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Project Update July 2007

Jul 31, 2007

The radio by my bedside crackled into life.

"Peter, Peter, Jealous, do you copy". "Peter this is Jealous, can you hear me"?

We don't have the most formal of radio communications, anyone with a military background would probably shudder, however it works for us. Woken from my slumber, I fumbled around in the dark and grabbed the radio.

"Jealous this is Peter, what's your message"?

"I am two kilometres past the turn off for Caterpillar pan, along the road to Makwa. There are three dogs and one has a bad snare wound around its neck".

"Ok, I will be there are soon as I can".

I swore out loud and gathered my senses, walking to my landrover in the dark. I knew it had all the equipment in it that I would need. Jealous makes sure of that. I drove at speed through the bush as the orange glow in the eastern sky slowly replaced the cold night air with welcome warmth.

I drove up along side Jealous. One of the three dogs was collared and Jealous sat listening to the signal from the collar. It was the young male from the Umtchibi pack that I had collared on New Years Eve. Jealous confirmed that the other two dogs had formerly been members of the Umtchibi pack, so were delighted to know that they were in fact still alive, having lost contact with them some months before when the Umtchibi pack fragmented, leaving just the alpha male and female plus one other female.

This delight was of course diluted by the knowledge that one of these dogs was snared. Jealous showed me pictures he had taken. The wound looked horrific.

The dogs were still-hunting so we quickly set about following them, confident that we would be able to stay with them thanks to the collar. Despite the years of experience we have, our tracking ability and knowledge of the dogs was tested to the limit as the pack zigzagged through the bush. They crossed the railway line twice, which is easy on foot but it requires a 10 km detour in a landrover. We knew we could not lose the pack, the intensity of the challenge was one we have experienced many times, we enjoy it, however this time the pressure was acute as the very life of one of our beloved dogs depended on our abilities.

Jealous moved into his trackers seat on the front of my landrover. He searched for the dogs spoor as I stubbornly kept within range of the signal emitted from the collar. Our knowledge of the roads in the area is complete, which also helped us stay in touch until the dogs rested. Their hunt had been unsuccessful.

It had also been incredibly long and so they had expended much energy, typical for small packs, which always live on the edge in terms of energy budgets. We could only imagine the agonies suffered by the snared dog during such a chase.But now the pack had come to a stop and we knew they would rest now during the heat of the day. This was our window of opportunity. The signal from the collar was strong; I estimated that they were some 500 metres away in the teak woodland. I looked at Jealous and he simply shrugged his shoulders then pointed the way. He knew we would have to steer the car through trees, risking punctures and more serious damage to the vehicle but the cost could not be compared to the life of a dog.

I shifted the landrover into low gear and moved slowly through the bush, at least there were no thorns. We closed in on the signal from the collar, an acquired skill, which enables us to home in on a collar from some two kilometres away and pick it up if we have to. This time we just wanted to get close enough to the dogs for me to be able to dart the injured one.

I manoeuvred the landrover through the bush until we came up to the resting dogs. They were quite relaxed and I was able to get the landrover into a position that would give me a shot at the injured dog. It's awkward to both manoeuvre the landrover and concentrate on darting, however the dog in its injured was reluctant to move, probably the long hunt contributing this as well. Anyway, it gave me the opportunity I needed and from only 12 metres away I was not going to miss. Five minutes later the dog was "down". The snare removed and the wound cleaned we took the injured dog to our rehabilitation facility, where we hope he will recover quickly. His two pack mates are already moving towards the rehab and we expect to be able to release him soon.

This incident comes on the back of several similar ones, which we have had to endure during the past weeks. It also serves to underline the significance of the long-term support we desperately need to secure. It is such support that allows us to be prepared, ready to deal with these incidents through our rehabilitation facility in particular. It means that Jealous, for example, is in the field every day, keeping a watchful eye on the various study packs. The APU are in the field everyday, offering the best protection they can give the wildlife against the tide of poaching. It's the less glamorous aspects of project life that make this possible. The mechanic is able to keep the cars working and maintained, fuel is available to them and they have logistical plus administrative support, so that they can focus on their respective roles.