Category Archives: zimbabwe

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,


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Hi Folk,

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Happy Readers Literacy Workshop

Hi folks,

As you’ll have seen from the last post, there is an urgent need to improve the literacy levels in rural primary schools in Zimbabwe.  The fact is that most children can barely read by the time they leave primary school (12/13 years old).  What chance will these children have in life??

It’s not their fault – it’s not that they are stupid or don’t pay attention in lessons.  It’s not always the case that the teachers don’t care or don’t know how to teach.  It’s because they have nothing to learn with.  How can you learn to read a book without a book??  And even if you have a book, if you haven’t been taught to read through a proper literacy training program, you cant just pick it up and read it.

Teaching someone to read is no easy job.  And it’s impossible without the right resources.

We have therefore teamed up with Happy Readers to try and do something about this.  We recently provided sets of the nine Level 1 Literacy Books to eight more schools around Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou.

And we then held a workshop to train the teachers in how to use the resource, and why it works.  We had a great representation from the 12 schools that now have the books, and were also honored by the presence of the District Education Officer from Chipinge District and representatives from the Chiredzi and Buhera DEO offices.



Conor O’Beirne from Happy Readers came down to do the workshop:


The teachers listened attentively and by all accounts were thrilled with the concept of the scheme



A game towards the end got everyone involved and showed what fun learning to read can be, when it’s done right:


Finally, it was time for the presentation of the books:

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Malilangwe Trust also bought the books for two of their schools, so in total we were able to hand out books for 10 more schools!  Literacy tests have been conducted in the schools, and we look forward to seeing the progress next year.

Back soon,




AWCF’s Literacy Training Program Continues

African Wildlife Conservation Fund has teamed up with Happy Readers to try and get literacy books into the rural schools surrounding Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou National Park as part of our education and outreach program.

From initial literacy testing, it was clear that there was a serious need for this:  even students towards the end of their primary school career were unable to read at all.  And we are told by secondary schools teachers that they are also struggling with very high levels of complete illiteracy in their schools.

Just for a minute try and imagine your life if you couldn’t read… Imagine all those opportunities that you would not have had or been able to take advantage of.  Imagine what a struggle it would be to do anything with your life.  Imagine how you would have no alternative than to believe everything you are told, and no alternative than to depend on the natural resources around you for survival.

If you cannot read, you cannot learn, and if you cannot learn, you cannot change your life…

It’s a tragedy that Zimbabwe, which once had one of the highest literacy levels in Africa and one of the best education systems in the world, has now collapsed to such an extent that we see such shocking figures:

screen shot of test results

Thanks to funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund we were recently able to purchase Happy Reader level 1 books for eight more of the primary schools around the key wildlife areas.  Together with the two schools we did last year, and two schools that Malilangwe Trust has sponsored, the books are now in twelve schools in the area.  Since we work with 123 primary schools, we still have a way to go, but we’ve made a start and will have changed the lives of those students, without a doubt.

Last week, with the support of the District Education Officers of the four districts involved in the program at this stage, we held a training workshop for the teachers to use the scheme.  I’ll post more about that workshop in the next post.


The Happy Reader Books use use animals as characters and help the children to relate to wild animals as individuals and friends rather than simply a food source.  As the levels progress, they bring in basic conservation messages.  We believe that this program (aimed at Grades 1 & 2s primarily) will complement our environmental education programs in the higher grades, thus helping us achieve our conservation goals as well.

The scheme has been shown to be successful in many of the areas where it has been implemented, and is so popular with teachers that virtually every single private primary school in Zimbabwe has bought the books.  We just hope that we can help those poor rural schools to get the same opportunities.

If anyone can help – please click on DONATE on the right hand side of this page.  Your money will go straight to the African Wildlife Conservation Fund via a safe and secure method (PayPal) and you can specify that you want it to be used for literacy books.

There are very few better ways to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Thank you!


African wild dogs show off their wonderful playful nature

Hi folks,

I just wanted to share with you a few photos I took recently whilst watching the Batanai Pack in the Save Valley Conservancy.  The Batanai Pack is still 30 dogs, having had 12 pups last year and 100% pup survival to date!


The 12 pups are now about 9 months old and are wonderfully charismatic little fellows; bold and beautiful.  And full of energy!!!

They found me very interesting:



And then once they had tired of checking me out, they did what wild dog pups do…. played!!


