Tag Archives: darting

Lions at the Bedford pack den again… only 3 pups left

Hi guys,

It may be no surprise to tell you that the Bedford pack have moved dens again!!  This is their fourth den this year. The huge increase in the lion population seems to have really taken its toll on this pack. We hadn’t had much luck seeing either the adults or the pups at their third den, and unfortunately when we went last time it felt abandoned. When looking at the photos from the camera traps it was clear that they were visited by lions again. Tracks on the ground also confirmed this. Sadly, one of the photos clearly shows a lion with a pup in its mouth.

Lion tracks going into den hole

Lion tracks going into den hole

Lion tracks going into den hole

Lion tracks going into den hole

Lion tracks amongst wild dog tracks

Lion tracks amongst wild dog tracks

Lion with pup in its mouth

Lion with pup in its mouth

Fortunately though, they didn’t move far and since finding their fourth den and putting up camera traps, I can confirm that there are still three healthy pups left. This is a big loss for the pack as they originally had thirteen pups, but fingers crossed these three remaining will make it into adulthood. They are spending a lot of time outside the den, and are extremely energetic and lively!

Three remaining Bedford pups

Three remaining Bedford pups

We also managed to collar one of this pack (the previous collared dogs split to form a new group), and this should make it easier to track the dogs should they move dens again or stop denning altogether.

Fitting Twinspot with a GPS collar

Fitting Twinspot with a GPS collar

The other packs seem to have escaped the lions so far (touch wood!), this pack has just been extremely unfortunate.


Bedford pack splits again!!!

Hi guys,

Well I’ve been here just over a week, and already there’s been lots to do! We’ve visited two den sites and have been following the progress of two more groups of dogs.

When searching for the collared dogs within the Bedford pack we realised that the pack had split. It appears that both collared dogs and three of their siblings have travelled south and joined with a group of four unknown dogs. We managed to put a collar on one of the unknown dogs, so with three collars in total we should find it relatively easy to keep track of them. We can’t be sure, but we believe that the dogs from the Bedford pack are female, and the four unknown dogs are male, so hopefully they will have created another breeding pack. We’ll be keeping a close eye on them…

Unknown male (Dumbo), who has joined with some Bedford siblings, being given a GPS collar.

Unknown male (Dumbo), who has joined with some Bedford siblings, being given a GPS collar.

As Rosemary mentioned in a previous blog, the Bedford breeding pack have moved dens, and we have been monitoring them to try and count the puppies. Before they moved we counted thirteen puppies, but unfortunately since then we have only managed to count five. It could be that they were taken by the lions which were seen at their previous den, but it is likely that we don’t ever find out. The five remaining puppies, however, look healthy and full of energy!

Twinspot babysitting the Bedford puppies

Twinspot babysitting the Bedford puppies

No more news yet on the new female within the Bedford Bachelors, but we’ll be sure to update you if anything changes!


Snare removal from a wild dog

Hi folks,

Rosemary here again – sorry I have been quiet recently; I was away for a while and then have been busy in the field since I got back.  Anyway, the day before yesterday I got a call about a badly snared dog.  We rushed straight out but didnt manage to find the dog again, although our tracker Misheck did manage to follow the tracks from where the dogs had been seen and locate a den site.  This was good news: not only was that another den site located but it would give us a chance of finding the injured dog again.  So yesterday morning I went out again and fortunately we found the snared dog near the den.  The wire from the snare was all around his neck and clearly irritating him, and the wound looked bad (note the wire in the photo below)…

The snared wild dog - note the wire around his neck 

 Luckily we successfully managed to immobilise the dog and remove the snare.

Rosemary removing the snare

The wound was pretty bad but fortunately had not cut through the wind pipe and was fairly clean, so I think we got there in time…

Wild dog snare injury

Fortunately I had my family visiting me and all were very helpful ensuring the dog got the best possible care.  We cleaned and disinfected the wound and gave him a dose of long-acting penicillin to prevent infection.  Then we gave him the reversal drugs and watched him until he was safely on his feet again.

