Zebra Capture Experience in Zimbabwe

I recently returned from an 18 day work trip that started and ended in Europe, but we spent most of our time bopping around different countries in Africa.  Our third stop was Zimbabwe.  At first, I felt a bit hesitant about this stop, solely because the camp we were staying at, Kwali, had communal bathrooms and I was concerned with walking to and from the bathroom in the middle of the night by myself for safety reasons.  My feelings of concern quickly dissolved as we pulled up to the camp and met James, the manager, who was professional and provided us with top-notch service.  He assured us these grounds were very secure and I felt very safe, which is always a great feeling to have on the road.  There was a family of baboons greeted us hanging out on the gray stone outside of my hut and a buffalo that roamed the grounds at night!  On our way to Kwali, we spotted a giraffe just hanging out.  It was so cool to see a giraffe just driving to our accommodations and  not being on a safari.  It was back to basics, back to nature and it felt refreshing and very peaceful.

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Our first evening there we met Josh Mostert playing pool outside the dining room hut.  He and his wife, Jackie, capture wild game for a living for many different causes, some of which include; breeding and relocating animals to different conservation camps.  He explained to us that they were on a mission to capture 200 zebras and relocate them to another camp about 12 hours away.  The game drives were all booked up, so we offered up our services to give them a hand if they needed it to see wild animals.  He took us up on the offer and invited us to come along with them the next day.

Next morning, I was up bright and early at 5:30am to meet the gang in the lobby.  We had a quick breakfast and then headed out to the helicopter.  Jackie’s brother, NJ, was the helicopter pilot.  They grew up in this business with their father who used to do this for a living.  I thought it was special they were working together as a family on these missions.  They were all so warm and inviting.  I couldn’t believe they were letting me tag along on their work day!  I didn’t know what to expect, only knew that this would be an adventure!  When we got to the helicopter, they told me to get out with NJ and Mark, the helicopter mechanic to go for a ride to find zebras.  I asked them if they were sure and they laughed and said they do it all the time and for me to go.  I gladly accepted and was so excited to have a helicopter ride in Zimbabwe!  We were up in the air for about of hour.  I was taking in the view, the brown and green terrain with brown leafless trees, a lot of them baobab .  I spotted rhinos running, elephants, impalas, spring bucks and giraffes!  This vantage point gave me a different perspective of seeing all these animals.  NJ saw a couple of zebras, but they were looking for a bigger group of them.  I saw all the animals, but the zebras, which was kind of funny!  He explained to me that from up here with the lighting, the zebras look grey and are harder to spot.

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Videos taken on the helicopter:

Josh and I swapped after we landed.  They were going to find zebras.  I stayed with Jackie, her two adorable children, Shiyloh and Corban, Mark, Kelvin and Drew.  We drove to the boma, which is the point of enclosure where the capture happens.  We waited for a bit as they were trying to find the zebras to bring to the boma.  Kelvin, who was home visiting his parents for a few days, came as a volunteer to be part of this zebra capture experience.  He took me to his position, at the third gate, which is where he was helping out.  NJ would first find the zebras.  He would then chase them with the helicopter leading them to the boma.  When they all were close, he would put on his siren and the zebras would run into the boma.  When they were past the third and first point of entrance, we would run with the green curtain to close it to keep the zebras in the boma. Kelvin explained the process to me.  I watched him on the first try and snapped this video of my first capture experience:

It was amazing to see a group of 6 beautifully striped black and white zebras run by so fast as I was tucked away, hiding myself from their view behind the green curtain.  Talk about being in nature!  It doesn’t get any closer than this!  I felt like pinching myself to see if this all was actually really happening!

After the zebras go through 3 gates, they are led by Jackie and Josh to the part where the zebras get sedated before going on a truck for their drive to the other camp.  Jackie is a veterinarian and she has to be present while they are administering any medications to the animals.  Her and Josh would climb up this latter and take these long huge needles that they would give the zebras the sedation.  Once the zebras calm down, they are led to the big truck, which is their ride to the next conservation camp.

