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Project Update July 2009

Aug 3, 2009

She hadn’t moved for over an hour. The white tip of her tail shone in the cold July air, but she did not move. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, deliberately, as I turned to Jealous at my side. It was he of course who had spotted her. His astonishing eyesight, honed to an unbelievable level through years in the bush, had spotted the white speck of fur that I had been staring at through my expensive binoculars for over an hour now, my own vision pathetically inadequate compared to his.

“We will have to catch the pups”, I said. He nodded in agreement. The alpha female of our Robins pack had been killed by lions, two other adults were missing presumed dead and two out of the remaining five adults were injured. Many scientists, eminent or otherwise would disagree with such intervention as this was a natural occurrence, but I am not a scientist and the emotions felt at such a time are real and raw. The dogs are endangered because of man, whose actions still threaten their very existence on the planet. Any chance to redress the balance, however small, is one I will take.

The day before, we had rushed to the site, excited by the news of a den, clearly visible from the road. When we arrived we talked with the National Parks Scout who was stationed near by and he old us that lions had been “disturbing” the dogs. With our excitement now replaced with concern, we drove to the den and saw the results of the lions work. Jealous and I discussed how we would catch the pups and decided that we needed a cage as digging them out of the den would be very difficult given the terrain, I also decided that I should get a permit from the National Parks Senior Ecologist, before we undertook the task. It was hard to leave the den site and the pups but we had no choice, we could only hope that the remaining adults would care well enough for the pups until we were able to return.

Back in our own immediate area the dog news was giving us enough excitement, though as always it seems that the obstacles stacked up against the dogs are never ending. We have a small pack of three or four adults in the vicinity. We are quite sure that they have a den but our efforts to find it are frustrated by the road network. We are extremely concerned for this pack as the area is full of lions. “Full” is maybe an exaggeration, but there are a lot of lions in the area and they are a real threat. We tried a calling exercise one morning in an attempt to attract the dogs so that I could dart and collar them, however it was the lions that responded to the call, coming in with murderous intent.

We have another “pack” of two, who also have a den amidst the lions of Kennedy Vlei and a pack of seven denned near Ngweshla, which is equally famous for its particular population of lions!

Earlier in the month, Jealous and Ester had successfully darted and collared the female in a pack of five dogs that we had been seeing. This pack was moving through the same area as Vusiles pack and we were again concerned for their welfare, so we deployed our anti poaching units in a concerted effort to check for snares. The pack remained in the area for a while and then we lost track of them and began to fear that the collar had failed. We received one sighting of them crossing the Bulawayo to Victoria Falls road, heading into communal land. An area that has little if any wildlife, so again our concern grew that they were perhaps targeting domestic animals and we waited for the inevitable phone calls or complaints to come in. To our surprise no complaints came in and the dogs seemed to have disappeared, only to reappear at Mondavu Dam, some 100km west of us! This was great news in the sense that she was still alive and that the collar was still working. The area is deep inside Hwange National Park and so it should be free of snares, however its is far from us and so we will not be able to keep a very close eye on things. As ever our excitement was dampened by the fact that the pack of five was now only a pack of three, leaving us with unanswered questions regarding the fate of the missing two.

Such is our life, working on the hard edge, so to speak, of conservation. We have witnessed many such scenarios over the years but it does not get any easier to bear. It’s the life we choose however and we certainly appreciate your support in helping us to do the work we do.