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Project Update March 2012

Apr 11, 2012

Story One: Gonarezhou, Aurora and Gaia.
Xmas and I had seen Gaia and Aurora hunting on Friday morning. On Saturday afternoon we received a report from tourists about one dog hoo calling, clearly in distress and alone. Xmas arrived at the scene on Sunday afternoon and found Gaia’s decomposing body. He estimated that she had died on Saturday morning, the wound on her shoulder indicating that perhaps she had been gored by a wildebeest or impala while hunting.
Aurora lay in a sphinx-like position, on the edge of the Save river. It was dark now and the headlights of my Land Rover illuminated her. Actually we were all in the river. The Save is a typical “sand river” of Africa. At this point in its course it is more than 400 meters wide, with only the main channel full of water and crocodiles, the impressive Chilojo Cliffs forming a stunning backdrop. It was not a great place to be, however, and the view was lost to me. It was the rainy season and rains in the distant Easter Highlands could bring a flash flood crashing down upon us at any moment.
I eased myself from my seat, leaning halfway out through the window with my darting rifle ready. The red dot from my scope played on Aurora’s shoulder; I steadied my breathing before pulling the trigger, firing the dart into her left shoulder.
She jumped up at the sound of the dart but she was not fast enough and my aim was good. The dart hit home and it was only a matter of five minutes before she was immobilized. She had walked 200 meters from us in that five minutes and I drove slowly towards her. Xmas was with me and he kept a careful eye on her as I manoeuvred the Land Rover forward, the wheels spinning wildly in the deep sand of the riverbed.
We quickly placed her into the back of my Land Rover and made our way to the main riverbank, where the rest of the team was waiting. Driving down the bank in the daylight had been fairly easy. Getting up the bank now in the dark was anything but. We slipped and slid around, the wheels again spinning and losing their grip, throwing up a high spray of sand. Twice I got to the top of the bank and then slid all the way back down backwards and sideways. Eventually, with the help from the team and a towrope, we made it safely up the bank. Aurora was given a physical examination and though thin, she was in good health. Once she woke up, she was loaded into a crate for the 12 hour- transport back to the PDC Rehabilitation Facility in Hwange.
Aurora will stay at our Rehabilitation Facility until we can locate some suitable males for her to join up with. Her full rehabilitation back into the wild is now on hold again because her sister, Gaia is dead.
Story Two: Gonarezhou, The Ukusutha.
In a very busy period, the Ukusutha pack has also been translocated to Gonarezhou National Park from the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve. This pack consists of the two wild females Bekezela and Chipo plus the three males, Dutchie, Nyeza and Nhlanhla (Lucky), who grew up in our Rehabilitation Facility. They are a very accomplished pack, with Bekezela leading the way, demonstrating similar qualities to Vusile.

The capture and translocation from the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve went relatively smoothly, except that the last dog to be captured, Nhlanhla, resisted all of the (gentle) efforts made to persuade him into the trailer for the transportation onwards from our Rehabilitation Facility to Gonarezhou NP. As a result he was temporarily left behind.
Things started to go wrong when Greg arrived with the dogs in Gonarezhou NP. A boma had been constructed, which was supposed to hold the dogs for six weeks. A period of time that would allow them to settle down and get used to the idea that Gonarezhou NP was now their new home. The dogs had other ideas and, led by Bekezela, they immediately made a concerted effort to escape. Bekezela was out within the hour. Emergency steps were taken to strengthen the boma, but to no avail, as the rest escaped the following evening and joined Bekezela. We were not concerned about the dogs’ welfare as such, as we knew they could hunt very well and they had even demonstrated their ability to defend their kill from lions and hyenas. But we were worried that they might try to head back to Hwange or Victoria Falls. and reunite with Nhlanhla who was still in our Rehabilitation Facility.
Greg and I were in Gonarezhou NP, so I asked Ester van der Meer to help and of course she responded immediately. She drove from her new home in Victoria Falls to the Rehabilitation Facility and immobilized Nhlanhla so that he could be loaded into a crate for transportation to Gonarezhou NP. The team drove through the cool of the night and arrived without any drama in Gonarezhou NP early in the morning. World-renowned conservationist, Raoul du Toit, helped us quickly locate the pack, tracking them down using his aircraft. We then drove to the designated spot with Parks and Wildlife officials from Gonarezhou NP. After a bit of “bush bashing” we managed to get the Land Rover near to the resting pack and Nhlanhla jumped out of his crate, delighted to be back with his pack mates.
All we could do now was monitor their progress, now renamed as the Chipinda pack, and hope that they would stay in Gonarezhou NP, which happily they have done so far.

