“Suddenly the grass comes alive with one, two then all seven pups…”

A few days ago, Lin Barrie (friend, professional artist, AWCF supporter and wild dog enthusiast) happened to send through her own personal account of her visits to the Nyarushanga den, in the south of the Savé Valley Conservancy, for our interest. As we read through Lin’s wonderfully detailed and animated account of her time with the dogs, we found ourselves realising what an absolute privilege it is to be able to view and experience African wild dogs like we do, and how we all too often take it for granted.

 

 28 July 2014

Something does not feel right at the Nyarushanga wild dog den, as I listen to only one pup begging food from an adult who has run a grassy area at the base of the towering koptjie, the site behind the den where the dogs seem to have relocated. I have been away from this den for too long, lost my sense of continuity… is there only one pup left? Has some dire fate befallen the other six? Are there still nine adults?

The pups on first emergence

 I arrived here earlier, this late, sunny winter morning to be greeted by silence, the dog den looking deserted and no fresh tracks in the vicinity. If I had been an impatient sort, I would have assumed that the pack had moved on with all the pups, and driven away. But I sat.

My reward for patience, a crackle of grass and the sudden arrival of an adult, well behind the deserted den, followed by greetings between dogs I could not see in the deep grass. Minutes after that another adult trotted over the rocks, head held high , bearing a chunk of fresh meat at least two kilograms in weight! Then I saw one pup rush through the grass, and they both disappeared behind the rocks…the pup ecstatic and twittering with excitement.

 

29 July 2014

All is silent. We sit. And sit. I stare hopefully at the deserted den mound… no pups materialize.

After 30 minutes of patient listening and watching, the sun has started a rapid descent through the Mopani trees. We decide to drive slowly around the back of the den.

Relief! As we circle, there are the telltale satellite ears of an adult lying in the grass, then another, and yet another, peer over a rocky outcrop at us… and suddenly the grass comes alive with one, two then all seven pups, as they head for a termite mound that we have not noticed.

The pack inquisitively watching

The adults nonchalantly stroll close to us, peering at us and acknowledging our arrival but relaxed. Only a soft growl from the unseen but ever vigilant alpha female betrays her position in long grass near to the termite mound. Within minutes the pack has melted away into the cool dusk, hunting for supper while the alpha female remains, cautiously popping her head above the rim of the termite mound. We discover a hole and see the last pup dive down into the depths, only to come out again when called for supper. We will have to leave before then.

Playful pups at the den site!

 

Feeding time and all is calm for a minute or two

Sitting in the gloom, chatting quietly and watching birds prepare for night, I am deeply content. All is well in the Nyarushanga Pack’s world, at least for today. Lions have called distantly every night, an ever present threat for pups and adult dogs alike. But for the moment the den is peaceful, undiscovered and safe!

 

For more on Lin Barrie, her art, and her tales of wild dogs, please visit Lin Barrie’s Facebook page, A Celebration of Painted Wolves: http://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Celebration-of-Painted-Wolves.

 

Batanai Battle the Elements

It seems like denning season has only just started. Indeed, most of the pups are only just reaching the two month mark, and are a real treat to watch as they are a little more bold and adventurous and starting to explore the world around them. This makes it all the more difficult to believe that Batanai pack, the second pack to start denning this year, is potentially left with only one pup.

Batanai is one of the biggest packs here in Savé Valley Conservancy (currently 19 adults), and generally bears a sizeable brood. Last year they had 10 pups, six of which are still alive and have become integral members of the pack. This year, however, only five pups were ever recorded by the scouts or sighted on the den cameras and their numbers have dwindled rather rapidly.

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On the 29 June 2014 AWCF scout, Cain Kodzevhu, reported finding just the back leg of one pup at the den, and then on the 07 July 2014 one pup is seen to be dragged out of the den already dead. The pack moved dens shortly after this, and that was the last time we saw three little pups playing around the den. When the pack was found a few days later,  Cain only saw one pup at the den site.

M2E47L161-160R393B309 Capture

People are often amazed at the big litter sizes of African wild dogs, but more often than not less than half the pups will survive to adult hood and sexual maturity. Last year we had a total of 68 pups from litters at first emergence, but only 19 of them survived to see this year’s denning season! Let’s hope for a stronger survival rate this year. With fewer than 6 600 wild dogs left in Africa, we need to do all we can to give the species the best fighting chance!

