Tag Archives: Rueben

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!




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,


Startled giraffes

I just came across this photo while sorting through Rueben’s photos from the last couple of weeks.  Clearly he gave these giraffes a bit of a fright, but I’m told they gave him just as much of a fright when they suddenly loomed out of the bushes in front of his motorbike!


Successful re-collaring of a wild dog

Hi folks,

Just a quick post to let you know I successfully managed to dart and re-collar one of the wild dogs in the Bedford Splinter Group (‘Patch’) a few days ago.  The GPS collar that was on before was not working, so when Rueben found the dogs in a nice open area, easily accessible by vehicle, I took the opportunity to see if I could dart her to change the collar.

Rueben with Patch

Fortunately everything went well. The first dart hit with good placement and Patch went down comfortably in the shade.  The re-collaring went fine and she recovered well and joined up with the rest of the pack shortly afterwards.  Hopefully with this new collar on, we will get detailed information on the movements of this pack – all helping us to understand more about the dogs’ ecological requirements.

Rosemary with Patch

Back soon,


Wild dogs in Gonarezhou National Park

Hi folks,

I’ve recently come back from 10 days in Gonarezhou, where I was conducting a large carnivore call-up survey, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Frankfurt Zoological Society.  I’ll tell you all about this in a later post, but during the time we were doing this work – focussed mainly on lions and hyenas – we also made significant progress with our understanding of the wild dog population in this large, remote wilderness area.

We were already aware of the existence of a pack in the very south of the park, and thanks to the exceptional tracking skills of Rueben, and a Parks scout Julius, they managed to locate the den of this pack.  This was extremely exciting, and is (to our knowledge) the first time anyone has located a wild dog den inside the park.  The den is about 3km off the nearest road, over ridges and through rivers and its find is a real credit to Rueben and Julius.  We have put some camera traps at the den, and I will post photos from them once I have been back to change the batteries.  In the meantime, we know there are at least 6 adults and 7 pups, although I think the pack is larger than that.

The den site of the Mabalauta Pack

The den site of the Mabalauta Pack

Just as excitingly, we also found evidence of another successfully breeding pack in a totally unexpected area of the park, where we have never seen any evidence of wild dogs before.  We saw one wild dog one night (when we were doing the calls for lions), and the next day followed the tracks and came across an area with plenty of old and fresh adult and puppy tracks suggesting a recent den in the area.

Rosemary & Rueben looking at tracks by a water pan we came across

Rosemary & Rueben looking at tracks by a water pan we came across

As you can see from the photo below however, the long grass in the area hampered tracking efforts, and we never found the den, but Rueben estimates about 10 adults and 8 pups from the tracks, which is fantastic.

Long grass in the area of the Chitanga Pack den

Long grass in the area of the Chitanga Pack den

This was all very encouraging, and suggests Gonarezhou may in fact be an important conservation unit for the wild dogs.


Update on Rueben’s daughter and family

Hi folks,

Many of you were kind enough to donate money to help Rueben, our head wild dog scout, buy powdered milk for his new baby daughter, Chiedza, after his wife tragically passed away 2 weeks after she was born.  I am pleased to be able to report that Chiedza is doing very well.  She is now an active, healthy eight month old baby, with a very proud father!

Rueben's family - his sister is holding Chiedza

Rueben's family - his sister is holding Chiedza

Her successful start in life is largely thanks to many of you, and both Rueben and I are grateful for your support.  We are a close team at the wild dog project and Rueben is a crucial part of that team, so it’s been great to be able to help him, especially when life in Zimbabwe is so hard for the majority of people.  Here are a couple more photos of Rueben and his family at home.

Rueben's family in his maize field

Rueben's family in his maize field

Rueben's home

Rueben's home

Rueben and family

Rueben and family

Wild Dog Scouts

Hi folks,

I recently realised that I talk a fair amount in this blog about our two wild dog scouts, Rueben and Misheck.  Given that they are critical members of our small team, I thought it would be appropriate to start the new year with a proper introduction of them, especially for those who are new to the blog.


Rueben has been with the wild dog project since 1997 – that’s 13 years!  Prior to that he worked as a rhino scout for several years.  He knows the 3500km2 of the Save Valley Conservancy probably better than anyone else and in this alone he is an enormous asset to the project.  In addition he is an exceptional wildlife tracker, and has an uncanny ability to be able to predict wild dog behaviour.  He’s a loyal, honest, hard-working team member and is a genuine pleasure to work with.

Rueben radio-tracking to locate wild dogs

Rueben investigating cause of death in an African wild dog

Rueben lives in a village not far from the western boundary of the conservancy.  He has 5 children – 4 boys (all at school) and his baby girl Chiedza who was born last year.  After his wife died shortly after she was born, Chiedza is being looked after by his wifes sister…

Rueben’s sister in law with his baby daughter Chiedza

Rueben will be taking his driving test in a couple of days – I’m sure you will join me in wishing him good luck!


Misheck has been with the project for 10 years, and he too is an extremely valuable member of the team.  He’s a hard worker, and an excellent wild dog tracker. 

Misheck with a wild dog immobilised for collaring

Misheck also comes from a local village.  He is married with 4 children and seemingly countless neices and nephews! At home, Misheck and his family grow maize and cotton.

Misheck with his wife and two of his children

Mishecks children and a niece

Given Rueben and Misheck’s skills and dedication to the project, along with understanding the difficulties they face with trying to support such a large family during these hard times in Zimbabwe, we would like to increase both of their wages considerably this year, and be in a position to help increase their skills base (like paying for Rueben’s driving test).  We are asking for your help to do this.  Please consider either sponsoring one of the scouts on a monthly basis using the monthly donation tab on the right of this page, or making a one-off donation which we will put towards their salaries.  To do that through this blog is quick and efficient, so it will only take a moment of your time to make a huge difference to Rueben and Misheck and their families.

Given all our exciting and challenging plans for 2010 (see the last post) all of us here at the wild dog team  are going to be working extra hard this year, and we are going to need your support. 

Thank you and best wishes from Rueben, Misheck and Rosemary

Rueben’s baby daughter

Hi folks,

I got back from Mozambique yesterday – what a stunning country that is!  I will post a few photos in the next blog just to make you all jealous.  In the meantime, I wanted to share these photos of Rueben’s baby daughter with you.  He just came back from visiting his family where he took these photos.

Rueben’s daughter, Chiedza

She is called Chiedza which means ‘light’ and is the baby girl that you have helped so much through your donations of money for milk powder, after her mother died when she was less than 2 weeks old.

Chiedza with the powdered milk

What a cute little girl she is.  Here is Rueben with her…

Rueben and Chiedza

So once again a huge thank you from him and me to everyone who donated money to buy her milk.  Let’s hope we can continue to support her as she continues to grow.