Project Update February 2007
February proved to be a hectic month on a project and personal level.
Our APU were again in the headlines with the arrest of yet another poacher. This particular poacher was one they have been after for some time, clearly a "professional" at his deadly trade, our APU recognising his style of setting snares on a number of occasions. On two previous occasions they had sat in ambush for him, only to be frustrated by the fact that he did not return to check his snares. Our men were beginning to think that this poacher had supernatural powers of sight, a "strong dreamer" who knew that his snares had been found and a trap set, thus he would not return to his snares, avoiding the inevitable capture. Superstitious belief is a very real phenomenon in Africa.
On an early morning patrol our men followed the signs to a freshly set snare line. Two buffalo lay dead, contorted bodies testament to their agonising struggle, our men commented on the use, yet again, of the telephone wire, which they had reported to the local phone company. Our men recognised the poachers' hand and set the ambush accordingly, taking extra care as this guy had "powers". Their patience and determination were rewarded this time as their particular nemesis emerged from the bush and gave up without any struggle. At the police station in Dete, he confessed to this offence and other incidents, describing in detail the location of snares he had set, which matched the records of our APU. He was sentenced to ten months in prison.
Tragically, two of our Mashambo pack was run over on the main Bulawayo to Vic Falls road, reducing the pack to 5. With only the alpha pair, one surviving female from their 2005 litter and two pups from the 2006 litter, they are again looking very vulnerable. It's a long process, but we have again approached the Ministry of Transport for authority to erect more road signs, warning motorists of the dog's presence. Most of the original signs that were erected in 1997 have disappeared, taken as souvenirs by passing motorists!!
We received a report of a dog carrying a snare from a local safari operator, and with the report of the death of the two Mashambo still very fresh in our minds, Jealous was determined to find this injured dog so that we could treat it. He knew it was the Pilansberg pack; there was no doubt, as the report came from the area they currently occupy. To add to that was the fact that Jealous had recovered the bodies of two of the Pilansberg a couple of weeks earlier, killed in snares in a notorious area, which has seen a relentless tide of poaching following the resettlement of local people into a formerly pristine wildlife area. All of our anti poaching efforts have struggled to make much more than a dent in these particular poaching activities and we are trying to work with the new landowners, encouraging them to set up permanent anti poaching initiatives of their own. It's a slow process.
Jealous was on the case, he did not want to lose another of "his dogs", like Greg and I, Jealous takes the loss of any dog personally. He dissected the region in search of the pack as best he could, given the torrential rain and very treacherous cotton soil, which can entrap a careless driver in his landrover for many days. All of the Pilansberg pack are collared and he picked up the signal from one of the collars as the rain poured down upon him. He skilfully manoeuvred his way through the sticky mud towards the pack, he had to see the dogs, his trained eye would spot the slightest sign of injury. The mud and rain defeated him, however rather than return home for a hot shower and a warm meal. He slept in his landrover, cold, wet and hungry. He would not abandon his dogs. At first light the dogs moved out on their daily hunting forage and Jealous followed, quickly closing in on them, as his priority was to get a good "visual" on the pack. To his relief they were all there and showed no sign of injury. He concluded that the person reporting an injured dog had perhaps mistaken the collar for a wound. Tired, wet and hungry he came home. The fact that the dogs were safe and well mattered most.