Project Update March 2009
The year seems to have got off to a flying start. Certainly for Greg and I, as we have both just completed another exhausting though rewarding trip to the USA, UK and Holland in an effort to raise much needed funds for the months ahead. Obviously the global recession was at the forefront of the minds of many of the people we met and we certainly share their concern at a time when operating costs in Zimbabwe continue to rise. The level of support that has been afforded us over the years has been exceptional and I certainly hope that all of our supporters can somehow manage to maintain that level during these difficult times.
Before I left Zimbabwe I made yet another trip to Starvation Island with Jealous and company. This time we took an all male pack of 5 to the island, a mixed bag, made up from 2 of the injured (now recovered) Pilansberg males, a male from Chipingali, Londoloza and Mashambo. Reports about the condition of the road concerned us and I sent Jealous on ahead two days before me. Once he confirmed his safe arrival I sent the next group by road from Bulawayo to Kariba, which is a 10 hour drive, towing the boat behind them.
I then worked with Xmas and the rest of the rehab team to process the 5 dogs through our squeeze cage and load them into a light aircraft for the 50 minute flight. The pilot confessed to being a little nervous about his passengers and looked slightly agitated when one of the dogs woke up mid flight. He got us there as quickly as he could and Jealous plus the boat crew met us on arrival to help transfer the dogs from the plane into the boat and across to the island. It took the dogs longer than I anticipated to wake up but eventually all 5 were trotting about. It was the next day that we had some concerns because the Chipingali male, Lobels, was on his own, over 1km from the other 4. With the help of National Parks, we provided him with some food and then created a "blood trail" between the two groups by dragging the carcass through the bush. This worked and happily the next day saw all 5 dogs re-united. I am not sure why they had split up. Though they had been together in our rehab for a couple of months the bond between them was perhaps not strong enough for them or certainly for Lobels to understand that he needed the other 4.
I was obviously anxious for news of the dogs on my return from the fundraising trip. I had left Edward on the island and he reported in, literally hours after I had landed in Harare. The news was encouraging. The 5 were doing well, having made a couple of kills and seemed to be in good condition. Of course the crocodiles who had wrecked our last efforts were again in the picture as Edward had seem them kill a waterbuck, which had run into the lake to escape the dogs. I was nervous and drove up to the boat, which was in Kariba waiting for me and got across to the island as quickly as I could. That afternoon the dogs came out of the bush to "greet me" and I was happy at their condition. They soon turned their attention to a herd of waterbuck and tried to single out a sub adult female. However the adult waterbuck would have none of this and soon a comedy of dogs chasing waterbuck, waterbuck chasing dogs unfolded before us. Though the dogs failed to catch the waterbuck, the exercise provided me with ample evidence of the 5 dogs being able to work together as a pack. If I can't find a suitable female for the pack I will consider moving them to the mainland sooner than later.
News of the dogs in Hwange was also encouraging, though the report of 15 dogs near the local town of Dete was a false alarm. Jealous investigated this thoroughly and drew a blank. A real sighting of 5 dogs however brought a smile to our faces and Jealous is hot on their tail in an effort to identify them properly.
The local Primary Schools did manage to open while I was away and though we had already brought children into our Bush Camp, the fact that the schools were operating made life a little easier. As if to prove a point, Wilton and his excellent team also encouraged a private school from Harare to attend the camp for a week and we also played host to a school for the handicapped from Bulawayo.