Category Archives: save valley conservancy

An unfortunate and unusual ending for one of the Splinters Pack’s pups.

Unfortunately, we received a report a three days ago that one of our wild dog pups had drowned in a water trough on a neighbouring property. It turned out to be one of the female beta litter pups from Splinters Pack. This is one of the rarer ‘causes of death’ recorded for pups in Save Valley Conservancy, with the majority of pups losing their lives to lion predation.

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Dead female pup from Splinters Pack.

 

A recent count of the major causes of pup mortality

A count of previous major causes of pup mortality.

Wild dogs absolutely love to play in and rest near water, especially during the hotter months of the year! Sadly, Splinters Pack’s recent activity around water had an unfortunate ending. It is hard to imagine what happened; perhaps the pups were playing and jumped up onto the wall of the trough and this pup fell in and just could not get out? The pack was still standing around when the pup was found. Wild dogs have extremely strong social bonds and will often return to a dead pack member’s body for up to two days after their death.

Fortunately, the pack was sighted a few days later, again resting near a pan, and still with a very good number of pups remaining! So far we have 68% pup survival in the conservancy, let’s hope the pups continue to do well during the upcoming rainy season!

Wild dogs love to play in and rest near water

Wild dogs love to play in and rest near water.

Some of the remaining pups gathered under the shade of a tree

Some of the remaining pups gathered under the shade of a tree.

“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

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


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.

Behaviour

Have a wonderful rest of the week, more soon!

AWCF Team

 

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.

Capture3

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.

Capture2

Capture1

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.

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 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.

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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.

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 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.

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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,

AWCF Team

 

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.

Collaring_wilddogs

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.

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!

AWCF Team