Category Archives: save valley conservancy

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 He was losing weight and was no longer active within the pack.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

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.


Wild Dog Dies from Snare Along the Western Boundary of Save Valley Conservancy

Morning all,

We received some disappointing news yesterday afternoon. Italy, one of collared males from the Crocodile pack was found dead from a snare. We have had no visual of Crocodile or Orongo packs for almost a month now, and for the past few weeks finding these packs has been a priority for our scouts. Post denning the packs return to their normal wide-ranging habits making them incresingly difficult to track, even with telemetry. Yesterday afternoon the scouts radioed and reported they had found Italy, from the Crocodile pack, dead from a snare. Italy had been dead a while, nothing remained of his body except an almost totally decayed head. He was found outside the conservancy in Village 31B. The snare was still attached to the tree indicating that he was unable to break free (his back teeth are still intact indicating he did not attempt to/couldn’t chew through the snare to break free). He must have died a very terrible death attached to the tree and later been scavenged off. It is unbelievable to see what such a beautiful and unique animal has been reduced to purely as a result of careless human behaviour.



The scouts reported the rest of the pack at 9 adults and 6 pups. This means 2 more adults are unaccounted for, and the pack has now lost 6 of their 12 pups since they finished denning. Our scouts are currently out in the field following up on the rest of the pack, checking for other snared individuals or injuries, and taking good ID shots so we can identify the missing individuals. Even with our constant monitoring and dedicated team we sometimes cannot find snared dogs before it is too late. Hopefully with the right support we can continue to strengthen our anti-poaching initiatives and educate local landowners and communities on the critical impact indiscriminate snaring has on wild dog survival in the Save Valley Conservancy and surrounds.

More soon,



Wild dog Collared in Save Valley Conservancy

Hi there,

We have been rather quiet of late, things are slowly calming down as the denning season draws to close. However, wild dogs rarely sit still for too long thus neither can we! A few weeks ago we collared one of our female wild dogs, always an exhilarating experience and an opportunity to become even more familiar with the animals.


Cain, our scout, radioed and said he had the Batanai pack visual. Now if you remember, Shreddy who recently died of a snare was part of the Batanai pack. Around the same time we found Shreddy dead the pack had moved from their den and thereafter our scouts had a hard time finding them. Shreddy was one of two collared males in the pack. It had been almost three weeks since we had received any report of this pack, so naturally we were all very excited when we heard that Cain had found the pack resting under a large baobab. Rosemary decided this would be a good opportunity to try and collar another individual in this pack. Rosemary darts off the back of the scouts’ bikes. The dogs are relaxed to the sound of the scouts’ bikes enabling Rosemary to get nice and close for efficient darting.


The dog we collared is called CC (named so after two marks on her back right leg that look like two C’s next to eachother). We fitted the collar and took a small piece of ear and blood samples for genetics. We stayed with her until she was fully recovered and Cain found her the next day back with the pack and doing well! Collars are not only a way for us to locate and keep track of our packs, but GPS and Satelite collars enable us to gather information on home ranges and better understand how the packs in Save Valley Conservancy utilise the available space. Further, data from wild dog GPS collars can be used to locate snare lines (after noticing snare wounds on the wild dogs).

Thats all for now, but it is an interesting time in the conservancy, we tentatively watch how the pups fair after the denning season and how pack dynamics may change. More soon!



‘Old Male’ Passes Away

Hi all,

This post is a little outdated, but an interesting one none the less.

On the 27 May 2013 Rueben, our head scout, informed us that he had come across Tick’s body. Tick was our oldest male dog, born possibly before 2004. Bite marks to his head, neck and chest cavity indicated that he had been killed by lions. Although sad, we quickly learnt to appreciate the rarity of a wild dog living a long and successful life and dying of natural causes as opposed to accidental snaring, or human persecution. Tick’s death also provided us with a great opportunity to learn more about the biology of wild dogs, and his skull will be used for education purposes amongst our local community schools.

IMG_4820 IMG_4768 IMG_4749

Last week we lost another wild dog as a result of conflict with lion. Forax, the alpha female of the Mapura pack denning on Chishakwe Ranch, was found dead 15m from the den. The cause of death was not immediately apparent as our scout found no obvious tracks or ‘tell-tale’ signs. A post mortem revealed Forax died from a cat bite (most probably lion) at the base of her spine. Fortunately, the pups were weaned and the rest of the pack is continuing to feed and look after the 11 pups well. A few of the pups are pictured below with Tornado, another female in the pack who seems to be a very devoted aunty and is never found far from the pups or the den!


More soon,

The AWCF Team

Hi everyone,

We had a wonderful sighting of the Crocodile Pack on Tuesday morning and we just wanted to share our experience with you. The pack is doing so well with what looks to be 12 healthy and fit pups! It is hard to get an accurate count as there are so many heads and bottoms everywhere! The pups are at a wonderfully inquisitive and playful stage, moving about the den and becoming familiar with the new world around them. As soon as the pack had returned from their hunt, the pups all piled out of the den and began to feed on the regurgitated food from the adults. It was such a special sighting, and reminded us why we are doing all we can to conserve this unique and intriguing species.

A few pictures of the playful pups below!


IMG_5814_ IMG_5804_ IMG_5797_ IMG_5794_

Lions plague denning African wild dogs

Wild dogs in the Savé Valley Conservancy face great challenges from their greatest competitors, lions and hyenas. The denning season is when the effects on the wild dog population are most visible.

This pack of four dogs (split from the Batanai pack of 30 at the beginning of the denning season) has been disturbed by lions at their den from the time they started denning. On the 1st of June when we went to set up camera traps at the den, we found a dead young male lion, with most of its body in the hole where the pups and the alpha female were!!

dead lion at den_1 June 2013


This lion was suspected to be a lone individual, separated from the pride and could have been looking for easy prey. We managed to pull out the lion carcass with the help from the guys from Sango Ranch.

Clearing off dead lion

Dead lion after being pulled out


To our relief, the alpha female wild dog jumped out of the hole and ran off as we drove away.  We have yet to see the fate of pups, but mum being alive and well is a good sign….  We are just praying that the lion wasn’t sick and hasn’t transmitted any disease to the wild dogs.  We’ll be keeping a very close eye on them.

More on lions at this den site coming soon!

Looking forward to the denning season

Hi folks,

Over the last month we’ve been witnessing mating in the various wild dog packs in the Save Valley Conservancy.  We’re really looking forward to the denning season, when we hope we’ll get lots more pups.

Here’s what we have to look forward to :).  Photos are courtesy of Trent Binford-Walsh







We should be starting to notice pregnancy in the alpha females any day now, and I’ll be sure to update you as soon as we do!

Why don’t you consider a trip to Chishakwe Ranch where the AWCF field team is based to see this for yourself?

Back soon,