Painted Dog Conservation - Jan 2016
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Hoo Calls


Painted Dog Conservation

I am delighted to bring you our Annual Report for 2015.

I have tried to summarise some of the highs and lows of the year, and I hope I have captured the drama and the powerful impact of the programmes you support, in deed the programmes that you make possible.

The full report is more than 30 pages long and I am more than happy to send that via email as a Pdf document to anyone who is happy to plough through it!


Greg "Gibby" Gibbard

I cannot even begin to reflect on the successes of 2015 without first mentioning our beloved friend and colleague, Greg “Gibby” Gibbard.  Not a day goes by without us reflecting on his selfless contribution towards Painted Dog Conservation and his generous spirit. It has been my privilege to know Gibby for more than 16 years. As a colleague and, above all, as a friend. He was someone I felt I could rely on, no matter what. He possessed the rare qualities of absolute loyalty and integrity and as such he took great exception with anyone who did not behave in a similar way.

Gibby was someone who always gave his best and never one to complain. He was always willing to take on and learn new things that would help us move forward or cope with a particular situation, determined to not let us down.  Of course he was known affectionately as “Grumpy Greg,” but those of us who had the privilege to work with him and get to know him knew that beneath that rough layer was one of the warmest, kindest, most generous people you could wish to meet. He loved the dogs and was truly committed to their conservation. He was posthumously granted the Disney Conservation Hero Award, which was such a proud moment for all of us at PDC. He found his place with us here in Hwange and we miss him very much.

Moving Forward

We had to move on. Shaken to the core as we were, I was so proud, indeed I remain so proud, of how the staff at PDC rallied round, galvanized themselves and stepped up. David Kuvawoga led the way. David joined us in February as our Operations Manager and before he had time to settle his feet under the proverbial desk he was engulfed by events beyond his control. He took everything in stride like a true professional and I know that, as a result, PDC is in very good hands.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”

Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013

Wilton, Dominic and the rest of the Education Department team did not skip a beat. They pulled out all the stops to ensure that our world class Education Programme continued to provide hope for the future by instilling a love and passion for nature in the children from our surrounding villages. Your generous support made it possible for more than 800 children to attend the camp again this year, taking the total attendance since we opened in May 2004, to more than 9,000.
The specific support from Dr. Guy Oliver and family, again, made it possible for us to host our Special Camp at the end of the year, which includes the popular Kids Cameras Conservation (KCC) component. I would like to take this opportunity to thank professional photographer Nick Dyer for lending us his considerable hand, which ensured that KCC was a great success again.

A special thanks also needs to be extended to Margaret McCarthy and Bob Worth for supporting our Form Two Camp. This is the camp we introduced to test the level of knowledge retained by students who attended the Bush Camp as 11 year olds and who are now 14 years old. The test results of this camp further demonstrate that the grades of the children who attend our Bush Camps are better in all aspects when compared to children who have not attended the Camp. 

Our Bush Camp graduates’ grades are, on average, 40% higher than those of the children who have not attended the Camp.

It’s true to say that no one cares for or protects something unless they love or understand it. Wilton and his team deliver the most powerful programme that addresses this every day.

Saving Lives

Zulu and his APU team continued with their life-saving work  The team conducted 319 patrols and collected more than 1,300 snares, covering an area of more than 1,200 square kilometres.

Because of your committed support, we were able to expand on the APU work by employing additional scouts and engaging even more deeply with the local community.

This last point was a major step forward. I have always said that it is action, at the end of the day, not words, that will save the dogs, and the response from the people from the nearby village of Mabale was just what we have been looking for. The time was right and indeed they proved it by setting up their own volunteer anti-poaching unit as a response to the death of “MK,” the alpha female of the Tariro pack

This 40-strong unit has conducted 175 patrols and has removed more than 600 snares from the forests around their village. More than half of these people have either attended the Bush Camp themselves, or have children who have attended the Bush Camp. An absolute testament to how the work of Wilton and his team is changing the lives of our local people and the dogs.

