Cecil Kop still packed with interesting wildlife

By Ngoni Shumba

Cecil Kop has had a crocodile in its Tiger’s Kloof dam for 39 years now – single, and solitary all the way.

Sounds cruel, right?

It’s however not that the people who have been running this wildlife sanctuary have not been trying to give it company. This cheeky female croc sure likes it that way.

Tiger’s Kloof pool

It attacked and killed a male croc that was introduced into ‘its pool’ the first time. A second attempt also failed with the male having had to flee to another pool in Thompson’s Vlei.

But it probably is right, why share its space and food with a male for which it has no use beyond companionship? Mutare is too high an altitude for crocodiles to breed.

“They would not have been able to breed because of the altitude. It’s too high for crocodiles,” Mike Hitchman noted.

The park’s proximity to the eastern border city – a mere two kilometres from the city centre, has been meant to make it ideal for locals to see animals in the wild but that has been its curse too.

It has found itself as a route for smugglers who vandalised its perimeter fence leading to the unfortunate escape of two elephants which then killed a cop and had to be put down depriving it of a major attraction.

There are plans to reintroduce another pair but there is still a lot to enjoy in the wildlife reserve with its diversity of habitat ranging from forested areas and grasslands to gullies covering over 1500 hectares.

It consists of three distinct areas – Tiger’s Kloof; the forested north eastern mountain face with numerous springs rolling down to the dam and surrounding Msasa (zebra tree) woodland; Thomson’s Vlei with its undulating grasslands and the heavily wooded forest, gullies and springs

Its home to a giraffe, zebras, a variety of antelope and monkeys.

But because Hitchman, the man at the centre of its success, is an experienced snake catcher and rescues snakes from people’s home in the city, he appears to have a strategic bias towards snakes.

Knowledge Nyamhoka a Cecil Cop staffer stands outside a snakepit while Mike Hitchman it as a dangerous spitting cobra calmly lay within

There is however only one snake that is on display in a snake pit near the entrance to park. Many more – some of them rare tropical forest species, can be brought out for display on request.

“We have other snakes that we bring out for display but those are on request. We have quite a number. We have got the Mozambican spitting cobra, puff adders, pythons, brown house snakes, Gabon vipers, forest cobras among other,” he said.

He however said they did not make the collection from hunting them in the wild but snake rescues in people’s homes.

“When people have problems with snakes in and around Mutare they call us and some of those snakes we release them back into the wild but we keep some because we do snake awareness programs in schools and for the general public. Otherwise we don’t go and hunt snakes so that we keep them,” Hitchman said.

He said the park has nature trails and offers nature walks through the park for those who are interested in spending time in the bush.

The park is also a very strategic birding hot spot.

According to Birdlife Zimbabwe the park’s variable habitat attract different bird species with Miombo the upper section of the mountain good for Cabanis’s Bunting and Rufous-bellied Tits, Augur Buzzard and Mottled Swifts.

Striped Pipit and Whyte’s Barbets, Miombo Tit, Spotted Creeper, Red-faced Crombec, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Miombo Rock-thrush and Orange-winged Pytilia frequent the Miombo, with Tree Pipit and Collared Flycatcher coming in this time of the year. It’s also home to Green Twinspot, Yellow-bellied Waxbills and Cape Bunting.

Red-throated Twinspot pic. John Caddick

The nearby Cross Kopje, Birdlife says, is the place to look for Boulder Chats.

Thomson’s Vlei  offers the following species, it says: Variable Sunbird, Miombo Double-collared, Grey Waxbill, Red-throated Twinspot, Green-winged Pytilia, Black Widowfinch, African Firefinches and Bronze and Red-backed Manikins, Tambourine Doves, Gorgeous Bush-shrikes, Trumpeter Hornbills, White-eared Barbets, Singing Cisticolas, Eastern Saw-wings, Red-capped Robin-chat, Dark-backed Weaver, Yellow-rumped Tinker bird, Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler, both Livingstone’s and Purple-crested Turaco, Mocking Cliff-chat, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Red-chested Fluff tail and Stripe-cheeked Greenbuls.