredible Travelling Lion

A wild male lion captured last close to Livingstone after attacking and killing cattle in the Songwe area has turned out to no ordinary lion. Initially it was reported in the Zambian Press that the animal had escaped from one of the captive lion tourism experiences in the area, but through the dedicated effort of lion researchers and the wonders of modern technology, this lion has an amazing tale to tell.

The Zambian Wildlife Authority, together with local animal vets, decided to capture the problem lion and after a successful capture on 26th January were surprised to find that they had not noticed that the animal was carrying a GPS research collar. A quick bit of checking with lion research projects in the area identified the animal as having come from Hwange National Park, some 150km south of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and surprisingly, the other side of the Zambezi River.

Visitors to Sikumi Tree Lodge on the edge of Hwange National Park over the last few years will have undoubtedly have heard of, if not seen, the ‘Dynamite Boys’, a coalition of originally four male lions who were often seen in the area. Unfortunately, the group were reduced to this one remaining individual (it is believed the other three all died in snares). He was last seen in the area in December last year, having been ousted from his territory by two younger males, with nothing then known of his movements until he turned up on the edge of Livingstone on the 22nd January.

I was lucky enough to have seen this lion early last year when I had the pleasure of visiting Sikumi, and it was a special event for me, as several years earlier I volunteered for a period with Oxford University’s WildCru Hwange Lion Project, and was present with Dr Andrew Loveridge when he first captured and collared this lion as part of his research into lion populations and their movements in and around Hwange National Park.

Excited by the arrival of four young unknown males onto the local scene, the boys were prime targets for a GPS collar, which records the position of the animal every hour over periods of months and years and stores the data for transmission to portable receivers, yielding valuable data on lion movements and behaviour to researchers. The group were first found in the Main Camp area of the Park, close to a small waterhole known as ‘Dynamite Pan’, hence the adopted name of the group, and now this amazing lion, the last Dynamite boy.

The Amazing Zambezi Traveller

Lion Captured Near Livingstone

Travelling Lion Turns a Spotlight on the Species

Hwange Lion Research Project

The story has two interesting post-scripts. Firstly, Dynamite was kept in a cage for nearly a year before beaurocratic paperpushers decided to release him. Unfortunately he died in transit (see link here). At his age, and after a year in captivity, it was probably doomed to failure. Shame more wasn't done to effect an early release, highlighted in my editorial at the time.

Secondly, another lion from Hwange recently went walkabout, as fearured in the December 2012 issue of the Zambezi Traveller: . Another Zambezi wanderer

Photo Credit: Zambezi Traveller

Monday 14 January 2013

A bridge too near?

Interesting historical persepctives on development. From Issue 05 of the Zambezi Traveller (June 2011).

Peter Roberts

victoria falls bridge

The Victoria Falls Bridge is now such an integral part of the history and environment of the Victoria Falls area that it is hard to imagine that its construction in 1904-5 resulted in much division and controversy. Many protested that the bridge was an engineering act of vandalism and should not be built so close to the natural wonder of the Falls.

A writer for Scientific American magazine, in an article published in July 1905 to celebrate the building of the bridge, recorded: "To ascertain the general feeling of the visitors on the site chosen, a book was kept at the [construction] engineers’ camp, and a very large majority of the opinions are favourable to it, many visitors being converted from hostility to approval on seeing the facts of the case – in fact, one guest goes so far as to say the following: ‘The falls in their present position cannot possibly detract from the beauty of the bridge’."

Despite objections and engineering advice in support of an alternative site upstream of the Falls, it was Cecil Rhodes’ wish that the bridge should be built "where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls." This was even against the opposition of his own brother, Colonel Frank Rhodes, who is recorded as saying: "Well, I have done all I could to prevent the bridge being built… and nothing is now left for me to do but pray daily for an earthquake." His prayers were almost answered in 1910 when an earthquake shook the town of Livingstone and a shower of rocks were dislodged into the gorges below the Falls. The bridge however was undamaged.

The Victoria Falls Bridge has been cited by engineers for its elegance of design and to the way it relates to its natural setting. According to the American Society of Civil Engineering, the bridge "embodies the best abilities of the engineer to enhance the beauty of nature rather than detract from it". The President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Sir Alexander Kennedy, recorded in 1907: "The lines of the structure, themselves quite beautiful, brought out at once the vastness of the gorge itself, which without the structure could not be realized. Before the bridge was built the gorge was something very beautiful but quite indefinite, but directly that beautiful arch was put up it gave an entirely new interest to the landscape. He did not think anybody who had seen the Victoria Falls bridge would ever find fault with the engineers who designed it". Like Rhodes, one wonders how many of the actually saw the bridge in its setting with their own eyes, rather than from photographs.

The bridge soon became a popular tourist attraction in its own right, offering pedestrians, as well as train passengers, a spectacular new view of the Falls and gorges below. Today the bridge is the second most famous landmark of the region, after the Victoria Falls themselves, hosting a 111 metre bungee jump with a hair raising 80m bungee swing and 300m zip line. The recently refurbished Visitor Centre with viewing platform and restaurant and bar is located on the northern bank.