Our HIV/AIDS programme is another lifesaver. This programme now reaches an estimated population of 70,000 and through it we aim to leverage the same love and affection for painted dogs. The programme is strongly themed along the lines of “your life and the painted dog’s life are equally important, so look after both.” I love the fact that the ambulance provided to support the clinics is affectionately nicknamed “Mashambo,” which translates as a painted dog in the local dialect.

Jealous of course is on the front line of conservation everyday. On a personal note, it was a particularly tough year for him in many ways but also a year to celebrate because he finally married his lovely wife, Tendai. It was a day for sharing lots of laughter and joy that we will never forget.

Of Dogs and Men

As for the dogs, the signs in Hwange are mostly encouraging and we are dealing with more packs than we have ever dealt with before. Seven of the packs that we monitor had at least 39 pups last year. Seven new packs formed from dispersals, some of them too late in the year to breed, but we are hopeful that they will produce pups in 2016. The Nyamandhlovu pack was the main disappointment with regards to pup production because it appears that, tragically, they lost all of their pups to lions.

The alpha female of the Nyamandhlovu pack Socks, was seen looking very pregnant and she appeared to den down in an area west of our friends at The Hide. We didn’t find the exact location of the den but Jealous was quite concerned because the area is known for its high lion and hyena activity. That concern grew when Socks was seen two weeks later hunting with the pack, far from the den. She and the pack did not return to the den and we were left to speculate on what took place.

The finger of guilt pointed at the lions. We have seen lions attack a dogs den before, killing adults and pups and then sit around the den all day preventing the other adults from coming back. In the particular case I am talking about, I actually chased the lions away. At one point Jealous shouted at me “get back in the car those are lions you are chasing.” I spent the night near the den, chasing a huge male lion away at one point, though this time I stayed in my Land Rover. The dogs moved the surviving pups to a new den site more than 4km away. 

I think the happiest news from the Hwange dog population came towards the end of the year when we received news of a pack of ten dogs seen near Jambile, which is a location more than 40km south of PDC. The photographs confirmed that it was the baNyayi pack. Pronounced va nyeye it translates roughly as the “local people” as in the original inhabitants of the area. For us it also translates as a great success story because three of the four adults that formed the baNyayi are Vusile’s grandsons. You will remember that Vusile was an orphaned dog that we raised in our Rehabilitation Facility and then released her back into the wild, where she thrived until she was killed by a lioness in 2014.

We were also very active in Mana Pools again in 2015. The BBC has chosen to work with our friend and colleague, Nick Murray, and PDC, in Mana Pools. Nick has been operating in Mana Pools for more than twelve years. His passion and intimate knowledge of the dogs in Mana are second to none, and we’re delighted the BBC has chosen to work with him. They are producing a “blue chip” documentary on the dogs, i.e., a very high quality wildlife film that will showcase not only the painted dogs, but also Mana Pools and Zimbabwe in general in a positive way.  Clearly, this is something we all need and are very excited about.  

The situation in Mana Pools is complex. Nick has accumulated an average of more than 200 hours per month of monitoring and observation of the dogs and as such is the most qualified person to comment on the painted dogs in Mana Pools. The Vundu and Nyakasanga packs are the two packs that are seen most regularly along the waterfront so they have become the main subjects of the BBC documentary. The alpha female, named Tait, of the Vundu pack, is ten years old and Nick knows that she is the mother, grandmother and great grandmother to many of the dogs seen regularly by visitors to Mana Pools.

Because of Tait’s age we were prepared to expect the unexpected. However, we were surprised that Tait plus two of her daughters appeared to be pregnant! We have never seen three pregnant females in one pack at the same time before. The pack was not seen for several weeks until the den was located. We were even more surprised when only two pups emerged from the den.

The den was situated in a position that made it possible for us to observe the comings and goings of the dogs from more than 100 metres away, thus avoiding any possible disturbances to their activity. One of the pregnant females showed no particular interest in the den or the two pups, which is unusual. Tait’s other daughter was desperate to interact with the pups but Tait would not allow her to do so. We thus speculated that the first female perhaps had no pups and may not have been pregnant after all.