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Just a wonderful, wonderful sight to watch.  I was smiling for the rest of the day!  It’s always great to get a chance to get out of the office and spend time with the dogs. and sightings like this remind us just why we are working so hard to conserve this magnificent species.

How can anyone seriously still consider these vermin?


A story of survival against the odds

In the southern part of the Save Valley Conservancy lives a pack of African wild dogs known as the Mambira Pack.  Shortly before Christmas last year, the pack ran into an area set with lethal wire snares, presumably targeted at killing impala for meat.  Sadly, these indiscriminate wire traps caught a young wild dog female instead.

This beautiful and energetic wild dog, known as Eclipse, was born in 2011 and was one of only two surviving pups from that litter.  Together with her sister Luna, these two dogs helped their small pack raise another litter of pups in 2012, making the pack ten individuals in total.

And then calamity struck…. Eclipse was caught round her neck in a wire snare which only pulled tighter the harder she struggled to get free.  And what a struggle it must have been – even with good wire cutters, cutting through the wire that these snares are made of is virtually impossible.  For an animal to break out of the snare, simply by pulling and twisting with all the pressure on the neck, is close to a miracle.  Nonetheless, Eclipse is a fighter, and managed to tear her way out of the trap.  But the damage was done and the wire stayed wrapped tight around her neck.


Not only was it round her neck, but the sharpened end where the wire had broken off had pierced her jaw and cheek, effectively pinning her head down and making it extremely painful to move her head from side to side.

Nonetheless, with the help of her close family pack members she survived…  And she survived right up until Saturday 9th February when we finally (after a lot of effort by several different people) managed to get a dart into her to immobilize her to remove the snare.

Although we knew it was bad, just how bad was only apparent when we could handle her.  The wide wound on the back of the neck was fairly superficial fortunately, but several knots in the wire underneath had made a bit of a mess of the throat area, although fortunately not cutting deep enough to sever the wind pipe.


Using a combination of Rueben and Cain’s strength, they managed to cut the wire off and enabled me to treat the wound:


With the wire off, we set about cleaning the wound thoroughly and doing our best to prevent infection with a hefty dose of long acting penicillin.



Incredibly, although she was very thin, her condition was not otherwise too bad, and she maintained a good pulse rate and breathing throughout the immobilization.  Towards the end of the procedure, her temperature started to drop (having been initially too high!), so we moved her into the late-afternoon sun to warm up as she slowly came round from her drugged sleep.  This emphasized quite how thin she had become…


Nonetheless, with her incredible resilience, Eclipse recovered well from the immobilization and even while she was still a bit woozy, she was starting to experiment with moving her head around.  We could almost hear her thinking “this feels better”!

BUT – all was not well.  Unfortunately, during the procedure, the rest of the pack had moved off, and we could not even pick up their signal, indicating they had gone far away.  In her weakened state, and having just woken up from an anesthetic, she was very vulnerable, with a limited chance of making it through the night alone.  All we could do was stay with her until it was dark (by which stage at least she was moving properly, and had headed off into the bush) and then leave her and hope she managed to re-join her pack over night.

Sadly, the next morning, the pack was located >15kms away, and Eclipse was not with them….  We returned to where we had darted her and searched all around, but found no sign of her, either alive or dead.  Encouragingly we also did not find any tracks of larger predators (which would have killed her had they found her) or vultures…  But it still wasn’t the news we were hoping for.

The following morning, we struggled to find the pack again, but eventually Rueben found them, and radioed me with a message… he’d located the pack and there were once again 10 dogs!!! Eclipse had re-joined the pack, and not only that she was, according to Rueben, looking “fat and strong”!!


That news absolutely made my week!  What a relief and what good news for Eclipse and her pack.  I’ve no doubt that having got over that hurdle and reunited with her pack, she will make a full recovery.  One day she may even become the alpha female of her own pack – and what an ending to this story that would be!




Collared wild dog snared in Gonarezhou National Park

Hi folks,

I’m sad to report that we recently found the carcass of one of our collared wild dogs in Gonarezhou National Park.  The young male was called Mowgli and was part of the Machaniwa pack.  It was clear when his carcass was recovered that he had died of a snare wound – the wire was still attached to the neck bones of the carcass.


It’s the second collared dog we have found snared within a couple of kms of the Mozambique boundary, illustrating the potentially significant anthropogenic mortality these dogs are facing in this area.  Obviously we are only finding the carcasses of collared ones, because of the collar signal, but there is little doubt that other individuals are also being killed as well.