Today views on the bridge are still divided. In one recently published coffee-table book on the Falls, the authors make the following emotive statement: "Once construction is complete, it is much more difficult to remove it than if it were simply disallowed in the first place. In time it becomes an accepted part of the landscape, and eventually an object of historical curiosity. Few now would wish to see the Victoria Falls Bridge removed, but it is, in truth, a hideous monument to Victorian vanity" (Teede).

Peter Roberts, freelance writer and researcher, has written a book on the history of the Victoria Falls Bridge in association with the Victoria Falls Bridge Company.

Website: Sun, Steel and Spray: A history of the Victoria Falls Bridge

Photo Credit: Sun, Steel and Spray

‘World Heritage status of Vic Falls Rainforest intact’

The World Heritage Status of the Victoria Falls Rainforest has not been downgraded as Unesco still recognises it as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Tourism and Hospitality Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi has said.

Eng Mzembi said only God could delist the Victoria Falls Rainforest from being one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Commenting on reports which alleged that the Victoria Falls Rainforest had been delisted from being one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World making way for the so-called New7Wonders of the World which include the Table Mountain of South Africa, Eng Mzembi said the Rainforest, which is the largest curtain of flowing water in the world, would remain as a natural wonder until the end of time.

“No individual or grouping can delist it or downgrade it. It is only God who can delist Victoria Falls Rainforest as a natural wonder if the world comes to an end. Fortunately, the world has not ended and therefore we still have the Rainforest as a natural wonder. God as He pleases when the world comes to an end may create the Rainforest somewhere, but for all I know it will be back in Zimbabwe,” said Eng Mzembi.

He said individuals or groups can only grade man-made wonders.

Eng Mzembi also said the publication on the New7Wonders of the World were a result of a private poll of the website, which is not the official position of Unesco.

“We have since established that the status of Victoria Falls has not changed at all. The Rainforest, as a World Heritage Site, is still highly listed as being among the Seven Natural Wonders of the World by the Unesco website and is the only one in Africa,” said Mr Clement Mukwasi, public relations manager for Shearwater Adventures.

He said the mentioning of Table Mountain as one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World was simply a marketing gimmick by a website, “The” on the New7Wonders of Nature competition.

“This should not be confused with the long standing ratings of the Victoria Falls Rainforest. These private ratings that are a result of manipulated polls should not be taken seriously. The unfortunate part of it is that sometimes people confuse it with official pronouncements,” said Mr Mukwasi.

He said Victoria Falls Rainforest was among the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and compared well with some of the world’s largest falls such as the Niagara Falls of Canada and the Iguacu Falls, which are found between Brazil and Argentina. In 1989, Unesco upgraded the Victoria Falls to the status of a World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe alongside Mana Pools, the Great Zimbabwe and Matopo Hills. Meanwhile, the idea of listing the wonders of the world is hardly a new thing.

The historian Herodotus, according to the free encyclopedia, compiled his own list way back in the fifth Century BC and from then on many have been unable to resist the temptation of categorising and rating the world’s monuments, both natural and man-made.

The traditional Seven Wonders of the World were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

These were the monuments the Greeks considered the epitome of man’s creative skill and ingenuity and only the Great Pyramid exists today. Little wonder then, that in the information age there are moves to make new lists of man-made and natural wonders.

The New7Wonders of Nature was a follow-up popularity contest to the New7Wonders Foundation, New7Wonders of the World, which were announced in July 2007. These are Iguazu Falls (Brazil), Jeju Island (South Korea), Komodo Island (Indonesia), Puerto Precesa Underground River (Philippines), Table Mountain (South Africa), Halong Bay (Vietnam) and Amazon Rainforest (South America).

Source: ‘World Heritage status of Vic Falls Rainforest intact’ (13/01/2013)

Tourism industry on recovery path

Tourism industry on recovery path

This is good news for Zimbabwe as the country suffered a knock in tourist arrivals at the turn of the millennium when negative perceptions wrought by the land reform programme stunted growth of the sector. Zimbabwe suffered from adverse media reports in the West and tourists generally shunned the country, preferring neighbouring countries which benefited from the onslaught.

However, since the era of the inclusive Government, tourist arrivals have steadily risen and the country has been witnessing a gradual improvement in the industry. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority yesterday released figures which show that more than 200 000 tourists visited the Victoria Falls Rainforest last year, the highest number of tourists recorded in the past three years. Of these arrivals, locals accounted for 53 percent, an indication of an improved economy and higher disposable incomes.

ZPWMA public relations manager, Mrs Carol Washaya-Moyo said the figure was an increase from 146 203 visitors recorded in 2011. She said: “In 2009, 116 223 tourists visited the Rainforest, a figure which increased to 141 113 in 2010 and 146 203 in 2011.”

In December alone, 22 521 tourists visited the Rainforest and of these, 11 413 were locals and 11 108 were foreigners. There was also a marked improvement in tourist arrivals at the Hwange Main Camp and the Zambezi National Park in Victoria Falls.

