Tag Archives: Gonarezhou

African wild dogs in Gonarezhou – Part 1

Hi folks,

As you know, I’ve spent most of the last two months working in Gonarezhou National Park, right in the south east corner of Zimbabwe, trying to get a better understanding of the park’s wild dog population.  I haven’t yet done any proper data analysis or fancy statistics, but just from what we have seen, it seems the population there is doing really well.  Which is just great, and very exciting!!

It’s not an easy place to work, and the relative scarcity of roads, abundance of stroppy elephants, rough terrain and restricted water availability all make it quite a challenge to do anything there, let along track wide ranging wild dogs.

Nonetheless, luck was on our side, and in the last couple of months we have recorded at least seven different wild dog packs – almost certainly nine – and have even managed to collar a couple of the packs.  I’ll post about that in installment 2, but here is a summary of what we have found so far.

Despite starting relatively late in the denning season, we managed to find the den sites for five different packs, and photographed two others.   Interestingly, the dens of two packs were in caves on rocky hillsides or cliffs;

At three of the dens, the pups were still very small when we found them, as these camera trap pictures show;

We were able to spend some time at the den of one of the packs, the Chalanda Pack, and I managed to get these photos of their pups – there are nine in total, and they are very bold, playful little fellows:

Of the seven packs we have confirmed, six have been in the northern half of the park.  The den of the seventh pack we found when we were finishing off the spoor survey in the south of the park, and evidence suggests it is certainly not the only pack down there; we just ran out of time to keep looking!  We put camera traps up at the den and I will be checking that next week.  At this stage we have no idea of the number of adults or the number or age of pups in that pack, but hopefully should have news on them soon.

So, lots of large, healthy, successfully breeding packs of wild dogs in Gonarezhou, which is wonderful.  I’ll post more on the other packs and our collaring efforts in the next post.

Back soon,

Rosemary

 

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

News from Heather

Hi Everyone

Heather here, its been  24 days on the job and what an experience already!  The tented camp in Chipinda Pools that I am living in is great. I will be honest it has taken some getting used to with all the noises, especially at night. The tree right there has hundreds of bats that make their presence known around 6.30pm and 5.30am. The hippos love the green grass outside and I hear them munching away, and then of course every now and then an Elephant crashing around in the back ground.

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I spent one week in Chipinda Pools and one in Mabalauta. Thanks to Gonarezhou National Parks i got to stay in one of the chalets, I recommend them, they are great too…

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That would be me waving in the shadow. Hello!

Till next time, cheers

Heather

Wild dogs in Gonarezhou

Hi folks,

In August last year we managed to get a GPS collar on to one of the wild dog packs in the south of Gonarezhou National Park; a great achievement given how rarely the pack is even seen.  We found their den site, which was 4km off road with no chance of approaching in a vehicle so our darting efforts were all done on foot after a long hot hike!

Anyhow, thanks to the help of Hugo van der Westhuizen and Dr Paul Funston, we managed to get a GPS collar on to one of the dogs.  Here is the dog we collared – an adult female affectionately named Stroppy!

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We also got camera traps up at the den site which gave us some of our only photos of this elusive pack:

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MDGC0324-eight pups plus adult2

Due to the access problems in the area with the rivers flooding and the relatively sparse road network in the area, we tend to monitor the dogs through aerial tracking.  So yesterday I flew with Hugo (Frankfurt Zoological Society) to try and locate the dogs from the air and download the collar.  After 3 frustrating hours we eventually picked up the signal and were lucky enough to be able to see the dogs from the air as they crossed a road.  We counted at least 16 individuals, but there may have been more.

The collar downloaded successfully and has provided us with some extremely interesting information.  Here is a map of the movements of the wild dog pack since August.

mabalauta_pack_feb11The pack home range is smaller than we expected, possibly suggesting there are more packs in the area which would be great.  We’ll be doing lots more work in the park in the forthcoming denning season and will keep you posted.

Back soon,

Rosemary

Gonarezhou Predator Survey – Part 2

Hi folks,

I’m back from the park now, having completed the spoor survey.  I’ve yet to do the offical data analysis, but, as expected, we found very little evidence of lions, but plenty of sign of spotted hyena and leopards.  Excitingly we did find wild dog tracks in quite a few different places, suggesting the existence of at least 3 if not 4 different packs of dogs in the park.

Here are some more photos to illustrate my last week…

If you’ve gotta do data entry, there are worse places to be I think…

Office spot on top of the Chilojo Cliffs

Office spot on top of the Chilojo Cliffs

And likewise for somewhere to camp – not a bad view!