We speculated that Tait may not have had any pups due to her age and that the second daughter was, in fact, the mother of the two pups but Tait “adopted” them. We will never know for sure. Tait moved to a second den some 250 metres away, which is quite normal, and remained there until the pack went nomadic, when sadly the two pups soon disappeared, presumably killed by lion or hyena.

The Nyakasanga became the largest pack along the riverfront in Mana Pools in 2015, numbering 26 individuals at one point before dispersals reduced the pack down to 20. The alpha female is named Black Tip and she is Tait’s daughter. To our surprise, again, both Black Tip and her daughter, Gloria, appeared to be pregnant. The pack was hard to locate during the months leading up to denning.

The den was finally located in mid-June and could also be observed from a distance that did not disturb the pack, proven by the fact that the pack remained at the same den for two months, only moving once to a new den approximately 250m away just before then going nomadic.

Only five pups emerged from the den. Black Tip allowed any of the dogs to interact with the pups but she was the only one seen suckling them. All five pups went nomadic along with the pack. Sadly, hyenas then killed one pup and a lioness killed another. Gloria went missing round the same time.

Both the Vundu and Nyakasanga packs have since been dramatically reduced in size by the dispersal of seven females from the Vundu pack and seven males from the Nyakasanga pack, who have joined up and formed a new pack called the Nyamatusi pack. The females are Taits daughters and the males are Taits grandsons, so we are quite concerned about inbreeding. Tait has not been seen for several months now and we fear that she may well have succumbed to old age.

Elsewhere in Mana Pools, nine dogs were tragically found dead by a waterhole high in the escarpment, south of Chitake Springs. We have been unable to identify which pack this was and it may well be a pack that is unknown to us. It is believed that poachers targeting elephants poisoned the water hole with cyanide. Vultures were found dead at the scene as well, which rules out anthrax, which has been reported as the cause by some parties. Vultures are not affected by anthrax. We understand that an arrest was made in connection with the incident and reference was made to illegal possession of cyanide.

As always, the dogs continued to test our resolve back home in Hwange as well. We had to deal with our share of painted dog tragedies and, on a number of occasions, fought to save the life of an individual dog by removing a snare from around its neck. 

Removing a snare from the neck of a painted dog is quite a profound moment. Something you never forget, no matter how many times you do it.  I can recall each and every one I have dealt with because each individual is important, both to me and, of course, to the pack. One dog’s life can and does make or break an entire pack. 

During the process you are under immense pressure because you know a life depends on you.You have to stay calm. It is not a time for nerves or shaky hands when you first take aim with the darting rifle. You know you only get one chance. The shot is true and an anxious three or five minutes goes by as the cocktail of immobilizing drugs takes effect. 

Without exception, the wounds are horrific. As if created by a sharp knife when in fact a length of wire 2 or 3 mm in diameter caused the damage. You can almost sense the unimaginable pain you know the poor dog must be suffering and then finally, only when you realize you’ve provided some relief by removing the snare, can you breathe again. 

We don’t jump around and celebrate once it’s over, but certainly the feeling of having done something good is intense. After all, you know you have saved the life of one of the most endangered animals on the planet. 

While reflecting on such drama, lines from one of the late, great David Bowie songs, comes to mind; “……Though nothing will drive them away. We can beat them, just for one day. We can be heroes, just for one day….” Certainly we know the tide of poaching is relentless and will not go away. 


We also know that you are the heroes. It is your constant, committed support that makes all the difference and allows us to just do our job. We do it willingly because we care so much and we know how much you care. It’s not easy. It never will be. Many of the challenges we face on a daily basis will remain there to be confronted each and every day. You give us the strength to meet these challenges. People like David and Jealous meet those challenges with a smile on their face and a dauntless spirit. I smile less, but my spirit is equally in place.

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Painted Dog Conservation
PO Box 72, Dete, Zimbabwe.
Tel: +263(0)18710

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