Peter Blinston sent this news:

Life Saving Collars

The first three months of 2107 have already been intensely busy, particularly in providing protection for the Nyamandlovu pack.

For some months now we have been concerned about the shift in the Nyamandlovu pack’s territory, which has them spending more than 50 per cent of their time outside the relative safety of Hwange National Park (HNP). We have tried everything to encourage them back into the park, including deploying a bio boundary of scent from other painted dogs which aims to create the impression that the territory is already occupied. While we did have some success with this, it has not been totally effective and the Nyamandlovu pack continues to leave the park again and again. Of course we have been busy deploying anti-poaching units into those areas as well to keep them as snare-free as possible

Still, I knew we needed to do more. So on New Years Day I fitted a protective collar onto the alpha male, Browny. Soon after this we also fitted a protective collar onto the alpha female, Socks.

Fortunately, we were just in time. The pack had not been seen for more than a week when I eventually located them through the usual combination of years of experience, intensive research, and good luck.  A safari guide from The Hide had seen them earlier and alerted me that one of the collared dogs had a wound on its neck.

I was anxious to locate them and complete a head count, which is easier said than done with 12+ dogs. But I was relieved to discover that the pack was still 16 strong. All four collared dogs were present, plus the other three adults and nine remaining pups. My attention quickly turned to alpha female Socks. She will be seven years old this year and, all being well, she will have her fifth litter, making her the most successful female we have tracked.

She did, indeed, have a wound on the left side of her neck, though thankfully not serious and it did not require treatment. Her collar had been twisted at a strange angle and was damaged. It was clear that she had been caught in a snare and the collar we had only just fitted had actually saved her life. These collars cost US$500 in Zimbabwe and we need more. We also need GPS collars which give us detailed data on the packs’ movements ,alerting us to where we need to deploy our anti-poaching units even more strategically. These GPS collars are more expensive though at approximately US$2000 each.

The Value of rehabilitation

Just a few days later tragedy hit the Nyamandlovu pack when Thembile, Socks three-year-old daughter, broke her front right leg. It was an awful break just below her “elbow.” It was agonizing watching her limp along and we could only imagine the actual pain she was suffering.

I had been called away to Harare so our friend, Brent StapleKamp, helped the team and successfully darted her so our vet could perform the necessary amputation of the damaged limb. Thembile is recovering at our Rehabilitation Facility now and we will get her back to her pack at the opportune moment.

We recently released Thembile’s older sister Fran, whom we have been holding since late last year. We had been hoping that some dispersing males would pass by the Rehab or at least appear in the area, but this didn’t happen so we made the difficult decision to release her on her own.  After fitting her with a protective collar, we let her go, yet she has remained close to the Rehab, clearly indicating that she considers it a safe haven and certainly has no negative perception of it. We continue to feed her while she remains nearby until she eventually ventures further and further away to look for new pack mates.

A note on the Rehab: we were recently going through our records to see how many painted dogs have passed through the facility since it was built in 2003 by John Lemon. To date we have housed 53 individuals, of which all but three went back into the wild (not including Thembile).

Our best Rehab success story is Vusile. I have written about her in the past, the orphan who appeared at our gate starving. After a brief period of feeding her and integrating her into a pack, she was released back into the wild. She found a mate and eventually had a litter of six pups. Socks is one of those pups. The other five of Vusile’s pups are also still alive and founders of their own functional packs in Hwange National Park. Socks’ pups have grown up and founded packs of their own and had pups of their own. Socks is a grandmother many times over. That single intervention to save the life of a starving orphan has increased the population of painted dogs in Hwange NP by more than 50 and an addition of at least five functional packs. That constitutes a third of the current population estimate for HNP

Anti Poaching never stops

Our anti-poaching units have already undertaken more than 160 patrols recovering more than 500 snares. But we always need more help.  So we recently orchestrated a joint operation including our local Mabale Volunteers, the newly formed APU from our neighbours at Ivory Lodge, the Forestry Commission Protection Unit, and Zimbabwe Republic Police. As a result of this collaboration, 76 scouts were deployed over a series of six days into the forests bordering Hwange National Park. 24 snares were located, which is a thankfully low number, and consistent with the time of year and the fact that we have experienced a very wet rainy season. The heavy rainfall means that the bush has grown very thick, there is plenty of water enabling the  animals to disperse and, as a result, even the most hard-core poachers are coming up short. Even so, a large-scale operation such as this sends a powerful message to poachers via the proverbial “bush telegraph” that we are geared up and ready to combat the poaching tide that seems so relentless.

The other good news, is we are encouraged by signs of stakeholders taking up some of the anti-poaching strain that PDC has been enduring almost single-handedly for more than 15 years. The newly-established Conservation and Wildlife Fund (CWF) is gaining momentum and our neighbours at Ivory Lodge, Elephant Eye, and the Gwayi Conservancy are establishing APUs as well. This is exactly the kind of action we need to protect the remaining wildlife populations that have been so depleted in recent years: an estimated US$20 million worth of animals having been poached in the areas surrounding us. With the right level of protection in place we know the wildlife populations will recover.

I would like to thank Nick Dyer for permission to use his stunning photographs. You can see more of Nick’s work at www.nicholasdyer.com and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evgc3w0jxgA&authuser=0

Above all I would like to acknowledge your superb support, which as ever, is what really makes the difference.It is very appreciated and we can never thank you enough.