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Through the eyes of a trail camera…

It is hard to believe we are already half way through the New Year. Although slightly daunting, it does mean one thing… denning season has arrived! Perhaps one of the best times of the year for the AWCF field team, and all of you, who are able to share in every moment with us thanks to our generously donated trail cameras which unobtrusively capture some incredible moments of our denning African wild dogs.

Denning season is well underway and our scouts have worked flat out to locate the dens of eight of our 11 focal packs in Savé Valley Conservancy, and are hot on the heels of the others! Mapura pack has stayed loyal to Chishakwe, and even though their den is in an awkward location for viewing, they are frequently sighted hunting on the airstrip. Splinters pups emerged a month ago totaling 13 in number, and Batanai pack seem to have close to 10 or 11 pups (an accurate count still needs to be obtained). The rest of the packs’ pups are due to emerge shortly, so keep an eye on our Facebook page for regular updates and plenty of photos! ???????????????????? ????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? Not only do we get to see what mischievous behaviour the newly born pups are getting up to, but we are able to collect valuable monitoring data (number of pups at first emergence, ID shots, adult counts, pick up dogs with snares on etc.) and see who is coming and going at the den site. Some are welcome visitors and others are not… ? ????????????????????? ????????????????????? Cdy00517 We cannot wait to see what the rest of the denning season has in store for us, and we are sure you can’t either! Remembering that a successful denning season, and good pup survival, is key to maintaining a viable and stable population of wild dogs in Save Valley Conservancy. The wild dogs definitely seem excited about it all… ???????????????????? Cdy00119

USD 12 500 raised for African wild dog conservation!

It’s been just over a month since our 50 dedicated athletes ran 21km for the African Wildlife Conservation Fund and African wild dog conservation. Now that the dust has settled, a bit of body fat been regained and tired muscles rested, it is almost all too easy to return to everyday life and forget that the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon fundraising event ever happened.

However, we have most certainly not forgotten, and never will forget, the enthusiasm and generosity of our runners (and all their supporters!). Whilst the event itself lasts only a day, the funds raised and support gathered will sustain our work and passion for conservation well into the future! It was an absolute pleasure to meet so many like-minded individuals, and make new friends of the African Wildlife Conservation Fund. We hope you did not only come to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of an endangered species, but that you achieved your personal goals and had a successful event.

P1040759 Sitting

 

The funds raised exceeded our expectations and we really cannot thank enough everyone who helped make this event a success! With very limited reliable funding we rely heavily on the generosity of individuals, and more often than not strangers, to be able to continue and strengthen our conservation efforts. Thank you for supplying us with the means to bring about positive change and conservation benefits in Zimbabwe, not only for African wild dogs, but wildlife and human populations alike.

See you all next year, and until then… wear your ears proudly!

Haaaaaahooooo woooof!

Capture2

A month in the life of a conservation organisation!

Wow, what a busy and exciting month for the African Wildlife Conservation Fund! Not only was this the month of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon fundraising event, but with the bush starting to thin out and the rains dry up, field work is back in full swing too!

Wild dog pups are just around the corner: It is the start of the denning season which means one thing; adorable, playful and mischievous pups are on the way! However, this is also an important time for us in terms of monitoring the dogs (number of pups born, human and predator (lion) threats at the den, ID kits of the packs etc.), and we will be working flat out to keep them safe during this vulnerable time! We have already found the first den in Gonarezhou National Park, and yesterday our head scout, Rueben Bote, found the first den in Save Valley Conservancy!

den

Collars fitted to Nyarushanga pack and a potential disperser: An elusive pack which we managed to fit with a satellite collar, and now means we can monitor them in ‘real time’ and see where they go and what they get up to! Having collars on the dogs helps us to better monitor their spatial use and needs, and when they leave the protected areas help us to identify areas of threat and /or potential channels for dispersal.

Cain collar

Building capacity through education: Victor Chibaya, our community liaison officer, has been working incredibly hard for the past month visiting communities around Save Valley Conservancy and inviting old and young to gather together and read, share and enjoy in the conservation materials , books and wildlife DVD’s provided by the AWCF. This week we are headed down to Gonarezhou National Park for a teacher training workshop to encourage teachers in surrounding schools to actively partake in our schools education project!

