The devastation of Cyclone Idai in the Manicaland province of Zimbabwe, hit hard physically - and emotionally. Mutare, the town where we are based, became the launch pad for all rescue efforts. Every access road to the deep valleys and high mountains of the Chimanimani region were washed away. The power of rushing water cannot be underestimated. The cyclone came at night, and I cannot imagine what those people must have felt in the dark cold night. The sound of the wind was a thing all victims speak of. Then houses began to slide off the slopes, amidst unimaginably gigantic boulders. The loss in every way cannot be underestimated.
The Mutare community spent weeks packaging donations, in an effort to get food and clothes to victims. We were the quickest line of response. The wheels of co-ordinated, funded aid comes slowly, but by the time it did, we were all on our knees, exhausted, and happy to hand over.
One of the worst things was that we could not get there. We could not bring to them medicines, food, fuel, blankets and water. We could not help them find loved ones, or at least their bodies. Very quickly on the scene was a South African helicopter company, owned by a man who actually had lived in Mutare in his youth. Mark identified with this community, and they became the news bearers, the deliverers, the saviours and the only ones outside of the cyclone zone who really witnessed the devastation and the tragic moments. A whole school washed away, with children in the dormitories. The pilots found an isolated group of women, walking…just walking, to who knows where? Their husbands gone, some children gone, their animals gone, all their remaining pathetic/treasured possessions on their heads.
The whole city of Mutare could hear the choppers warming up at dawn, then see them rising over the southern hills on the way to the daily rescues. Again at evening, the heavy throbbing of the Hueys, the screeching power of the Black Hawk, and other choppers, all with their dedicated skills and aptitudes, coming home to roost. All our packages were driven from Mutare, to a village about 70kms away and to Skyline Junction, closest points to grounds zero, and from there the choppers delivered small offerings of help: food, soap, a blanket, etc. Other packages contained clothes sorted into ages and sexes.
Lynne from Mutare SPCA and her husband left their comfortable home to rough camp at a school playing field closer to ground zero to supervise the arrival of the aid, and to organize labourers to load the helicopters. When a crisis like this occurs, people naturally take precedence, and we could not get down to see what animals needed help. The Chimanimani community had to do what they could to save and treat them. We sneaked some meds and food for animals on the choppers, but not enough. By a stroke of good fortune, after about 4 days, and a few bridges had been fixed, Lynne met some men who were going to take a chance to drive a complicated forestry route that they knew of when they were young. We packed as much as we could on their old truck. They said they would be in Chimanimani in 3 hours. The journey took 7 to do about 100kms. You may wonder why we all did not rush down to Chims, to help. Well, after the tenuous tracks were recreated, so that they could take light 4 x 4s, there was nowhere to stay, no supplies in shops, no fuel to get back out, no water. You would burden friends. You just had to send, send, send. And put specific requests onto the choppers. One time, we were asked simply for underwear. Imagine that. The victims had absolutely nothing left.
Real heroes and saints were born, men amongst men were made, and greedy traitors were exposed. It’s a time we hope we will never see again.
A friend in Chimanimani found a mother cat on the mountain slopes, abandoned, and with a newborn litter of kittens. (Today she brings 2 of the kittens to Mutare SPCA as they have already been adopted.) Animals with terrible injuries, sometimes fatal, had to be dealt with, and no vet present. Cattle, goats and wildlife were completely swept away. In the aftermath, sadly, many animals were abandoned as survivors walked away from the ruins of homesteads. A terrible time.
Post IDAI, on the SPCA front, we have been hectically busy too. We have improved the cattery! We needed a second playground, and the cages themselves along one wall were dark, and cold. We had no electricity supply, and the wood roof beams were rotting. Doing a project in a time of hyperinflation was scary. But it’s is complete now, and it took exactly 2 minutes for the cats to figure out how to get outdoors. I left them yesterday with about 9 kittens and one neutered cat rough and tumbling there. Felt good.
We have found some homes for dogs, neutered about 6 cats, and best of all, found someone to adopt our resident goats. They must be in heaven at the Vumba mountains farm. They are joining the heady ranks of cheese production.
We have sadly cut down a tree that was leaning on our quarantine kennels, but managed to save the walls, so just feeling we were lucky to have done some meaningful maintenance, we then discovered the wall between the dogs and livestock is actually rocking. It never rains……
The biggest inroads we are making are into draught animal welfare. Donkeys and cattle have a hard life. Donkeys particularly are overloaded and overworked. We mostly endeavour to educate and advise, but last week we were asked to intervene in the case of an abandoned donkey. An uncommon event. We borrowed a 4 x 4 and horsebox, and sent our Inspectors out to a remote village 125kms away. The donkey was in a pitiable state, castrated by having its testes tied off with wire. It was infected, deep purple, and the gentle donkey was in acute pain. We have brought it back to Mutare SPCA, and the Vet, Dr Innocent, has operated. We are happy to say he is getting well. The amount of work needed rurally is vast, and in honesty, beyond our financial capability, with our ancient, rusted 1997 pick-up truck, (not a 4 x 4), hardly any meds available in the country and another disastrous period of hyperinflation.
Since then Inspector William set off to remote rural settlements with an expert team to educate, guide, medicate and provide for Donkey welfare. They treated, vaccinated or de-wormed over 600 animals in 8 days. We are VERY proud of him. It’s rough going out there, and daily all we get are wonderful pics and messages of what they are accomplishing.
We have made big improvements to our cattery! We have painted the walls white, (they were untreated cement before,) put an electric light in, and we have extended the outdoor play area for the cats. It took exactly 5 mins before the first kitten worked out how to make use of the little swing doorways to the sunny open air. We have finally finished painting the exposed ironware with rust proofing, so job done!
Coming up in August is our biggest event in the year to help ourselves survive. Mutare SPCA organizes the Blue Cross, a 500km marathon event from the lowest point in the country to the highest. We go from a dry riverbed, where elephants, hippo and lions roam, to the top of a beautiful and rugged mountain top that looks forever over open landscape. I shall be walking in a relay with close friends, to raise sponsorship to support Mutare SPCA.
Check out the website and maybe you will join us one day or possibly sponsor me?!!