The Machaniwa Pack was 7 adults and 7 pups in August last year.  By December, there were only 12.  The same day we found the carcass, we also saw some members of the pack – but only five.  We are hoping this was just a temporary break-away group (it was only last years pups), but otherwise it’s very concerning news for the pack.

Unfortunately, Mowgli was the only collared dog in the pack and so now we face the challenge of fitting another collar to the pack, so we can keep a track of them, and understand more about the threats they face.  Unfortunately that is no small task in that huge, wild area…


New pack of endangered African wild dogs forms in Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy

Exciting news!!

We have confirmed the formation of a new pack of wild dogs!!

Admittedly it’s a very small pack – only two dogs at the moment – but every pack has to start somewhere, and we are thrilled by the discovery.

We became aware of the new pack last week, after Rueben managed to get photos of the dogs.  On looking at the photos, I knew immediately that I recognized both dogs but it took me a few minutes to confirm which ones they were.

These are the pictures Rueben took:

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Even though the only photos of the female were sitting down in water, I was able to identify her as Mushroom, a female that was born in 2008 and has since been a member of three different packs, the last being the Pita Pack which she founded with two of her sisters.  She’s clearly decided it’s now her turn to breed!!

The male is from the Nyarushanga Pack, where he was the beta male in 2011.

We’ve called the pack Nzungu, which means ‘nut’ in Shona (don’t ask!) and look forward to following their progress as the denning season approaches.

Here’s the pack’s new (blissfully simple!) identikit:

Nzungu Pack

We hope to see many more new packs forming over the next month or two.  I’ll keep you posted,


Fitting a new tracking collar to an endangered African wild dog

Hi folks,

Obviously an important part of the conservation-research component of our holistic African wild dog conservation project is being able to locate the packs!  With home ranges up to 3,500 sq km, thick vegetation and tracks (footprints) obscured for much of the rainy season, the use of tracking collars is a vital tool.

Most of the packs in one of our focal study areas, the Save Valley Conservancy, are collared, but we aim to try and get at least two collars on each pack in case of death or disappearance of the collared dog, failure of the collar, or in case of dispersal of some of the pack.

Yesterday we had an opportunity to fit a second collar onto one of our study packs, known as the Splinters.  The dogs were very relaxed as the vehicle approached, and I darted an adult female with no trouble.

She jumped up as the dart hit, then moved off only a short distance before sitting down with two pack mates in the shade.  Slowly she succumbed to the effects of the drugs and drifted off to sleep, with the other dogs right there with her:


The pack stayed around:


And one of the youngsters even came over to investigate the dart:


The immobilization and collaring procedure went very well.  A pulse-oximeter recorded blood oxygen and heart rate which remained at good levels throughout.   Regular temperature checking and cooling with water, together with an ice pack (frozen bottle of water!) between the legs ensured she never became too hot.


We fitted the collar, took samples and measured physical characteristics and teeth.


It was a good experience for our attachment student Nobesuthu, who learned about all aspects of the collaring procedure.  Scouts Rueben and Misheck were there to lend a hand as well.


We administered the reversal, and she recovered well.



Just after we took this photo, the rest of the pack came back (they had been lying close by throughout) and they moved off together after an endearing display of re-bonding.

Back soon,


A lovely evening with a beautiful pack of African wild dogs

Hi folks,

I was lucky enough to have a chance to spend time with a pack of 21 African wild dogs the other day.  The Mapura pack is one of my favourite packs; they are all such beautiful dogs individually, and when they are all together it’s really a stunning sight.


We caught them the other day in that lovely African evening light and I just wanted to post a few photos to illustrate (just in case you were in any doubt!) the beauty of these endangered animals.

When we first caught up with the pack they were back-lit, with the light catching the grass:


Then we moved around them and had about 15 minutes of the lovely light:




As the sun started to go down, the dogs got a bit more active:




It was nice to see our collared female (Forax) looking so good.  She was the mother of the beta litter of pups in this pack, all eight of whom have survived to six months   Good job! Here she is with one of her pups.


And here are two male pups which are also from Forax’s litter – such striking markings on them both!


Eventually we left the pack to it and headed home.  What a lovely evening!  And a great reminder of why we are working so hard to conserve these animals for all future generations.