Category Archives: Carnivores general

Wild dog lecture in Bulawayo

Hi folks,

I just got back from a few days in Bulawayo where I had a hectic schedule talking to schools and giving a lecture.  Netty Purchase, the range-wide coordinator for cheetah and wild dog in southern Africa, together with the Alliance Francaise have organized an amazing collection of events about carnivores, under the umbrella of ‘The Song of the Carnivores’.  Last week it was wild dog week, and I was invited to give the wild dog lecture as part of a series on “dispelling the myths” of large carnivores.

My topic was “Dispelling the myths that wild dogs are cruel hunters that decimate prey populations”.  It was an evening lecture with a great turnout and very positive feedback, and I hope it’s done a little bit to help people see through traditional prejudices and realize what incredible animals wild dogs are.  Even people who were known not to be too keen on wild dogs were heard muttering “it almost makes you love them”!!

Excitingly, this initiative has gained so much support and enthusiasm, it may be adopted in several other countries in southern Africa, which is just great.  The whole project includes music, poetry, art and these lecture series, involving hundreds of schools and individuals in Zimbabwe.

Here I am just after the lecture with Netty (far right) and Phumizile Sibanda (sec0nd from right) who will be giving the leopard talk next month.  Such a great initiative and it is a privilge to be part of it.

Back soon,

Rosemary

School carnivore projects

Hi folks,

Towards the end of last term, we provided a couple of schools with some materials with which to do big carnivore projects.  This was on request from the teachers after they attended a teacher training workshop organized and hosted  by Chishakwe Ranch, last August.

Today I went to visit the schools to see how the projects had come along.  Whilst still incomplete, I was very pleased by the progress and the obvious effort the students and teachers had put in.  Here are some of the Grade 6 kids with their yet-to-be-completed projects.

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Both schools undertook the project with enthusiasm and the quality of their work was very good, largely thanks to the long-term efforts by Chishakwe with these particular two schools, Muvava and Uteki.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Pythons, Cheetahs and Guineafowl

Hi folks,

I’ve been lucky enough over the past couple of weeks to see some pretty special things, so I thought I’d diverge briefly from wild dogs and lions and post a few photos of other things I have seen recently.

This python is known to be about 3.5m long.  We found her sunning herself in a somewhat uncomfortable-looking position (!) when we were driving spoor surveys the other day.

python in the baobab

python

python head

Check out that forked tongue!

A few days before this, we’d been lucky enough to see a group of 5 cheetah on the road as we headed to the south of the Save Valley Conservancy very early one morning.  It looked like a mum and 4 subadult cubs.  Of course the first thing we saw was this:

cheetah bum

But then curiosity got the better of a couple of the youngsters and they stopped to watch us for a while.  Cheetahs are very rare in Save Valley, so this was a real treat for us.

cheetah pose

As was seeing these crested guinefowl, which we spotted on our last trip to Gonarezhou.  These are also very uncommon, and are wonderfully entertaining birds to watch!

crested guineafowl

crested guineafowl2

So, always a lot to be looking out for on our endless wild dog searches!

Rosemary

Wild dogs killed by lions and snares

Hi folks,

This is a bit of a depressing and slightly gory post, but I think it’s important to show all side of the story in our efforts to conserve the wild dogs out here in Zimbabwe.  Although we’ve had lots of puppies born and lots of good news to report, unfortunately we’ve also had quite a few dogs killed recently – and mostly by lions.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve found 4 wild dog carcasses, three of which were killed by lions.  The fourth carcass was too old for cause of death to be ceratin, but damage to the skull suggests possibly a lion attack as well.  Two of the definite lion kills were of known dogs from the Mapura pack; an old male called Nyaminyami and a yearling female known as Tramp.  Fortunately (if we are to try and find a silver lining in this), the attack happened away from the den, when the dogs were out hunting, so their pups were not harmed and their den not disturbed.

Nyaminyami - killed by lions1

Tramp - killed by lions

The other dog definitely killed by lions was an adult male from the Mapari pack (we suspect) but we were not able to identify him.  The post mortem showed that he had had his spine broken by the lions.

Dead dog showing puncture marks

The other carcass was too old to be identified, or for cause of death to be reliably established, but we believe it was a member of the Nyarushanga Pack which had been denning not far from where it was found.  We have yet to see that pack well enough to see which, if any, dogs are missing.