Camping spot

Camping spot

The park in general has some spectacular scenery…

Kundani hill

causeway at sunset

Chilojo cliffs from top view point

And some interesting driving conditions too… This is us crossing the Runde River at the Madawo causeway!

driving through the causeway

And lastly there is always some interesting wildlife around…

Porcupine

Madara

The photo above is of the old lion I collared in October last year.  He is at least 12 years old (which is OLD for a lion!), but is still doing well.  Although we never saw any other lions with him, the tracks indicate there is a lioness around as well who is probably helping him hunt.

I’m now back in the conservancy, and will post an update on the wild dogs soon

Five lions moved to Gonarezhou

Hi folks,

A few days ago, five lions were moved from Malilangwe Trust down to Gonarezhou National Park.  Malilangwe Trust is a relatively small conservation area, and managers needed to reduce the number of lions there.  Neighbouring Gonarezhou NP seemed the sensible place to move some to, given the low lion population densities in the park at the current time.

So on Tuesday night, a pride of five lions were moved into the park.  They were released in an area by a river with plenty of prey, but no other lion prides.  The pride structure was one adult female, two subadult females and two subadult males – all beautiful and healthy lions. 

The five lions at the release site – just prior to being woken up with the reversal drugs (all are blindfolded to protect their eyes from damage).

 All five lions at the release site

Lion whisker spots – can be used for identification

Lion whisker spot pattern - can be used for identification

The translocation and release went smoothly, and when I checked on the pride the following day they were all doing well. 

Julius tracking to locate the lions

Julius (National Parks research scout) tracking to find the lions 

By Thursday, they had moved off and we were unable to locate them from the ground – hampered by very few roads and the fact that the rivers were uncrossable.

The Runde River at the base of the Chilojo Cliffs – not crossable at this time of year

The Runde River at the base of the Chilojo Cliffs - too wet to cross at this time of year

There is a GPS collar on the pride however, so they will be located from the air in the next week or so, and the collar downloaded, so we will be able to see where they have moved off to and settled down. 

Back in the conservancy we continue to have hot, dry days with no sign of rain.  Rueben came back from annual leave yesterday, so hopefully we will have more luck with our efforts to find and count the wild dogs now!

Back soon,

Rosemary

Baby porcupine rescued from fire

Hi folks,

Apologies for the deviation from wild dogs – yet again!  I just had to share this story with you.

The Zimbabwean lowveld has been struggling with some major bush fires in the last month.  Much of the southern half of the Save Valley Conservancy was burnt, tragically including Senuko Lodge which was one of the most stunning places it’s possible to imagine. 

Gonarezhou has also been fighting fires… In the process, Hugo and Elsabe van der Westhuizen from Frankfurt Zoological Society (which works with the Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to help conserve the Gonarezhou ecosystem) noticed a baby porcupine fleeing from the fire.  He had badly burnt feet and was never going to beat the fire, so Hugo (amidst much cursing I would imagine!), used his shirt to grab the spikey little fellow and took him back to their camp for rehabilitation.

Spiker the baby porcupine

He adapted well to his new home, enjoying the darkness of his box during the day time and coming out at night to potter around and eat the offerings Elsabe put out for him (porcupines are naturally nocturnal).  He seems to be particularly keen on potatoes, apple and sadza (the local staple food of maize meal).

Spiker’s temporary new home

With the use of gardening gloves and oven gloves (!) we managed to treat the wounds on his feet and give him an injection of long-acting antibiotics – no small challenge, I might say! He seems to be a lot better already, and his feet are healing nicely.

The baby porcupine - close up!

Bless him!

I’ll let you know how he does and how his re-introduction back into the bush goes. 

Rosemary

Calling and collaring lions in Gonarezhou NP

Hi folks,

I’m finally back from three weeks in the wilderness of Gonarezhou.  As you will see from the last two posts, I did actually have a few days at park HQs in the middle of the stay, so this is the story of what happened in phase two of the trip…

After a few days of ‘admin’ at HQ, I set off once again with Rueben and a National Parks research assistant Julius, for the three hour drive across the park into the eastern area where we were hoping to find signs of wild dogs, and if we were lucky to get a collar on to a lion.  The first evening we were there, we drove out to a stunning water-filled pan full of birds and surrounded by groups of impala, warthogs, baboons, zebra, wildebeest and even the rare and spectacular sable antelope. 

 Sable herd (and waterbirds in abundance) at Machaniwa Pan 

We saw no fresh lion or wild dog spoor, but it seemed like a good place for predators, so we decided to set up a calling station in an open area nearby and see what came.  To attract predators, the usual method is to play the sound of a dying buffalo calf over loudspeakers and see what comes to investigate.  In this instance, however, instead of attracting predators, we attracted a large and rather anxious herd of buffalo, come to save their calf!! 

