‘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/).


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.


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”.


 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

2014? It’s going to be wild!

Yes, we know, we’ve been a bit quiet. While we’d love to say it’s because we’ve all been on holiday, quite the opposite is true!

There is lots happening in our world and in the realms of the magnificent creatures we’ve dedicated ourselves (our  lives) to helping. We have made lots of new friends, we have said fond farewells to others,  we have  begun training  to run a race  (see our post on the Two Oceans Marathon!) ,  we  have furthered our reach through the  ever-expanding branches of social media, we have some big plans and we have lots to  share with you all! And of course, the dogs have been busy  too!

We will, over the next few weeks’ worth of posts, be looking back on  the year that was 2013 and sharing with you both our  triumphs and  defeats and using them all to inform the next 12 months ahead. And by all indications -  it’s going to  be WILD! (in the best  sense of the  word,  of course.)

2014 - we're ready!

Another beautiful sunset at Hammond Ranch

Ever Enthralling Wild Dog Behaviour

Hi all,

The blistering heat has finally given way to some very badly needed rain in the south-east Zimbabwean Lowveld. As the rain pours down outside I find myself wondering what our wild dog packs in Save Valley Conservancy are doing. Most likely, the adults are relaxing and enjoying the cool weather whilst the pups are experiencing a new lease of life and thinking up innovative ways to play in the mud and with water droplets running off branches. This really is a beautiful time of year in the conservancy as the bush starts to green and thicken; things come alive. We experienced this whilst sitting and watching our Mapura pack one evening over the past weekend. The pack and six-week old pups really did put on a wonderful ‘show’ for us. It was great to observe how much the beta litter pups learn by mimicking the adults and slightly older alpha litter pups. We couldn’t help but laugh as we watched one female having a wonderful time rolling around in a patch of something ‘enticing’, only to see two of the pups inquisitively watch her behaviour and then copy it exactly!

Playing pupsVisual observations combined with trail cameras at the den help us to greater understand the social complexities of this unique species. We are privileged to capture moments of feeding, playing, resting and bonding between the members of the pack. You become acutely aware of how connected and familiar the individuals are and learn to appreciate this unique trait of the species.


Have a wonderful rest of the week, more soon!



Sisters Doing it For Themselves!

Hi all,

We have three packs (Pita, Mapura and Chapungu) denning rather late in the year in the Save Valley Conservancy. Wild dogs normally only breed once a year when they occupy a den for three months during June-August. These are the second denning events for Mapura and Pita Packs for this year. The three new litters could potentially contribute an additional 14 dogs to the conservancy’s population, if survival is good. Since the start of the denning season we have lost 50% of our pups with highest mortality being after the wild dogs have left the den and are more vulnerable to snare poaching and lion predation. Chapungu Pack, consisting of two females, were first sighted in September this year and later identified to be two sisters from the late Maera Pack of the conservancy. They were both pups in 2010 and were last sighted in 2011. We have no idea who the alpha male was, or where he is now, but the two sisters appear to be successfully raising four pups. However, they have their fair share of obstacles. On the recent den cameras the  alpha female has two puncture wounds on her left side, evidence of a potential failed lion attack, and a lioness was sighted moving through the den area a couple of times.


LionFortunately, there are still four pups and the sister of the alpha female seems to be taking good care of the alpha’s injuries and is regularly seen licking the wounds. This will help to keep the wounds clean and clear of infection allowing the injuries time to heal well. We will continue to monitor the progress of the female and the survival of the pups and hope that these two sisters will be able to successfully raise and protect the pups against potential threats. A very difficult task for two wild dogs who rely on the cooperative nature and power of their pack to successfully hunt, feed and protect their young.



More soon!

“I learnt from the best” – AWCF Attachment Student Shares Her Experience

Hi all,

This is truly an inspiring read. Nobesuthu Ngwenya, a student at the National University of Science and Technology, spent a year with AWCF and the Lowveld Wild Dog Project learning all about field-based conservation of large carnivores in south-east Zimbabwe. Below is what she has to say about her experience. It is truly encouraging to read about her time with AWCF, and how she has come to have an enriched understanding of wildlife conservation and an appreciation for natural resources. It was a pleasure having Nobesuthu as part of the AWCF team and we wish her only the very best in all her future endeavours!


Time moves very fast, it’s already been a year and attachment year is over. It’s been a great experience working with AWCF. I have learnt a lot in the project and had the feel of the real working environment.

 I am very grateful to Dr Rosemary Groom for giving me the opportunity to join the project and for all that I know about wildlife in the field today. She also made it possible for me to do my project with AWCF. If it weren’t for her guidance and persistent help, my attachment and project would not have been a success. Special thanks to the AWCF team, the scouts and the community liaison officer, who never got tired of helping me and answering all the questions I had with my first experience in the field.

 Working with AWCF, I learnt a lot about conservation and wildlife management and with no doubt, I will carry the flag of conservation wherever I go and share it, especially in my country, where many people do not understand the need to conserve and protect our wildlife and resources.


 I enjoyed every moment with the lowveld wild dog project all that was there to learn, from data collection, game count, education outreach programs, wild dog tracking, de-snaring and darting, collecting blood and tissue samples, vehicle and motorbike maintenance, workshops, human and wildlife conflicts. I learnt a lot so much that if I were to list it all, the whole web will be filled up.

 To mention a few exciting moments; we had darted a snared wild dog to remove the snare. The procedure went well and I was given the chance to learn how to inject the anti-dote. It was so exciting as it was the first time I ever held an injection.


I also had my first experience of sleeping in the tent whilst at Gonarezhou National Park, tracking for wild dogs. We had wild cats coming close to the tents…this was scary but something worth experiencing… Then finally, the indescribable period of the denning season, the most remarkable wild dog pups, though there were devastating moments when they faced predation by lions and hyenas.

 There were also pressing situations which I learnt a lot from, especially pertaining to human and wildlife conflicts. There were situations were domestic animals from villages around the conservancy were preyed on by wild dogs, and such situations had to be dealt with diplomatically. It was just amazing how little people knew about wildlife in the surrounding villages. They had no knowledge about wild dogs and did not understand their importance in the wild.


 To sum up my attachment period, I must say, a conservationist mind has been created in me, and I am proud to say that, I learnt from the best.


Playing Pups


We just had to share this series of photos with you all. The last two surviving pups from Mapura pack’s alpha litter thoroughly enjoying themselves not far from the den where Ursula is busy nursing a second litter for this year. After the devastating loss of nine pups shortly after the pack stopped denning, a second litter is very welcome and good news. What an absolute pleasure to have the pack denning again practically on our doorstep! We cannot wait to watch how the big and little pups interact and what mischievous antics they get up to.

Mapura pups playing

We hope you enjoy these as much as we do. Have a good week!