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SABLE Hwange has one of Africa's largest populations of sable antelope. A bull's lethal curved horns may reach 120cm in length. He uses them in combat with territorial rivals, and will go down on his knees in order to sweep sideways at an assailant. In this way sables have been known to kill lions. Left to right: What are you looking at? Spotted hyena and vultures start to clean a kill; Longing for more, is this a young elephant's attempt at pickpocketing?; Cleaning house, a hungry lion scatters a crowd of young entrepreneurs. It wasn't long before some elephants, raising their trunks like periscopes, sniffed out water in the plunge pool above them and cheekily drained it. " They do that everyday," sighed the camp's young hostess, Bella. What really impressed me about Hwange was that throughout Zimbabwe's leaner years a battery of impressive research and conservation has been ongoing. Conservationists haven't sat back twiddling their thumbs. Near Main Camp, the Painted Dog Conservation ( PDC) charity's opulent new interpretation centre ( funded by Disney) is impressively informative, and can easily fi ll a visitor's morning or afternoon. Guests experience the rare treat to see African wild dogs, an IUCN Red List Threatened Species, in their 30ha enclosure that houses orphans or those undergoing rehabilitation from injury. Project manager Peter Blinston explained how fi ve adorable little three- month- old pups came into their care. " Their alpha female was killed by lions and we didn't think they'd survive," he said. " Now they're prospering well while being fostered by parent dogs." Blinston explained Hwange has around 150 of Zimbabwe's estimated 750 African wild dogs, yet they face huge challenges from snaring and lion predation. Ironically, the dogs' vulnerability to lions may be linked to the success of another Hwange research project, which has seen the big cat's population fl ourish. Biologist Dr Andrew Loveridge told me about the radio- collaring programme they started in 2003, which confi rmed lions were wandering into neighbouring hunting concessions and being shot. This led to the National Park refusing lion hunting permits in neighbouring concessions. Since that 2005 decision, the numbers of male lions - the hunters' favourite - have risen at least seven fold in the park. Later, I also got the chance to see the new Hwange Environmental Research Development ( HERD) project in action. A wide- ranging programme administered by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifi que, HERD doesn't study single species; rather, it looks more holistically at predator- prey relationships. It researches everything from zebra population dynamics to the ecology of hyena's foraging. Roger Parry and his wife Jessica, of the Wild Horizons Trust, are darting and collaring animals for this study. I joined them and watched Roger expertly zap an impala, before fi tting it with a new radio receiver. " There's been some hugely positive research and conservation carried out here in recent years," Roger explained. " Now we need tourists to put much- needed revenue back into the national parks." ? Mark Stratton stayed in Hwange National Park with thanks to The Hide ( www. thehide. com) and Hwange Safari Lodge ( www. africasun. com). CHEETAH Cheetah favour open areas of Hwange, where good visibility and fl at terrain suit their high- speed hunting technique. Their non- retractile claws are unique among cats and function like a runner's spikes, allowing more traction during the chase. BATELEUR EAGLE The bateleur eagle is one of the most distinctive sights of Hwange's skies. Its name is taken from the French for tightrope walker and describes the tilting fl ight with which it searches for prey. ERIC GAUSS ERIC GAUSS

18 Travel Zimbabwe December 2009 Our recent visit has rekindled our passion for Zimbabwe... Come back with us! Call 020 8347 4030 www. okavango. com info@ okavango. com © Marcus Wilson Smith VARDEN SAFARIS HWANGE NATIONAL PARK, ZIMBABWE HORSE RIDING SAFARIS www. riding- in- hwange. com riding@ vardensafaris. com The Hide Safari Camp. Tel: + 263 4 498835/ 6, Email: info@ thehide. com, Website: www. thehide. com TheHideoffersatruewildernessandwildlifeexperience. SituatedontheEasternBoundaryofthe FamousHwangeNationalParkwitheasyaccessfromVictoriaFalls, TheHideisoneofthefewprivate campsintheNationalparkitself. VotedBestTentedSafariCampinZimbabweon11occasions, The Hideofferslargeen- suiteEastAfricanstyletentsunderthatch, alloverlookingthemainwaterhole. Meals areservedaroundourmagnificent22teakdinningtableoralfrescoundertheacaciatrees. TheHideis knownforit'ssuperbguidingandabundantwildlifeincludingtheBigFive. Rush Hour! Barry Wolhuter ©