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Putting more ‘men on the ground’ for the benefit of conservation: This month we welcomed a new scout to the team, Moffat Nerwanda, who has been training with our scouts for the past few weeks! Having another scout on board will enable us to have someone based permanently in the south of Save Valley Conservancy to greatly improve monitoring efforts there, and allow us to expand our conservation efforts to other key wildlife areas!

Moffat2 Moffat

It is great to be able to look back at a productive month, and we feel inspired and motivated for the rest of the year, which still has plenty of exciting things on the agenda so stay tuned!

‘RUNNING WILD’ for African wild dogs!

… whilst enjoying the world’s most beautiful marathon!

Cape Town

The African Wildlife Conservation Fund is proud to be an official charity of the 2014 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (http://www.twooceansmarathon.org.za/information/run-charity), held in Cape Town, South Africa on the 18th and 19th April! As such, we have assembled a ‘pack’ of 50 elite and dedicated athletes running to raise funds and awareness for the endangered African wild dog Lycaon pictus and the pivotal conservation work of the African Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Pivotal Conservation Work

THE AFRICAN WILD DOG… “With their unique and striking coat patterns, their intelligence and their highly interactive and caring nature, African wild dogs are truly one of the most awe inspiring species alive today

THE MARATHON… Our runners will be lining up at the starting point of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Half-Marathon on Saturday, 19 April 2014, donned in AWCF kit with ‘unique wild dog touches’ and rearing to run alongside each other for conservation! Included in our team are local Zimbabwean runners Caroline Kaschula, Eric Little, Michael de Beer and AWCF Assistant Project Manager, Jess Watermeyer.  

WE ARE ETERNALLY GRATEFUL FOR THE FOLLOWING DONATED PRIZES…including a sponsored two night’s stay for two people at Motswari Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati (http://www.newmarkhotels.com/accommodation/game-reserves/motswari-private-game-reserve/), merchandise and vouchers from The Safari Store (http://www.thesafaristore.co.uk/), wine prizes from Painted Wolf Wines (http://www.paintedwolfwines.com/) and unique artwork from Lin Barrie Art (http://wildlifeandwilddogs.wordpress.com/art/).

Merchandise

As one of the few official charities of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, a world renowned event with a huge international following, we have been afforded a once in a lifetime opportunity and appeal to all to help us draw attention to the conservation cause of African wild dogs!

For more information on the OMTOM event, or if you would like to support this very important cause, please contact Jess Watermeyer at jess@africanwildlifeconservationfund.org.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

For many, the beginning of a new year marks an end to holidays and return to the realities of life – work, and for our luckier younger generationals – school!

Not many of our supporters know that the AWCF also funds and provides the school fees & uniforms for some less fortunate bright young things.  We presently have 14 scholars in our program at the moment , whom we  affectionately term “Predator Scholars” – maintaining the link between the benefit of education and the preservation of wildlife for all future generations. Under our program, we pay their full school fees for the duration of their secondary school careers, provide them with uniforms, stationary, books, guidance, etc.  As a brand new benefit in 2014, we will also be supplying them with solar-powered lights to enable evening study, while also paying their O-level and A-level exam fees.

If any of our supporters would like to help out one of the students, let us know.  We ask for a commitment of $350 per year.  For your investment, you get regular news from the student on how they’re getting along, sent photos, letters (sometimes birthday cards!)  etc.

As Ben said all those years ago, there truly is no better or more rewarding way to spend money than on educating the future (while supporting conservation at the same time!).

Charles Dare loves the big cats!

Charles Dare loves the big cats!

 

 

Vimbai loves books and in the library is where she sees her dreams come true.

Vimbai loves books and in the library is where she sees her dreams come true.

Edline is a promising wildlife vet!

Edline is a promising wildlife vet!

2013 in Research!

In the next part of our “Looking Back” series, we share some of our research highlights of 2013 with you.

One of the things the AWCF team, and that includes our students, pride themselves on is sound scientific research with the aim of better informed management and conservation policies. Not only does this present a welcome opportunity to get out of the office and into the wild bush, but also an opportunity to constantly learn more about what we do, be surprised and wowed at the unpredictability and magnificence of nature, and to better understand the changes we need to make in order to be better as a conservation organisation.” – Rosemary Groom.

