Project Update Sept/Oct 2007
The Five dogs we released onto Starvation Island are hunting successfully. It's an understatement to say that this has come as a great relief to us, as our concern was growing due to their apparent lack of interest let alone effort in trying to hunt. Jealous has made countless trips too the island, a punishing drive on notoriously bad roads to then spend a two or three days camping on the island to observe the dogs. Each time he would return to Hwange with sad tails of how "useless and lazy" the dogs are. Our partners at the National Parks station, Tashinga, have thankfully been providing meat for the dogs during this period, basically keeping them alive.
The region is remote and presents logistical problems to anyone wishing to operate there. Getting fuel there is a particular problem. I had to make a mad rush there in mid September when the Tashinga station informed me that they had no petrol for their boat and so they could not get across to the island to check on the dogs. It was 5pm and I loaded two drums of petrol into my Landrover and set of at 4am the next morning. September is the season of fire in Zimbabwe and as I drove through several bush fires, with the petrol leaking out of the drums, I decided that there must be a better way of doing this!!
The Ume Crocodile farm is one of the more successful operators in the area and so I paid them a visit. A deal was struck, allowing me to draw fuel from them and the show was back on the road, illustrating how the situation in Zimbabwe challenges you to constantly negotiate, make plans, adjustments and deals.
Jealous had to make the drive to Tashinga to often and we were losing a handle on our local packs so I recruited the former National Parks ecologist, Edward Muchuchuti to help us. Actually I dragged Edward out of retirement. He had been stationed at Tashinga, for over ten years and had helped us with the release of dogs onto the island in 2005. He retired in 2006 but I knew he was still fit and well enough to take over the monitoring of the dogs for us. The Chief Warden at Tashinga had no problems with Edward returning wearing a PDC hat and I was more than happy to have his help.
So, with a fuel supply secured, Edward in place with a detailed list of what he should do and when, I was happy.
It was Edward who sighted the first kill. He phoned me with great enthusiasm to say he had seen the dogs kill a young female waterbuck. Success at last. By now it was time for Jealous to make another visit to the island and replenish Edward with his food supplies, he had enjoyed a month in Hwange, tracking down our local packs. His visit to the island was full of adventure, two punctures on the way, the last almost causing him to crash was a timely reminder of just how bad the drive can be. On the island he enjoyed the remarkable spectacle of the dogs hunting 3 waterbuck in one afternoon. The first one they caught at the waters edge and killed, only to lose the carcass to a huge crocodile, which exploded from the water, grabbed the carcass and disappeared again just as quickly with it. Jealous laughed when he recalled what could only be described as the dogs startled expressions. He soon stopped laughing when I reminded him that the place was were we often land the boat and walk ashore through waist deep water!! After they recovered from the shock of losing their dinner the dogs set of and chased down another waterbuck, which again headed for the apparent safety of the water. This time it made it and the dogs clearly realised that crocodiles were not to be messed with as they watched their second chance of dinner disappear beneath the water!! Jealous recalled that this was a place that he had collected drinking water from in the morning!! The third waterbuck also made it to the water in what turned out to be a croc free zone as it survived. The dogs went hungry that day but Jealous will dine out on the stories for many years to come.
With all the excitement created by the dogs it is easy to overlook the other work going on. Our Visitors Centre opened on September 3rd. A steady flow of people has stopped by to witness the work we do and learn about the life of painted dogs. Our Children's Bush camp re opened after the school holidays and we launched a new aspect of our programme, which aims to bring as many parents as we can possibly handle to our centre. The children arrive on a Tuesday. By Friday, their last day, they are completely "at home" and longing to stay. We collect the parents from their homes on the Friday morning and bring them to the Visitors centre for a guided tour, which end at the Bush Camp, where they enjoy lunch with the children then sit and watch the plays or songs the children have created to describe their stay at the camp. It's a very emotional heart warming experience and is already having a hugely positive impact on the parents who now witness their children's delight first hand. Lives are being changed, of that there is no doubt.