A. To Identify through research the problems facing Painted Dogs in Zimbabwe
To achieve this the following are undertaken:
1. Monitoring Packs by Collaring
Packs are radio collared in order to identify behaviour patterns, hunting success, and causes of mortality in the different areas. Vulnerable packs are monitored closely and problems for those packs identified. Most importantly, landowners are made aware of the presence of the dogs and their movements, and problems real or imagined are tackled.
Packs that are most at risk by virtue of being in unsafe areas such as those close to the boundaries of National Parks or surviving outside the protection of National Parks altogether are being monitored. In order to keep track of a large number of individuals, a computerised photographic identity register has been compiled with the help of the public and tourists. Each dog of this National pack is given an ID number and movements of all the dogs are recorded.
2. Monitoring Health of the Painted Dogs
Samples (blood, feces, and biopsies) are collected to enable screening for infectious diseases and parasite loads. DNA samples are also taken at the same time. These data enable the Wildlife Unit of the Department of Veterinary Research to formulate management strategies for both painted hunting dogs and potential disease vectors such as those emanating from domestic dogs.
3. Capture and Collaring Techniques.
Research into refining and improving the success rate of capture techniques has also been undertaken.
This is particularly important in areas where dogs are perceived to be a problem. When these dogs are collared the ability to then manage them possibly by translocation greatly ameliorates the attitude of the stakeholder.
Dogs that are collared in conflict areas also have a greater chance of survival as more accurate information is received by the landowners, thus reducing the perpetuation of false and damaging information which negatively affects the landowners' perceptions of the dogs. In conjunction with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority, successful reintroduction of dogs by translocation has been achieved. These dogs were monitored for two years post-release and they not only survived but also bred successfully.
Also in conjunction with management we are proud to have successfully integrated the first captive puppy into a wild pack. In tandem with this work, a study is underway to understand the developmental and social biology of the dogs to enhance the likelihood of captive stock being easily and successfully integrated into wild packs.
In July 1999, we finally perfected two very new capture techniques, which are less invasive and have a higher success rate than traditional methods of capture and handling. These methods have represented a break through in conservation for this species, as previously the ability to locate, capture and handle dogs in areas where they have been harassed has been difficult, often to the detriment of the dogs themselves.
The first new method involved the development of a unit, which is attached to a locking/breakaway snare, and without handling, dogs effectively fit themselves with a transmitter.
The second new method involves hand capture at night which, combined with rapid anaesthesia causing short term memory loss for the dogs, has shown to cause so little disturbance that the packs involved did not even move their den site after the operation.
B) Actively taking steps to reduce known causes of mortality and prevent those that are or may be looming.
Every effort is made to reduce deaths with new innovative ideas being pursued to improve pack survival. For example, road signs have been erected alerting motorists to the problem and packs that utilise the main roads are fitted with retroreflective collars providing additional safety. These measures have reduced the mortalities by half. Currently also being used are anti-snare plates in the collars of vulnerable packs and this has already saved a number of lives as well as maintained the integrity and stability of a number of packs.
We work closely with ranchers who have dog packs in their farmland. These dogs have color-coded collars which enable the farmers to understand for themselves the nomadic nature of the dogs and thus realize that their numbers are in fact very low. This work has secured a cease-fire in a number of areas and dialogue has ensued in a number of regions. This has resulted in the dogs not only utilising farmlands, but also breeding there. The work with the ranchers has allowed packs to re-colonise areas where the species has not been seen for ±50 years.
Consequently the Zimbabwean dog population has increased in numbers, with dogs also occupying new territories.