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Project Update May 2009

May 28, 2009

We heard the sound of the dog, caught in a snare and struggling for its life. We were ready for this because we had set the snares and moved in quickly, Jealous is quite adept at catching dogs these days and with no hesitation he grabbed the dog to stop her struggling while I administered the anaesthetising injection. After a couple of minutes Jealous could relax his grip as the dog entered her drug induced sleep and our breathing returned too normal.

We had been trying to catch this dog for six days. She had appeared at our Rehab looking fit and well. Jealous had identified her as one of the pack of five dogs we had been following in recent weeks from deep inside Hwange National Park, all the way out to the borders of the local township of Dete. A few days earlier two other members of that same pack had also turned up at the Rehab, two males, very thin and weak. Xmas opened one of the gates and they simply walked inside! None of these dogs had ever been to our Rehab before and the fact that they turned up was an indication of a crisis situation to us. After a couple of days of trying to get close enough to dart the female from a vehicle, we stepped up our efforts and set capture nets, the same nets we had just used on Starvation Island, forming a capture area adjacent to the enclosure that the two males were in. The female was very interested in our four males and avoided the nets quite easily, frustratingly for us. We didn't want to push her as each day she spent near the rehab, the more relaxed she got. We placed small amounts of meat on the ground for her, which she ignored at first, but ate them later. Long days, 4.30 am until 10pm went buy as we tried to catch her, setting the nets and then setting our safe snares as well. She avoided everything. We named her Vusile, which translates as the clever one.

I was concerned about anaesthetising her, as I considered that an adult female would be pregnant at this time of the year. Jealous was confident that we could catch her in the nets or snares and then restrain her without anaesthetising her. I wasn't so sure. During the days of watching and waiting for her, it became clear to me that she was not pregnant, nor had she ever been pregnant. I concluded that she was most likely an older sister of the two males, probably born in 2007; they had been born in 2008. I thus decided I could safely step our efforts up a little more and placed some pieces of meat out for her containing a drug that would make her very relaxed and so more approachable. Again she ignored the meat for a while but eventually ate it. We waited for the drug to take effect and then I moved into a position where I could now dart her. Jealous and the guys were waiting, hidden in the bush, ready to move in if she walked into a net or snare. A tense but amusing game now unfolded between Vusile and myself. I was "hidden" behind a fallen tree with a cleared area in front of me, which would allow me to dart her without much trouble, so long as she stood there for a second or two. She knew exactly were I was and at times came within two metres of me, too close for me to dart her. This went on for over two hours. She moved about, walked into the rehab itself, walked along the fence line with the four males, came back to check me out but never stopped or stood still in quite the right place. It was as if she knew that I was not a threat so long as she avoided one relatively small area. It must have been a funny spectacle to watch, however as time went by I was concerned that the drugs she took by eating the meat would wear off. However this wasn't the case and eventually she walked into the zone where I needed her to be and she stopped, this time only turning her head to look at me before focussing her attention on the four males in the rehab again. It was all the time I needed to fire the dart.

She jumped slightly as the dart hit her and moved a short distance away. I waited for hat seemed like an eternity before I was happy she was asleep. As I approached her she got up and ran away, albeit very wobbly on her legs, I was astonished. I picked up the dart that had fallen out and checked to find that most of the drug was still inside, so she had only got a small dose, creating a potentially critical situation for her. I needed to get her now more than ever as she could suffer with over heating or respiratory problems, either of which could be fatal. I followed her slowly but she did not give me a chance to dart her again and we came out into the open along the side of the road, which leads into Hwange National Park. Now I had traffic to deal with as well, although not much due to the lack of tourists in the area. I could see Jealous and the rest of the guys so signalled for them to join me quickly. I explained what had happened and told them that the best we could do now was walk her slowly into the area where we had set the nets and snares, they agreed and that is exactly what we did. Now very drowsy, she stumbled into a snare but we were right behind her and thankfully the drama ended quickly.

After she woke up we let her though into the enclosure with her two brothers and a happy reunion took place. They are now on a fence line with our four Starvation island refugees and soon we will have all seven of them together and ready for release into Hwange National Park.