An anxious herd of buffalo coming to investigate the source of the noise

They were very persistent and we could do nothing for the next hour or so, until they moved off to drink.  After that, our call-up attracted 3 black-backed jackals and a civet, but no larger predators…  

At least until I changed tactic and played a lion roar, at which point an immediate and very load answering roar told us there was in fact a lion not too far away!! Although the moon was only half full it was bright enough for me to make out the lion through binoculars – a beautiful male with a half-black mane.  Great!  It was wonderful to know he was around, and we decided we would try to lure him to bait the following night to try to collar him.

As it turned out, he could not have been more co-operative!  Early the next morning, I was woken up at 4:30 by the sound of a lion roaring.  I got up to investigate, and there was the lion strolling along past the camp (maybe 150m away)…  So I flung on some clothes, jumped into the car, prepared the drugs and a dart and went after him.  We followed him for a while but then lost him in thick bush, so decided rather to wait for the evening when lions become active again.   We called him again, and he came to the bait around half past eight.  I managed to dart him, and discovered (to my great surprise to say the least!) that he already had a very old, dysfunctional collar on.  Bizarre!!  This turned out to be from the wildlife reserve neighbouring the park, in which he had been collared in 2002, and from where he went missing in 2005! It turns out he is 10-11 years old, which is OLD for a lion, and evidenced by his very worn teeth.   

The lion’s teeth - VERY worn!

Despite this, he was in good condition, albeit slightly thin, and it will be great to be able to keep an eye on him now that he is collared.  The collar will hopefully also prevent him getting shot on one of the hunting concessions outside the park.  We also took some blood samples to be able to test for various diseases – Bovine TB is a particular concern, and for genetic analyses to help us establish whether there is any inbreeding in the lion population in the park. 

Rueben and Julius with the immobilised lion

We are doing all this work (by the way) because there are worryingly few lions in Gonarezhou National Park, which should be a prime area for the conservation of the species, and we need to find out what factors are keeping their population so low, so we can try and do something about it.  Lion and wild dog populations are also linked in many ways, so getting an idea of the abundance and distribution of the lions in the park also has key significance for understanding wild dog populations. 

On that note, we also found evidence of more wild dogs in the park, which was extremely encouraging, and which I will report on in a separate posting. 

Back soon, 

Rosemary

Lions, tigers and bears

Hi folks,

This blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks I’m afraid: I’m going into Gonarezhou National Park to see if we can find some lions (no tigers or bears hopefully) to help some vets who want to survey the lion population for bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).  Obviously this is largely a disease of bovids, but lions can get it from eating infected carcasses and it has been a big problem for the lions in neighbouring Kruger National Park in South Africa. 

The lion population in Gonarezhou seems to be very low at the moment, and we will be starting a project to investigate why this might be, alongside our work on the wild dogs in the park.  Helping the vets with the bTB survey and getting some collars on at the same time will be a good place to start.  It will be no small challenge though!

Anyway, I’m going down to the south of the park tomorrow where there are no communication facilities, so wont be updating this blog for a while.  Rest assured we won’t be slacking though (!) and will post again with all the news when I’m back somewhere with internet connection. 

I have Reuben with me to help track the lions and wild dogs if we do find fresh spoor, and have left Misheck monitoring the wild dogs in the Save Valely Conservancy….

Back soon (hopefully!),

Rosemary

Carnivore survey – stage one complete

Hi folks,

Rueben and I have just come back from Gonarezhou having completed the first half of the spoor survey we were doing there.  It was hard work and involved lots of driving, but was well worth it – it’s such a beautiful place.  We picked up evidence of good populations of spotted hyenas and leopards, but very few lion tracks and not very many wild dog tracks either.  We even picked up some cheetah spoor which was exciting, as I’m told cheetah are not often seen in the park.

Cheetah track in the sand

We drove spoor transects in both the morning and evenings on most days – when the sun is at the best angle to see the tracks in the sand – and then just camped out where we ended up or where we wanted to start the next day.  A wonderful opportunity, and magical to lie in a tent and listen to the sounds of the bush all around: elephants splashing through the river, hyenas making a kill, nightjars singing and owls hooting. 

Elephant tracks crossing the dry river

Elephant tracks crossing the Lunde River

As always, the scenery was stunning….

View from the top of Chilojo Cliffs

 and the wildlife was special.  (Nyala calf)

Nyala calf

We were also lucky enough to see several herds of buffalo, elephants, hyenas on two separate occasions, and even a flash of a pair of leopards running across the road!  The birdlife is awesome too.

Although we didnt see any of them, the tracks we saw suggested the park also has good numbers of the smaller carnivores – civets, genets, porcupines, wild cats and even aardwolves.  Maybe we’ll get lucky during the next stage of the survey.

We’re off back to the park on Sunday, so the blog will once again be quiet for a while…

Rosemary