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Project Update April 2010

May 14, 2010

"Shall we do it?" I asked Jealous.

 He gave me his usual smile and said, "let's go."

Janet and Sandra, our long time friends and now Trustees of PDC UK, were with us. They watched this little cameo between Jealous and me play out with some amusement.

We were on the trail of the Kutanga pack again and they had moved off the road into a thickly wooded area. As usual I was torn between Hwange and Harare, and this was my last day before I had to travel from Hwange to Harare for meetings with National Parks.

After dealing with Squirrel (who was still in our Rehab Facility) and Bulls Eye (who was fully recovered now) there seemed to have been some in-fighting between Moth and Blaze for the apparently vacant alpha male position. It seems that Bulls Eye was in fact the low ranking male. Now Moth and Blaze were badly scarred from the fighting. Blaze seemed to have come off worse and was limping badly and had multiple bite wounds over his body, including the most delicate of places for a male!

We will never take chances with the welfare of a dog. It was the welfare of the tyres on my Landrover that caused the momentary hesitation between Jealous and me as we surveyed the thick bush in front of us, full of intimidating, thorny, acacia trees. Jealous' smile was a knowing one, as he would be fixing the punctures. We pushed forward, experience telling us that the dogs had now settled for the morning and would not move until the late afternoon, unless they were disturbed. We have done this many times before and quickly closed in on the pack, using the signal from Moth's collar to guide us. We sat staring hard into the thick bush, searching for a telltale flick of an ear or tail. It was Janet who spotted the slight flicker of movement and I slowly manoeuvred the Landrover to within 12 meters of the snoozing dogs. I quickly prepared the dart, filling it with the immobilizing drugs and took aim. Blaze got to his feet slowly and stood for a second looking at me. He shifted his weight slightly, in obvious pain, and I fired.

My aim was good and the dart hit home in his upper left thigh. He moved off a few metres, pulled the dart out with his teeth and lay down. It was as if he knew and welcomed what was happening. Five minutes later he was in a drug induced "sleep." Jealous and I moved quickly but quietly, picking Blaze up and carrying him to the side of the vehicle to begin treating him. His wounds were extensive though not too severe, not as bad as those of Bulls Eye and Squirrel anyway. Working methodically from top to tail we cleaned up all of the bite wounds, flushing them out with diluted betadine solution. I administered two long acting anti- biotic injections, while Jealous fitted a collar, as the rest of the pack sat watching us just a few metres away! It really felt like they knew what was happening, that it was not a bad thing, that we were helping their pack mate.

An hour had passed and Blaze started to come round. With the reversal injection given we cleared our kit away and got into the Landrover. Blaze staggered on wobbly legs to the rest of the pack, who mobbed him with typical enthusiasm and they all moved a short distance away into the shade of the thick bush. We drove away, happy that we had done all we could and confident that he would recover quickly.

I left the next morning on my eight- hour drive to Harare for my meetings. Jealous kept up the daily monitoring as I wanted to deal with Moth on my return five days later and we still had to get Squirrel back into the wild with his pack. With Squirrel's release in mind, Xmas and his Rehab team, assisted by Jealous of course, set up our capture sheeting in the Rehab, creating a funnel with the plastic sheets that would be used to quietly walk Squirrel into our trailer when the time was right. He had been immobilized so many times due to his horrific injury, so I didn't want to immobilize him again and anyway wanted him to be wide awake on his release day.

I was back in Hwange five days later after successful meetings in Harare. Jealous had kept up with the pack and so we were confident that we would locate them as we set out in the morning, hopeful that we would get an opportunity to dart Moth, whose wounds had deteriorated in the days that had elapsed. Sure enough we caught up with them at around 8am and happily they were moving to an open area, not too far from Hwange Main Camp. We called Xmas at the Rehab and told him to be on standby.  The pack sat around a waterhole, which had suffered terrible elephant damage over the years, but for once we were happy with this as it meant that the pack were out in the open and easy to approach. It was also a very overcast day and quite cool, making us think that they would not be in any hurry to head for the shade of the thick bush, as they would normally do at this time on a hot day. It was easy to approach them and relatively easy to dart Moth. I had darted him in Dec 2009 to fit his collar, and he had shown some apparent resistance to the immobilizing drugs. It was no different this time. Despite the dart hitting home perfectly in the muscle of his upper left thigh, he refused to "go down." He lay in a sphinx position as the alpha female, Ester, licked his wounds. I cursed under my breath and prepared another dart just in case. Ten minutes had passed and he looked drowsy but his eyes were still open. Slowly I inched my Landrover forward, while Jealous sat in his tracking seat, a blanket in his hands. Moth didn't move as Jealous quietly slipped out of his seat, covering Moth's head with the blanket. I administered a small top up injection and we went to work on his wounds as the rest of the pack sat watching us again.

We knew that this was as good an opportunity as we would get to release Squirrel, so Jealous drove away a short distance to get within range of our radio network and called Xmas, giving him the instruction to get Squirrel into the trailer. By the time we arrived back at the Rehab Facility this had been done with little fuss. Quickly we hooked up the trailer and drove back to the waiting pack. It was a simple matter of opening up the trailer and letting Squirrel jump out. He ran towards the pack on his three legs, seemingly overjoyed to be back with them.  They recognised him immediately and seemed rather surprised that he was back or maybe alive! It was rather amusing to watch and any apprehension we had over the reintroduction evaporated quickly. We sat watching them run around for an hour, playing happily before they moved off into the bush. Over the following days we kept up with them, anxious to see if Squirrel could cope and not hinder the pack's progress. All seemed well; the pack hunted successfully on several occasions and the in-fighting seems to have come to an end.

The first School term has come to a close and Dought and his team are undertaking much needed maintenance work. It's a relatively quiet period for us, allowing time to reflect on the successes of the year so far and examine areas where there is need for improvement. We have benefitted from such fantastic support from all of you so far this year, something we never take for granted and always appreciate.

There are many challenges ahead of us, so please don't relax. We won't!!!