It was a successful operation in the end but one undertook to recover something the disaster of presumably the alpha male and female from this small pack being killed and so leaving these three youngsters. Vusile would probably have made it on her own eventually, though with great difficulty and only if she found another pack to join quickly. The two males, named Sithule (quiet) and Sibuyile (came to us) were at deaths door and would not have survived much longer.

Unfortunately it's a sign of the times and I write this as a kind of "Mid Term Report".

Despite the slight improvement in Zimbabwe, with some economic stability returning due to the adoption of the US Dollar, the situation is still dire for most people and thus poaching continues to be a major concern. I read recently of over 75,000 snares being recovered, over the last six years or so, in one region. An astonishing figure, probably due to an enormous amount of poaching and a very concerted anti poaching effort.

In our region it is PDC that carries the burden of anti poaching, as we remain the only organisation with a concerted anti poaching initiative. Other organisations certainly play their part though. Martin Stiemer has his own All 4 AP unit, which works in close collaboration with ours. We support both National Parks and Forestry Commissions' anti poaching as best we can, while in the Gwayi Conservancy, some of the landowner's employ their own units, which we also try to support. It goes without saying that our resources are stretched in an effort to fulfil these commitments and that your support has never been more needed nor appreciated in helping us achieve this.

Our Children's Bush Camp and the accompanying Education Outreach Programmes have been a particular success so far this year. Against a backdrop of the disrupted education system in Zimbabwe, Wilton and his team continue to deliver a world-class programme that delights the children and generates a huge amount of goodwill and moral support from the Chief plus the surrounding communities. We receive daily requests from across the country for schools to be allowed to attend the camp, which is surely testament alone to the success of the programme. Indeed as I write this we have a special group of Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC), from Hwange, attending the camp. At the beginning of the year, it was recognised that PDC was the only institution delivering any educational activity for the local children as the schools themselves remained closed. Happily some normality has now returned to the school system, however we have worked over time to ensure that we will get all of the schools targeted through the Bush Camp this year.

Our Education Outreach Programme compliments the Bush Camp Programme, with in school activities linked to the National Curriculum extending the lessons and concepts introduced at the Bush Camp. I think the highlight of the Outreach Programme is the Nature Corners, which have been set up in all of the schools. These are constructed by the children, who are formed into a Conservation Club at each school, and are intended to stimulate the children and develop a love for nature though modelling a natural environment.

There are many variations and interpretations on this theme. Some do indeed model a local natural environment incorporating rural villages adjacent to wildlife preserves, while others lean towards a "Tree of Knowledge", upon which poems, pictures and descriptions are hung by the children as an interactive learning aid.

It is interesting to note and certainly a further indication of success that the Nature Corners, initially established at a school level by this programme, have been adopted at a classroom level. The teachers have learnt themselves that the Nature

Corners are a huge aid to them in teaching the environmental sciences curriculum. The idea of Nature Corners has been extended in many schools beyond even the class room environment into the school grounds itself, with sections of the these grounds being deliberately reverted to there natural state, this further stimulating the children towards an appreciation and understanding of nature.

St. Francis Primary School Nature Corner.

A Nature Corner competition was held on the 28th and 29th of May 2009. Although 17 schools had registered to take part in the competition, only 11 schools had nature corners fit for judgement by the date. The criteria and resultant scoring for the competition was based on the corner should depict as many wildlife species as possible, identify endangered species, illustrate proportionality of species (for example relevant size of an elephant against that of a tortoise), pupils own works be displayed and habitats displayed and labelled correctly. Most importantly was a demonstration that the children had fully participated and had an understanding of the nature corner. This last aspect was achieved by asking the teacher to leave the class and a child nominated was then asked to explain the schools nature corner fully and answer the judge's questions.

Lupote primary school scooped the first prize, and Chezhou primary got the second prize.

Winning schools were awarded game drives into Hwange National Park and a day at the PDC Education Complex. The idea was to further develop a love for nature among the conservation club members involved in the nature corner project. Conservation club members were also assigned to write short poems and stories about the beauty of nature they had seen on their drive. Consolation prizes, which included essential school stationery items, were given to all schools that had participated in the competition.

PDC never stops; we never sit still nor rest to reflect for too long on achievements made. I guess I have a philosophy of "we are only as good as our last game" and rarely satisfied, I try and push everyone to achieve more, reach for higher standards.

Your support is fundamental to our success and we cannot thank you enough.