In July 2013, Rosemary presented a paper at the Society for Conservation Biology (ICCB) conference in Baltimore, USA. Entitled “Taking a Multi-Disciplinary Approach To Conservation. The Value of Education and Community Engagement in Landscape Level Conservation of Endangered Species”, it was well received. She also delivered lectures at National Geographic and at the US Fish & Wildlife Services headquarters. She visited the renowned big cat conservation organisation Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

In November, Rosemary presented another paper at the Symposium for Contemporary Conservation Practice held in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. “Taking A Range Wide Approach To The Conservation of Two Wide Ranging Threatened Large Carnivores: The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) And The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus).

AWCF’s Field Project Coordinator & Conservation Biologist Rosemary Groom was selected as a National Geographic Expert to participate in an expedition through South Africa, Zambia and Botswana in July. Rosemary will be doing a further two trips for National Geographic later this year as a wildlife expert (so watch this space!)

Lions and hyenas are a constant hassle for wild dogs in the SVC. We made a remarkable (if not grisly!) discovery at the beginning of the denning season when we went to set up camera traps at the den of a pack of four dogs (split from the Batanai pack). You can imagine our surprise at finding the corpse of a young male lion with most of his body lying in the den where the pups and the alpha female were! We managed to extract the lion carcass (with the help from the guys from Sango Ranch). Read more about this curious event!

Fantastic wild dog sightings! The nature of our research provides us with the opportunity to spend many hours at den sites and in close proximity to the packs, allowing us to witness their behaviour and nature and learn to appreciate them for the unique and remarkable species they are.
Sitting and watching the Mapura pack one evening in September, the adults and six-week old pups put on a wonderful “show” for us. Just to observe how much the beta litter pups learn by mimicking the adults and slightly older alpha litter pups, is amazing. Visual observations combined with trail cameras help us to greater understand the social complexities of this unique and threatened species.

_pups1

AWCF conducted a very successful camera trap survey in June and July to better understand the factors affecting wild dog den selection in Savé Valley Conservancy. This was a massive undertaking for which we are eternally thankful to Panthera for their assistance! We employed 100 Panthera V4 camera traps rotated across seven grids over the space of two months covering a large proportion of the north of the conservancy. The data are currently being analysed by our new honours student Matthew Wijers, from Stellenbosch University and we hope to start producing some of our findings in this New Year. This survey gave us some wonderful photographic material and some very interesting “candid camera” type shots of the local wildlife going about their daily business. We were shortlisted in the 2013 BBC Wildlife Camera Trap Survey Competition for one of the photos captured during this survey; a bush baby jumping through trees.
Bushbaby caught in action swinging through the trees

Annual carnivore spoor surveys carried out in both Gonarezhou and Savé Valley Conservancy for the 5th and 7th year respectively. Both yielding important data on movement trends for carnivore species.

A wild dog pack was collared in Gonarezhou. This is a BIG deal! Very isolated field conditions, tough terrain, and wild dogs that are not accustomed to seeing humans meant we had our work cut out for us!

Rosemary fitting a collar - with Lindsey Wells

2013 in Conservation

2013 was a challenging year for the AWCF as far as our conservation efforts were concerned. Poaching for the bush meat trade meant there were more snares in the field than we’ve ever seen before. Despite the  renewed pressure this put the dogs (and in fact all species!) under, we saw a good breeding season (from late May up until September) ,with lots of seriously cute pups running around the Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC), as can be seen from this endearing sequence of pics captured by our camera trap of a mom and her pups leaving the den for a spot of early morning “bush school”.

pups2_1apups2_1b

 We conducted a successful field amputation on Flame, a year and a half old male, born into the Mapura Pack. One day our scouts observed that Flame seemed to have sustained a bad break in several places below the knee of his hind leg. (Wild dogs can suffer broken legs during hunting accidents or from failed attacks by lions and generally cope, heal and manage quite well if left alone.) We are always reluctant to interfere, unless the injury is of human origin (a snare injury or a wild dog hit by a car, etc.) We monitored Flame and saw his condition deteriorate over the weeks. He was losing weight and was no longer active within the pack. We consulted wildlife veterinarians as to the possibility of the break healing and Flame making a full recovery, but none could provide us with that certainty.

