One of the most rewarding collaborations has been with professional bird guide, Peter Magosvongwe. Magosvongwe, who lives in the populous rural district of Chigodora, just west of the Vumba, runs an innovative bird school programme.
At the moment he runs bird clubs in 12 primary and secondary schools in and around the Vumba. Nearly 700 children are taught bird identification skills and about nature conservation by the peripatetic birder, who travels between the schools each week on a motorbike funded by a local farmer.
Magosvongwe has recently expanded his lessons to include water health surveys in local rivers, using the MiniSASS method. MiniSASS is a simple tool for assessing the range of macroinvertebrate groups in water, which can then be used to gauge water quality.
Wildlife Vumba has sourced second hand binoculars and bird books for the bird school project, assisted with funding, logistical support and publicity.
Vumba is a world-renowned biodiversity hotspot. Its evergreen forests are home to rarities like the Swynnerton’s robin; the white-tailed crested flycatcher and the bronze-naped pigeon.
Its forest edges and miombo woodlands harbour equally tantalising species for birders, like the Roberts’s warbler and rufous-bellied tit, while its high-altitude grasslands are the breeding and foraging grounds of the endangered blue swallow, a summer migrant from central and eastern Africa.
No wonder then that the Vumba is classified as an Important Birding and Biodiversity Area by Birdlife International, and why it provides an ideal training ground for the next generation of ecologists.
Wildlife Vumba, together with the Friends of the Vumba conservation group, recently sponsored a trip for more than 30 children from the bird club at St Werburgh’s High School in Chigodora, to the Bunga Forest – the emerald crown of the Vumba mountains.
Many of the children that Magosvongwe teaches in his bird clubs have never visited the Vumba, despite this natural heritage being practically on their doorsteps. More visits are planned in the future, funds permitting.
Despite the work of small, committed conservation groups and individuals in the Vumba, the area is not immune to ecological threats. Each year bushfires sweep through its grasslands; poachers set snares for blue duikers and bushbuck in the forests, and illegal settlement has recently seen ancient evergreen trees felled at the foot of the Bunga Views – on the southern boundary of the Bunga Forest Botanical Reserve. With such creeping threats to the area’s integrity, environmental education provides a source of hope for the future of the Vumba.
Just sit in on a class conducted by Magosvongwe at one of the schools in Vumba, or the surrounding districts of Chigodora, Chitakatira and Burma Valley, and you will hear youngsters speak knowledgeably about bird migration, threats to bird habitat and the possible careers they can strive for in places with intact ecological systems.
During an August school outing to the Vumba, some children in the bird school programme visited Forest Hills, a family-run resort high in the mountains. There they saw for themselves the kind of tourism success story that can flourish in a place of undisturbed natural beauty.
Since 2014 Wildlife Vumba has been helping with and publicising the work of conservationists in the Vumba district of eastern Zimbabwe. One key area is promoting an environmental education programme run by local bird guide Peter Magosvongwe. There are plans to expand activities into research using local data collectors to enhance knowledge and inform conservation efforts.