About to reverse the drugs in the immobilised African wild dog

When I checked on him this morning, he was with the other males in the pack and looking fine – it was clearly a relief to him to be able to rest his head without the snare wire catching on things. 

So that was a pretty busy morning, but about half an hour after I got back home, I got a call to come and rescue a buffalo calf caught in a snare.  Again we successfully managed to do this, and I will post a blog about it in a few days.  But I just want to thank those who donated money for the drugs because had I not had those drugs I would not have been able to help either the dog or the buffalo.

Back soon,


Mapari pack back on the radar!

Dear friends,

Third time lucky! After 3 days’ worth of attempts, we were finally successful, yesterday, in installing a collar on a member of the Mapari Pack, a male Wild Dog called Darkie. Since Sandy’s sad death by snaring just over a month ago, we have had very little information about the Mapari Pack, as there has been no radio-collared individual in the pack to help us locate and study them.

Around 1st December, a pack of Wild Dogs was spotted quite close to our research base. They were resting in the shade by a water-hole in the heat of the day, and stayed there long enough for us to receive the message and reach that location. It turned out to be the Mapari Pack, travelling unusually far south, and that and subsequent sightings have been the best views we have had of the pack since the denning season, so we have in the last couple of days been able to build up a database of individual ID photographs for all the pups as well as the adults. It turns out that currently the Mapari Pack comprises a fascinating mixture of adults originating from the Star Pack, ‘Leon’s’ Pack, and the Sango Six-Pack within the last 6 months. This provides us with fascinating information about the mobility of Wild Dogs.

We were blessed to receive the assistance of the Tikki Hywood Trust who were generous enough to volunteer their time to help us with the darting when one of their licensed team members (Ellen Connelly) was down in the conservancy.  Without their generous donation of time and expertise, this darting would have been a lot harder to organise and we may have missed this valuable opportunity.  Trying to find un-collared packs in not easy!!

The Mapari Pack have been quite relaxed around our vehicle as we’ve approached them for darting attempts the last couple of days. We were able to get within the 25 metre darting range and shoot a dart at Darkie, who was in an appropriate position. He moved as soon as he heard the dart gun’s ‘pop!’ and so the dart hit him in the tail rather than the muscle of the back leg. However, somewhat to our surprise, he was staggering a few moments later and the immobilisation drugs soon took full effect, allowing us to install his collar, take hair and tissue and blood samples, and weigh and measure his body and teeth, all the while keeping his eyes covered with a blindfold and spraying him with cool water to prevent overheating.The rest of the pack moved off slowly as we approached the immobilized Darkie:

Immobilisation of an African Wild Dog, Zimbabwe

It was a busy scene with everyone helping as we did what was needed:

Collaring of an African wild dog

When he shook his head to shake off the water-droplets, we knew he was coming round from the ketamine—and in moments he had leapt up and run away, a very fast recovery. For a couple of minutes he was disoriented and looked dizzy, but he was soon able to move in a straight line and he moved around the water-hole looking for the rest of his pack. We left him lying in the shade near where the pack were when we found them.  He was reunited with the rest of his pack in a short time, as we returned to check on the pack a couple of hours later and found them all lying together, with Darkie, in the shade of a big baobab.

This morning Darkie was behaving normally, and with the aid of his new radio-collar, we were able to locate the Mapari Pack and watch him and the others playing and resting in the Msaize River.

Back soon,

Roy & Rosemary

Darting attempts

Dear everyone,

We spent two long days trying hard to desnare the snared pup in the Maera pack.