At the same time all this was happening in Save Valley Conservancy, we also found our collared wild dog in Gonarezhou dead, having been caught in a snare.  I’ll report on that in a separate post, as she was showing some extremely interesting movement behavior before she was killed.

So all in all a depressing couple of weeks, but just serves to highlight how important it is try to mitigate human threats, so that the combined impact of that and these natural deaths is less severe.

Back soon with better news I hope,

Rosemary

Lions, Elephants, Spotted hyenas, Rhinos and a (dead) Buffalo!

We had a pretty incredible night a couple of days ago.  We had gone down to the southern part of the Save Valley Conservancy (to Arda Ranch) to try and collar a pack of wild dogs.  Whilst at the den, the manager of the property informed us that they had just found a buffalo bull freshly killed by lions.

Having failed (again!) to dart the dogs, we went off to have a look at the kill site and were fortunate enough to see two lions on the kill when we arrived.  They were both scruffy, cheeky young males, and we watched them for a while before they moved off into the bush.

lions

Coincidentally, we had with us all the lion call up and darting equipment as I had been planning to try and collar a lion further north, on my way back home that evening.  So we decided instead to loiter in the south (generously hosted for lunch by Clive Stockil and renowned painter Lin Barrie) and return to the carcass later that evening.

We hadn’t been at the carcass for more than half an hour when we saw the lions approaching.  It was not yet fully dark and we could easily see enough to count them.  Having expected 4, possibly 5 lions (which had been seen earlier) we were a bit surprised when we had counted 5 and they kept coming!  It turned out to be a group of 5 young males and 2 adult females.  At least to start with….

young male lion on the bait

It was almost a full moon, so we didn’t need to shine a light much and spend a while just enjoying the activities of the young males on the bait, as the adult females (the only ones we wanted to collar) were staying away from the carcass.  A short while later, a lound rustling in the bush behind us heralded the arrival of a group of elephants on their way to water.  They started to move past us about 60m away but were very nervous – of us or of the lions we were unsure.  However, a sudden and decisive mock charge by the whole group of eles towards the lions, soon clarified that one!

Just prior to the charge, the elephants had all been standing together in a line, with the matriarch bringing up the rear.  They were standing silently, when I heard the sound of another ‘large animal’ approaching from behind them.  Assuming it to be another elephant, I was very surprised to see it was in fact a white rhino bull!!!

He slowly meandered on past and a while later the elephants moved on too.  Peace resumed at the bait with the 5 young male lions stuffing themselves even fuller and the two adult females lying off to one side.  We were waiting quietly for the adults to come to the bait, when there was suddenly a big disturbance at the bait, with a lot of growling and general chaos.  We put the spotlight on, and what did we see but one of our collared lionesses who had arrived to shift the boys off the bait!

We think she had come in with an adult male (from the roaring going on behind us!), him being greeted with excitement by the two adult females we were trying to dart!

Eventually we left them to it, and started the 1.5hour drive home.  All we needed to see was a leopard to make it a ‘Big Five’ day (we had actually seen some live buffalo earlier too) but we got a civet instead :).  Nonetheless, an incredible night.

civet

Looking for lions and wild dogs in Gonarezhou National Park

Hi folks,

Apologies for being quiet on the blog recently without any explanation – it’s a pretty busy time here at the moment, and while we have lots of exciting things to report, I’m just not getting the time to do it.  Anyway, here I am at my desk, and the reason we’ve been quiet for so long is because we’ve been working in the beautiful and remote Gonarezhou National Park, where I am now running the Gonarezhou Predator Project.  We were hoping to find the den sites of the two main packs of wild dogs in the park, and possibly even collar them.  We also wanted to check up on our collared lions and download their collars, amongst other things.

Well, it turns out we were being a bit optimistic with the wild dogs.  Despite endless hours every day looking for tracks and following all signs of dogs, we failed to locate either pack.  It’s not the easiest terrain for tracking wild dogs, and roads are few and far between…

difficult terrain for finding wild dogs

We did however learn a lot more about the dogs and their behavior from the spoor, so although we never saw any wild dogs, it’s been a very informative 10 days.  Rueben has, as always, been a star, and worked tirelessly in all conditions trying to locate the dogs

Rueben

On several occasions our tracking brought us down to the edge of the Runde River – no shortage of signs of hippos and crocs:

Rueben following dog spoor

Crocodile tracks – of a monster croc!!

crocodile tracks!

We’ll try again with the dens and collaring in August.