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We all hung out around Jackie and Josh’s maroon pick up truck, in the “bush” which is what they call it. We waited for NJ and Josh to find more zebras and then this whole process would start again.  I was surprised at how organized it all was.  This was clearly not an easy operation!  Once they found the zebras, we got the word through the walkie talkies to get into our positions.  Kelvin asked me if I wanted to run with the curtain this time around.  I told him I couldn’t believe they were trusting me with this operation!  I accepted and got ready to be a part of this experience!  I was a little nervous, hoping I wouldn’t screw anything up.  Once we heard the second siren finished, I watched as this group of zebras ran fast into the second gate.  After they were all past the gate, I ran as fast as I could, pulling the curtain with me to close the gate!  A rush of adrenaline shot through me!  I couldn’t believe I was playing a role in this zebra capture!  Before coming to Zimbabwe, I had never heard of a capture and today I was actively part of this whole process.  I couldn’t help but feel lucky that I had the opportunity to experience this and be a part of it.

In between other captures, I was with Corban and Shiyloh.  Corban took a liking to my giraffe and helicopter videos and Shiyloh loved going through all my videos on my I phone.  I was keeping the kids entertained.  It was great!  They were both so sweet.  At one point, we heard a stampeding sound and looked up to see a group of zebras running on the side over the curtain they had trampled down.  Corban and I watched as the group ran following their stallion back into the wild.  Corban pointed to them and said, “zebra” which I replied, “Yes, zebra!”  I grew attached to the kids in the few days I spent with them in Zimbabwe.  It was tough to say good-bye.  They both had so much character and for their ages were so self-sufficient.  I guess that’s what happens when kids grow up in the bush.  It was awesome to see the way they live and spend time together as a family.  NJ is a very intuitive helicopter pilot.  He knows the animals well and can really sense and feel their whereabouts and how to handle them.  Jackie and I chatted as well in between captures.  We shared our love stories about meeting our husbands and talked about jobs, family and life.  I love this family!  It was so great meeting and spending time with them in their world.

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My third experience with the capture I was with Drew, who helps Jackie and Josh out with their captures.  I went with him to his post at the 2nd gate.  He described what he does and told me to hide in the corner as the zebras come though.  I did just that, but I was seeing the zebras weren’t going into the first gate once they were in our gate.   I felt a little nervous and scared wondering if they were going to come back and try to get out and if I would get trampled in the process.  I started wondering what my move would be if that happened.  Can I turn around fast enough to crawl under the gate?  The opening was on the other side where Drew had run with the curtain to close it.  It was at those moments where I flipped my camera by accident, which you will see in the video!  It took a bit, as Drew threw twigs in their direction to keep them looking forward.  Then Jackie came in and led them to the first gate yelling, “Hiyah!!!!”  It was definitely a lot more action in this gate!  I felt relieved as I watched them go into the first gate.  Here is the video of my experience at the 2nd gate:

It was close to 12pm after we finished and their work day was coming to an end, as it was getting really hot and the captures are not as successful in extreme temperatures, because then the zebra get more temperamental and are harder to keep from hurting each other as Jackie explained.  After they repaired the part of the boma that had been broken down by the one group of zebras that escaped, we headed back to Kwali.

My 4 days in Zimbabwe were truly magical on so many different levels.  I felt like someone had picked me up and dropped me on a movie set looking around at the mostly yellow terrain with brown leafless trees spotting animals in their natural habitat.  We spotted zebras, giraffes, impalas, baboons, spring bucks, rhinos and hyenas just driving to the airport.  As we were leaving Zimbabwe, I was filled with so many feelings of excitement, joy, love, peace, gratitude and sadness to leave this place.  It’s funny how the one place I had reservations about in the beginning ended up being the most memorable one!  I will never forget my zebra capture experience and my time with this beautiful family in “Zim” as the locals call it.  I knew I had just had a once in a lifetime experience and it felt overwhelmingly great. A gigantic thank you to Jackie, Josh and family for that!  You are all awesome!

 

 

 

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