Ms Washaya Moyo said there was also a marked improvement in tourist arrivals at the Hwange Main Camp and the Zambezi National Park in Victoria Falls.

At the Main Camp, Ms Washaya Moyo said 12 199 visited in 2009, 18 819 in 2010, 27 830 in 2011 and 32 483 last year. At Zambezi, she said 47 450 tourists visited in 2009, 58 598 in 2010, 56 475 in 2011 and 70 980 last year.

“Total percentage contributions to these three attractions were locals 53 percent and foreigners 47 percent. At the Hwange Main Camp locals constituted 64 percent and foreigners recorded 36 percent. At the Rainforest 51 percent were locals and 49 percent foreigners and at Zambezi, 56 percent locals and 44 percent foreigners,” she said.

The trend at these tourist destinations is most likely a microcosm of the situation at other major sites in the country which include Nyanga, Gonarezhou, Mana Pools, Matopo and Kariba. The rebound in the tourism sector is most welcome coming as it does in a year in which Zimbabwe will in August co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly in Victoria Falls with Zambia.

Statistical indications of an upsurge in local tourism should spur authorities to heed calls for dual pricing that will see locals being charged lower rates compared to foreigners at tourist attractions. This was the case during the Zimbabwe dollar era anyway and will further increase locals’ participation in the sector.

We reported last week that most local tourists in Victoria Falls over the festive season only managed to visit the Rainforest and thereafter spent the rest of their time in the resort town walking around town or swimming in pools at their lodges and hotels. They could not for instance, afford to go for bridge swings, bridge slides and bungee jumping which cost $160.

According to discounted rates offered by one of the tour and adventure operators, helicopter flight and elephant back safaris cost $240 per person while another company was offering lion walk and elephant back safari for $200. Sunset boat cruises were going for $35 per person.

We feel locals deserve to enjoy their facilities at lower rates compared to foreigners. On the other hand, aggressive marketing of the country’s premier tourist destination should be escalated ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly because Zimbabwe deserves to reap huge financial rewards from hosting the meeting. In that vein, authorities should move with speed to ensure that everything is in place for the indaba and stakeholders are geared for the meeting.

We note with concern Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi’s disquiet with poor service delivery standards in some hospitality facilities in Victoria Falls. Minister Mzembi, who says he was instructed by President Mugabe to spend the festive holidays in the resort town, said if the decline in standards remained unresolved, this would impact negatively on the successful hosting of the meeting.

“It was a directive from the President that I should spend my festive holidays in Victoria Falls as a trial run of our systems ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly. Certainly, I was not happy in terms of services in some of the facilities…there is a downward spiral of standards across the board,” he said.

As we write, an inter-ministerial working party was in the resort town this week to assess progress in preparing for the global meeting. Its chairman, Deputy Chief Secretary Retired Colonel Christian Katsande, said the objective of the assessment was to ensure that the agreed projects remain on course for completion in readiness for the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly.
The visit was also in preparation to receive a UNWTO technical team due to visit Zimbabwe and Zambia next week between the 14th and 19th of this month. Everything therefore appears to be on course for the successful hosting of the event and we urge all stakeholders to put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure that all deadlines are met and the country is ready to host the world. Zimbabwe’s tourism sector depends on it.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Birds of the Victoria Falls

birds of victoria falls
And here's the latest page on To The Victora Falls - adding to the Flora and Fauna of the Victoria Falls section we have, at last, a full checklist of the Birds of the Victoria Falls. I've had this information for ages, compiled from various sources, but all the coding needed to put it up online delayed me for a while. Until I found a cunning plan. Anyway, here it is, a fairly comprehensive list of the Birds of the Victoria Falls. If you know of any additions or amendments to this list please let me know (you can comment on this post).
Admittedly I still have to write up a fairly detailed introduction to the birds of the region, which will hopefully follow soon, and a downloadable species list (probably excel file), which will probably be more useful as a checklist.
Image: Finfoot (Peter Roberts)

Friday 4 January 2013

Sun, Steel & Spray - a history of the Victoria Falls Bridge

Sun, Steel & Spray - A History of the Victoria Falls Bridge was first published in 2011, and the first edition (20,000 words) is still available for sale from the The Victoria Falls Bridge Shop and other selected outlets in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Sun, Steel & Spray is a comprehensive history of the planning and construction of the iconic Victoria Falls Bridge and is illustrated with a wealth of photographs from the building of the bridge to modern day.

A revised and extended second edition (over 40,000 words) was published in July 2016 and is available through Amazon for online order.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

To The Victoria Falls

to the victoria falls
For about five years now I've been researching the human history of the Victoria Falls. I've edited most of my research together into a website - 'To The Victoria Falls' - it's grown into a bit of a monster with nearly 100 pages covering topics from Mzilikazi, King of the Matabele (now known as the Ndebele), David Livingstone, Cecil Rhodes and the development of the railway, through to the growth of a modern tourism town. We'll bring you selected highlights and updates on this blog...