Rehabilitated Wild Dogs Arrive At The Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve
by Pete Roberts
Nyeza (Courtesy PDC)
The last week of April saw the arrival at the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve of six rehabilitated Painted Wild Dog from the Hwange Painted Dog Conservation Project.
Introducing the Ukhusuta pack
The pack of dogs have been rehabilitated as part of the Painted Dog Conservation Project, based at Main Camp, Hwange National Park, where they have become known as the Ukhusuta pack. Five of the dogs – Dutchie, Aurora, Inhlanhla, Nyeza and Gaia - were rescued in August 2009 as a litter of pups, only 7 weeks old, after lions had killed the alpha adults of the pack. Left in the wild the pups would have starved, and it was decided to take care of them at the PDC rehabilitation facility at Main Camp. The sixth dog, Sithule, was already at the facility and has taken on the role of ‘older brother’ to the Ukhusuta pups.
The VFPGR is hosting the pack as they enter the next stage of their rehabilitation back into the wild. Here it is hoped that the pack will learn to hunt efficiently and effectively. Previously PDC has utilised ‘Starvation Island’, on Lake Kariba, for the staged release of dogs, which was documented in a programme for Animal Planet. The pack is released into a fenced or defined area, so that they can be closely monitored to ensure their welfare. Once it has been established that they are able to fend for themselves, it is hoped that a suitable wild release site will be found. They are currently being held in a temporary holding boma whilst they get used to their new surroundings. After a few weeks here they will be released into the reserve.
One of the interesting things about these social pack animals is that quite often captive animals attract inquisitive wild animals, sometimes for some distance. This often happens at Main Camp, Hwange National Park, where the Painted Dog Conservation Project bases its rehabilitation and educational projects, and wild dogs are often seen in the immediate area. Again, here at the Falls, no sooner had the captive dogs been released in their temporary holding boma a small group of wild dogs appeared on the scene to check out their new neighbours!
Another interesting feature of the Painted Dog is that each animal has a unique coat pattern, allowing researchers to identify individuals by their markings. Sightings, and especially photographs, can be of great assistance therefore in identifying local packs and their movements. Any photographs of Painted Dog in the Victoria Falls area are therefore of interest to researchers. If you visit the Falls and are lucky enough to see and photograph Painted Dog, please post your photos, together with details of the date, time and location, together with the number of animals seen (and age and sex if possible), on our Facebook page (Click here), and we will pass on to the project. Good shots for identification are side on profile pictures, showing the body markings.
Painted Dogs are classified as endangered (IUCN Red List). Currently Zimbabwe has three main populations namely Gona-re-zhou, the middle Zambezi Valley and the Hwange ecosystems. Historically these populations would have been contiguous, but they now survive as separated island populations. Research over the last twenty years on these populations in Zimbabwe has highlighted that the most significant direct threats to painted dog’s survival in the wild are shooting by hunters and ranchers, road traffic accidents, snares, and more recently even trafficking of pups.
The Painted Dog Conservation Project Visitor Centre in Main Camp, Hwange, is well worth a visit if you are in the area. The Centre includes a very impressive permanent information exhibition, tree-level board-walk through one of the Painted Dog rehabilitation enclosures, and a chance to see their permanent residents (animals which are unable to enter the rehabilitation project for one reason or another). There is also a small shop which sells locally produced artwork, predominantly wire sculptures produced from snare wire collected from the bush by the project’s anti-poaching units.
The Project’s website can be visited at www.painteddog.org
If you’re looking for accommodation in the Main Camp Area, Sikumi Tree Lodge is ideally placed. See our review in the last newsletter Click here.
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