The first day we departed at 5.30am and using telemetry found the pack at exactly the same spot where a dry river crosses the dirt road where they had been resting the morning before. Graeme, who is qualified to dart and immobilize wildlife, joined Rosemary, Misheck and Roy. In low-range four-wheel drive, we approached them ridiculously slowly in the vehicle after pausing to prepare the tranquilizer dart. We halted every time they looked edgy or stood up; nonetheless as we got towards darting range—which is a mere 25 metres for wild dogs owing to their small size and thin skin—the Wild Dogs moved off through the trees. They moved off casually and slowly, not alarmed, but it was clear that we were disturbing them.

We were able to follow them the short distance to the next water-hole where we waited several hours, mingling two strategies—one being to approach the dogs using the vehicle, moving infinitesimally towards them and hoping not to drive them away before we got into range—and the other being to park in the shade by the edge of the water and wait, darting gun at the ready, for them to come down to the water to bathe and drink. That first day, the dogs came down several times to drink and bathe but the injured pup was not always among them, and not always within range. However, there was one moment when we had a perfect shot, and the dart apparently hit the pup squarely and discharged the drugs.

When this happened, the pup was clearly given a fright and the pop from the darting gun alarmed the rest of the pack, too. It felt like a shame to breach the trust we had built slowly accustoming them to the vehicle and staying absolutely motionless while they cautiously approached the water. However, we were trying to help. What a strange kind of hunting this was: for it is hunting indeed, in all respects except one—that we were trying to save a life rather than take one. And arguably our task was more difficult than hunting to kill, because we had to shoot one particular individual out of a whole pack, not any suitable individual—and we had to be in very close range, because to shoot further requires a higher velocity and can do much more damage to the animal.

When the dart struck the pup, he and the rest of the pack scattered. Assuming the dart had discharged into the pup and it would shortly be immobilized, we started a timer and split up on foot to comb the area and find the sleeping pup. We would have to be quick, because in the intense heat, an immobilized animal’s temperature will sky-rocket, and it will die rapidly from overheating, being unable to regulate its own temperature by panting, moving to the shade, etc.

The minutes ticked past and the sun beat down on us; we fanned out and circled around and could find no sleeping pup. When we reconvened, however, Misheck surprisingly reported that he had just seen the pack with the snared pup moving around and wide awake. Clearly, for some strange reason, the darting hadn’t worked—most likely, the drugs had discharged into bone rather than muscle, and so not resulted in immobilization. (The dart had clearly hit the pup—we found its hair on the needle—and the drugs had been discharged.)

We spent more time trying to follow the dogs to find another opportunity for a darting shot, but they were constantly on the move in inaccessible thick Mopane woods, and we were reluctant to further stress them.

Instead, we met again early next morning for a second attempt. This time, the pack had moved. We followed the radio signal and spotted them moving along a road toward another water-hole. Almost as we arrived, the pack killed two young warthogs—we heard them squealing and saw the Wild Dogs eating excitedly. I was glad to know that the injured pup would be eating today, although tried not to think about how hard it would be for him to swallow. He is growing every day, and that snare must cut every day a little deeper and a little tighter, squeezing the life slowly out of him as his body tries to develop.

We slowed to our ridiculous crawl and crept closer; again, as we neared the water-hole the pack moved off a short distance out of sight. We parked under a tree at the water’s edge and waited.

Hours passed, and the sun shifted, and we were no longer in the shade. After a long time, the dogs approached the water and came to bathe and drink. Cindy, as usual, was the first to enter—she apparently loves the water and has a particular taste for bathing. Others will follow her down, some more boldly than others: and some barely seemed to approach it at all—possibly naturally more timid individuals, possibly put off by our presence. Unfortunately, the snared pup is among the more timid.

However, he eventually came down to drink, and I was relieved to see him immerse is lower jaw and lap the water—water that will help keep him alive a little longer, as would the meat he’d eaten earlier. When he stood up and turned sideways, Graeme took a shot—it was a long shot, and difficult to see whether it had struck home. It turned out to have hit the ground and bounced. The pack scattered again, but moved off only a few dozen metres, staying in the vicinity of the water-hole.