Story Three: Hwange.
The dog news in Hwange continues to provide us with some hope; with some of the packs we monitor defying all the odds. Vusile and her mate, Temba, are leading in this regard. They have managed to raise seven pups, five of them born in 2010 that are now adults, making the pack strong. Vusile seems to be keeping them all deep inside Hwange NP, well away from any potential problem areas. She can be considered a real success story after her troubled start in life, which resulted in her spending some weeks in our Rehabilitation Facility. Her case also serves to underline the value of the Rehabilitation Facility and its role in the conservation of Zimbabwe’s painted dog population. It is quite likely that she would have died without the intervention that resulted in her coming into the Facility when she turned up alone on our proverbial doorstep in 2009. We released her later that year with the ill-fated Bambanani Pack. She went on to find Temba and had her first litter of pups in June 2010 and the second litter one year later. Of course we hope that 2012 will see her not only strengthen her pack further with the addition of yet more pups but also increase the overall painted dog population in Hwange NP. It’s sobering to reflect that her pack represents approximately ten per cent of the entire Hwange NP painted dog population.
We are equally delighted by the news that the long lost Kanondo pack has reappeared. We first saw the original three dogs in 2008 and saw them for what we thought was the last time in 2010. After this they basically dropped off the radar, heading into the Gwayi Conservancy area. We feared the worst, as this area, which was previously a strong-hold for the dogs, is now overrun with illegal hunting activities, which are decimating the wildlife populations. It’s wonderful to report that two of the original three have not only survived but have managed to raise four pups to adulthood, making the pack six strong.
The Kutanga / Sibindimalisa saga continues but there does seem to be some stability now with the three Sibindimalisa males joining the two Kutanga females making that pack five strong. However, this has left the two Sibindimalisa females alone and in need of some mates and Juliet, a former Kutanga female, on her own searching for mates.
The final piece of good dog news comes in the form of a report from our neighbour, Dave Carson, who is building a safari camp near Shumba pan, which is approximately 60km from Hwange Main Camp. He told us, with great enthusiasm, about the regular sightings of ten or more dogs near his camp and another pack of fifteen dogs seen towards the Sinamatella region in the west of Hwange NP.
So, all in all we have thirty-three dogs in our immediate surrounds.

Story Four: Conservation Clubs.
With Earth Day approaching (April 22nd) we have been busy with in school activities and our Conservation Clubs in particular. We established what we refer to as Conservation Clubs in 2009. Aimed at the local school children as an extension of our successful Iganyana Children’s Bush Camp programme, the clubs undertake both practical and theoretical exercises such as tree planting, clean up campaigns, drama and poetry performances. The clubs have proven to be hugely popular, providing the children with stimulating activities, which benefit their communities at large while raising awareness about their environment.
One of the most popular activities for the Conservation Clubs is the Wildlife and Environment Quiz, which operates at a National level. After a series of heats the six area finalist schools were, Sir Roy Welensky, Dopota, Hankano, Ndangababi, St. Francis Xavier and Lupote. Sir Roy Welensky was the winning school and will go onto represent the area in the regional finals to be held in Bulawayo later this year.
Tree planting is another popular activity. We promote the use of sisal trees for live fencing, pointing out that it is preferable and cheaper than using wire, which anyway often ends up being used for poaching. 60 sisal trees were planted recently at Dingani Primary School as well as 20 mango trees, which had been donated to the school by the PDC sponsored Ingonyama dance and dram group.
Despite the continued struggles associated with the soaring cost of operating in Zimbabwe it has been a really positive start to the year. We would like to take the opportunity to thank you again for your continued financial and emotional support.