The world was a very different place 45 years ago, but one man recognised the need for a wildlife orphanage and rehabilitation centre in Zimbabwe. That man’s name was Vivian Wilson, and this is the story of Chipangali, the wildlife orphanage he founded in 1973 and which has been run by his family ever since. At the time, the idea of a wildlife orphanage was a new and exciting one. With time, as you’ll see below, it has also proved to be an excellent and hugely important one.
Vivian (or “Viv” as he was known) was a game ranger working across areas of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia. His position exposed him to a wide range of conservation issues and challenges, and he gradually became aware of the need for a wildlife rehabilitation centre and orphanage to treat, house and release the increasing numbers of wild animals orphaned or injured by human activities.
In 1973 he started work on Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage together with his wife, Paddy. What started as a family affair has continued that way, with the orphanage currently being run by Viv’s son, Kevin, who grew up immersed in the daily activities required to run an operation of this nature. While most of us gained our first experiences of African wildlife on TV documentaries, Kevin only had to look out of his bedroom window.
Today you’ll find a third generation of the Wilson family involved in the daily activities at Chipangali, with Kevin’s son and daughter both playing active roles. Mickayla is the volunteer coordinator and runs the Lady Di Centre (established in partnership with the Lady Diana Foundation), while Ryan runs the Carnivore monitoring program, both proudly following in the footsteps of their pioneering grandfather.
What started out as a small family-run and self-funded project has grown immensely over the years – both in stature and impact. Chipangali and its founders have also contributed to science in many ways. Viv is the author of one of the most important works to date on Africa’s duikers (several species of small antelope found across the continent). Chipangali is partnered with Birmingham Zoo, Alabama USA, on its predator monitoring program, which monitors the movements of brown and spotted hyena as well as leopard across the iconic Matopo/Matobo Hills region. The monitoring is done by collecting data from satellite collars that have been fitted on key animals. The Birmingham Zoo has been involved in this project for 7 years now.
Perhaps the most telling example of Chipangali’s increasing importance in Zimbabwe is their growing partnership with Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Recently there have been two great examples of Chipangali’s cooperation with this Authority. The first of these involved the capture, treatment and release of a very special wild animal, namely a brown hyena, and the second involved the removal of a large male baboon from a suburb of Bulawayo, which was done at the request of Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
The animal pictured above was humanely trapped and collared as part of Chipangali’s predator monitoring program. Brown hyenas are listed as “threatened” and there are thought to be fewer than 5,000 remaining in the wild. The female trapped by the Chipangali team – which included our volunteers – was in very poor condition due to having been caught in a snare some time before, which had damaged her neck. She was emaciated, covered in ticks and, in Kevin’s estimation,
possibly only had weeks left to live.
She was kept at Chipangali for three weeks and fed up on a specially formulated diet which saw her improve dramatically. When she was released she was back in prime condition and raring to go, which is a truly remarkable success story. Interestingly enough one of the observations the team has made during their predator monitoring project is that there appear to be greater numbers of brown hyena in the area than expected, which is not only excellent news for the species, but makes monitoring their numbers and behaviour in the area even more crucial.
In a second recent incident the team from Chipangali was called out to a suburb of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, where a large male baboon had managed to get into a house, much to the alarm of a very large crowd assembling outside. How this baboon got into the middle of the suburb is a mystery. Parks and Wildlife Management Authority members requested Kevin and his team to dart and remove the animal, which was an extremely challenging operation in such a confined and crowded environment.
Fortunately Kevin was able to dart the big male baboon safely and the team loaded him up and took him back to the rehabilitation centre. He was also kept for a few weeks to make sure he was in excellent health before being released back into the Matobo National Park. This story is a great one as there was a positive outcome for the animal involved, and also because it demonstrates the close working relationship between Chipangali and the Wildlife Management Authority.
As a volunteer at Chipangali you are exposed to a diverse range of activities during your time there. Most importantly you will be working at the clinic and orphanage. “In our case,” says Kevin, “you work for, not with, animals,” which is an increasingly important distinction in wildlife rehabilitation work, as the emphasis at Chipangali is on working hard to treat and release wild animals – not to interact with them.
The second core aspect of volunteer involvement at Chipangali is the Epic Kids program, Chipangali’s long-standing conservation education program, where children from the Bulawayo area learn about challenges to the environment, conservation and human and ecosystem health. This kind of work is critical for the long-term conservation of Zimbabwe’s wild animals, and forms one of the most important ways you can contribute as a volunteer too.
Volunteers are also involved in wildlife monitoring across the Matobo Hills region and sometimes further afield. Large predators (specifically spotted and brown hyena and leopard) are closely monitored after being humanely trapped and fitted with satellite tracking collars. This work is not only fascinating and exciting to be involved in, but has a real conservation impact as it contributes to scientific understanding of these species in this important area.
If we didn’t have volunteers we would cease to exist, explains Kevin.
They bring financial backing, they bring empathy for animals, they bring their time and energy to work for animals. By volunteering at Chipangali you’ll play an active role in carrying on the legacy of a true pioneer in his country and in his field, Viv Wilson, and help to ensure continuing conservation efforts in one of Africa’s most important wildlife areas.
Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage needs your help! If you’d like to get involved and be a part of this amazing project, find out more about volunteering at Chipangali here. You can also find more Wildlife Care & Rehabilitation Projects and start your application today.