Here’s a picture of them resting affectionately in the shade. They often lie touching each other. Here you can see one Wild Dog is resting its head and paw on the back of one of its friends. At one point several of them did this in a kind of chain of body-pillows, but I couldn’t get a picture of it!

Affectionate resting

We waited 8 hours at that water-hole for chances to dart the injured pup. Much later, the pack came down to drink again, but unfortunately the snared pup did not come to the water. One adult barked pointedly in our direction. The signal was so clear that it was unmistakable—he was saying to us, ‘Go away! Push off! Give us some space!’

Although we were as quiet as we could and sat still or almost still for hours on end, our presence was certainly keeping animals from their much-needed drinks. We saw Warthogs and Wildebeest come within sight but stay away because they saw and smelt us. It’s highly likely other creatures wanted to drink too, which we never saw.

One adult male warthog was the only mammal other than the Wild Dogs which dared to come to the waterhole while we were there. He was a beautiful specimen—if Warthogs can be beautiful—and showed all the quiet, solid confidence of a strong male. He wasn’t fazed by the Wild Dogs who were drinking not far along the shore, despite the fact that they’d killed two of his kin at the same spot hours before—possibly his own children. At one point, one of the Wild Dogs showed interest in him and began to stalk along the shore towards him. He simply grunted and charged at the Wild Dogs, who scattered without leaving. Then he went back to his spot to continue drinking.

In the picture, the warthog male has just charged towards with wild dogs which have scattered–the ones you can see are looking nervous and clumping together. At the end of the charge, the warthog just stood there and stared towards them. I was impressed at his fearlessness.

Charging warthog scares dogs

He was more concerned about us, but only showed this by taking his time and keeping an eye on us, rather than by any nervous caution. He drank slowly, and then stood motionless by the water’s edge for a long time. I could tell that he wanted to wallow, but was calmly assessing the situation. He eventually turned round and lay down in the shallows. Ah, that cool water! Were the water-hole less attended by possible predators, I’m sure he would have rolled in the mud.

All day a Hamerkop waded in the water-hole, stalking elegantly like a heron, darting its beak to catch insects and once, a frog. I was amazed to watch it washing its food—I wasn’t aware that birds do things like that. The frog was wiggling, and so the Hamerkop slammed it repeatedly against the ground to kill it properly. It would stop wriggling temporarily, and the Hamerkop would move back to the water, rinse the frog in the water, and then attempt to swallow it again. It would wriggle again, and the Hamerkop would repeat this procedure, always washing the frog before every attempt to swallow it, presumably to remove the sand that got stuck all over the frog when it was being bashed on the ground. Once the Hamerkop swallowed the frog while it was still wriggling, but then quickly regurgitated it and continued bashing and then washing the frog until the frog was finally properly dead. Then it washed it one more time and swallowed it whole. Shortly after that, the Hamerkop took a rest, perching on a dead branch nearby and emitting one satisfied white dropping onto the dirt away from the water.

The Wild Dogs were totally disinterested in the Hamerkop, which showed no fear of them, as you can see in this picture.

trust in the wild

As it neared dusk, we could see the dogs still resting a hundred metres away through the trees. We decided to try approaching them instead. We drove through thick brush, squeezing between trunks and squashing small trees, wincing at the damage the woody vegetation would be doing to the underside of the vehicle.  Although they all got up as we got close, Graeme did manage to loose another shot at the pup, but in the thick vegetation, it also missed.

It was getting dark, and we were finally stumped. Disappointed, we drove home as the stars came out. We would have to wait for another opportunity when Graeme is available and the Maera pack are in a suitable location—and with luck the snared pup will still be alive, and we can have another go at saving its life. In the meantime, although the wound is nasty and the pup is clearly weakened, it can still keep up with the pack and is still eating and drinking—so there is hope yet.

Yours exhausted,