We were much luckier with the lions, managing to pick up all three collared groups without too much effort, and downloaded the two GPS collars without incident.  The other group, with a VHF collar, we found near a road so we waited there till after dark in the hope we would see them, which indeed we did.  It seems our collared lioness is currently with one subadult male – the other seven members of the pride we saw the following day when downloading the GPS collar.

our collared lioness

subadult  male lion at night

So, we won with the lions but it’s definitely 1:nil to the wild dogs this time.  We’ll try again in a couple of weeks.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Leopard collaring

I had the privilege again yesterday morning to help my colleague Dusty Joubert to collar another leopard for his conservation research project.  After a frantic radio call around 6:20am, I rushed off with the dart gun to the site where the leopard had been caught.  It was a young adult male, whom, from the looks of things, had been in a recent scrap with another adult male but was otherwise in good health.

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We fitted a GPS collar on to him and took measurements.

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Because of his injuries (which were largely superficial, but it never hurts to be on the safe side) we gave him a dose of long-acting antibiotics as well.

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The whole immobilization process went smoothly; a pulse-oximeter (with the sensor fitted to the tongue) measures blood oxygen level and heart rate so you are alerted early to any problems should they arise.  In this case, everything was fine and the leopard recovered well after the drug reversal had been administered.

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I always enjoy working so closely with leopards – they are such beautiful, powerful animals, and seeing them up close really enhances this. Hopefully the information gleaned from Dusty’s work on these animals will help to ensure their persistence long into the future.

Leopard collaring

Hi folks,

I had the privilege recently to help a colleague of mine – Dusty Joubert – collar a leopard for part of the leopard conservation project he is working on. It was a beautiful adult female leopard, in great condition.

Here are a few photos

The leopard in the trap

The leopard in the trap

The immobilised leopard - what a beautiful cat!

The immobilised leopard - what a beautiful cat!

Rosemary with the immobilised leopard

Rosemary with the immobilised leopard

Back soon,

Rosemary

De-snaring a leopard

The use of wire-snares by poachers to catch wild animals is one of the main threats to Zimbabwe’s wildlife at the moment.  Although the snares are set mainly to target species like impala, zebra and wildebeest, they are unfortunately a hugely indiscriminate killing method.  Over the past eight years we have recorded over thirteen different species killed in snares, including wild dog, rhino, cheetah, elephant and leopard.

Occasionally however, an animal will manage to break the wire, but generally carries the wire round it’s neck, leg or waist either until it dies or until we can take it off.

Recently, thanks to my colleague Dusty Joubert, we managed to trap a large male leopard that had a snare round his neck and remove the snare.

The darted leopard

The darted leopard

Cutting the snare off

Cutting the snare off

Fortunately, although the wound had clearly been a bad one, the skin had mostly healed over and the injury was not life threatening, although must have been painful.

Once the snare was removed

Once the snare was removed

The snare wound

The snare wound

So once again another snare removed from another beautiful, incredible and valuable animal.  And our ability to do this is largely thanks to all of you – our blog readers and supporters – who’s past donations have helped us to buy the drugs and equipment needed to do this.  Please continue to support us if you can – drug supplies are running low and unfortunately we are likely to continue seeing incidences like these, whilst Zimbabwe is still getting back on track after years of severe economic and social collapse.

Please help us to get our wildlife populations through this

Rosemary

Pack of five now down to four

Hi all,

I recently introduced you to a new pack of 5 dogs – 3 females from the Mapari pack and 2 males from the Teddy pack. A few days ago, early in the morning, we got a report of 4 dogs at an impala kill very near to where we are based on Chishakwe. They were in the Msaize river bed, so very exposed, and we were able to get some really good photos of them. Unfortunately there were definitely only 4 dogs there – 1 of the females was missing. I hoped that perhaps she may have been denning and therefore had stayed behind at the den whilst the others went hunting, but Misheck (one of the scouts) followed them that morning and there doesn’t appear to be a den or a fifth dog. It is unclear what has happened to the fifth female – perhaps she joined another pack or perhaps she died – we will wait to see if she reappears somewhere. The other 4 dogs all look healthy and were very playful, running around and playfighting in the river bed. It’s a joy to see young dogs really enjoying themselves!

Becky

2 males and 2 females resting by the river bed

2 males and 2 females resting by the river bed

Dogs at the impala kill

Dogs at the impala kill

Dogs playing

Dogs playing

Dogs playing

Dogs playing

Dogs playing

Dogs playing

Dogs playing

Dogs playing