Flame with broken leg

We were fortunate to have a wildlife capture team working in Savé Valley Conservancy during the last few weeks of September and we were able to organise for the resident wildlife veterinarian, Jacqueline Mostert, to have a look at Flame’s injury. It was decided that amputating the leg, which had just become dead weight, would give Flame the best chance of survival. It was fortunate that the Mapura pack were denning again so allowing Flame the time to heal and gather his strength

On the 07 October 2013, Flame’s leg was amputated in an operation lasting almost three hours! It is one of the rare times an amputation has taken place in the field and we must commend Jacqueline Mostert on her skill and professionalism whilst working in such unusual conditions.

Flame's amputation

We continued to monitor Flame for the next few weeks and watched him go from strength to strength. These days he moves as if he was born on three legs, covering vast distances with the rest of the pack and he is often seen playing with the pups. We eagerly watch to see how this story unfolds and what lies in store for Flame.

For any organisation monitoring and protecting wildlife, the death of an animal is always a terribly sad occasion. Death by natural causes is one thing but it’s the senseless, wasteful and often cruel deaths of our animals due to human misadventure that really hits home hard. Lions and indiscriminate snaring by poachers for bush-meat continue to be the greatest threats to wild dogs (and other carnivores) in the south-east of Zimbabwe (aside, of course, from habitat loss and fragmentation).

  • R.I.P – CLAW. The alpha female of the Mambira Pack. Claw was a longstanding inspiration to local artist Lin Barrie who followed the pack’s development and movements passionately. The cause of Claw’s death was never determined (suspect snake bite, possibly Mamba).

    Claw, painted by artist Lin Barrie

    Claw, painted by artist Lin Barrie

  • R.I.P – FORAX. The alpha female of the Mapura Pack. She was killed by lions.
  • R.I.P – TICK. Tick was one of the oldest dogs in the Savé Valley– if not the oldest. Tick was also killed by lions. While still a great loss, Tick’s death provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the biology of wild dogs and his skull will be used for education purposes amongst our local community schools, so his legacy lives on.

R.I.P. We lost another five adult wild dogs to snares set up by a bush meat syndicate and one pup from a vehicle collision accident. We’ll be focusing heavily on drawing the media’s attention to indiscriminate poaching syndicates in the coming months so look out for us and support our efforts to keep the remaining packs of Africa’s wild dogs safe from human harm!

Snares removed

Snares removed in a sweep by the dedicated scouts of the Save Valley Conservancy Antipoaching Unit (ATS). Your support goes a long way to ensuring wild dog survival


Looking Back (At The Year That Was)

The Highs and Lows of Being A Conservation NGO in 2013

One of the most common questions we are asked by visitors, supporters and journalists alike is “Why?”

“Why do we do this?” When surely there are other, easier, more profitable things to do with our time (suggestions put forward range from running over-priced game lodges to selling carved wooden curios to… just about anything else you could think of.)  Why do we conserve African wild dogs?  Why don’t we focus on saving species easier to target for funding?

Our answer to these well-meaning wonderers is always: “Because, like the rhino and the elephant, the African wild dog is in dire danger.” “Because, if we don’t so something to halt their decline, who else will?”  And then our favourite answer, “because it wouldn’t be worth it if it were easy!”

Wild dogs are unique and fascinating canids, naturally found exclusively on our very own African soil. It remains a fact that very few people in the world would be able to identify an African wild dog when presented with a picture of one or if they encountered one in the wild. Never mind the fact that it is the second most endangered carnivore in Africa. We have a responsibility and duty to protect the species from further decline. Not only to conserve them for the benefit of future generations, but to ensure the persistence of the wildlife areas and ecosystems which they inhabit. And who wouldn’t want to? Those who have had the fortune of spending any small amount of time in the presence of a wild dog pack will know how quickly they draw you in with their animated behaviour, intimate social bonds and inspiring cooperative nature. They are a formidable and beautiful species in grave danger of extinction.

The start of a brand New Year is always a good time to reflect; on where we’ve been and maybe more importantly, where we’re going to. As we relive some of the highs – and inevitable lows- of 2013, pause to reflect on the question “Why?” – and understand why we wouldn’t, couldn’t, be doing anything else.

Over the next few posts we’ll be reliving the year through each of our four corner stone areas of action: Conservation, Research, Education and Fund Raising. We hope you’ll join us and as always, your comments are most welcome!

A pot of gold in Gonarezhou National Park

A pot of gold in Gonarezhou National Park