Chasing the painted dog
As we headed into Zimbabwe, we had one last goal: to see the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) . It is one of the rarest animals to see, it is sky and at times it can move huge distances during night which makes it hard to track.
We came through Zambia, where we saw the amzing Victoria falls and then continued down to Hwange in Zimbabwe to learn more about the african wild dog. In Hwange National Park there is the biggest organization in the world that works to save the African wild dog: The Painted Dog Conservation ( PDC).
We arrived late at night to the town Hwange where we met a lady with her young girl who kindly showed as a hostel where we could stay. Unfortunatley, it was full and it was pitch dark out side. The friendly lady then invited us home to her family.While we watched Jean Claude Van Damme kick 100’s of people s faces and drank orange juice with the family in a narrow room, she made our beds on the floor for us where we could sleep.
The next day we wokr up at six o’clock and set off . When we came out to the PDC they greeted us at the reception welcome and put up a schedule for us the next day . The idea was to stay for three days and see how their project worked.
The wild dog is called in English ” the painted dog ,” and according us , it would be more accurate to call it the ” painted wolf “. Atleast it would avoid the misunderstanding that is commonly made. It’s mistaken by people that they are feral domestic dogs who adapted themselves out in the open, like the dingos in Australia. The African wild dog is in itself really is not related to the dog at all and is not possible to crossbreed with any other canid (dog animal). The name gives it therefore an undeserved bad reputation that it initially does not belong in the wild and that it does not matter important role in ecology.
Apart from its role as an umbrella species, the African wild dog is actually important for many antiloparters survival!
But wait a second..? The painted wild dogs are eating antelopes!? Almost 100% of their diet consist of antelopes, and one may thing this must affect antelope populations negatively?
While this is true, the painted dog hunts mainly generalist species which are common such as kudu, impala and duikers . For the painted dogs in Hwange, this represents 93% of the wild dog’s diet. This provides room for more specialized antelope species and increases the diversity in the area .
When we got where we would stay , children ran around and played and shouted ” hello siiiir ” to us as we passed . ” PDC regularly accept children into their projects to inspire them about how much fun it can be with animals and nature. They play ” conservation Games” plays and gets to go on safari in the national park. Through this, PDC hopes that future people will better understand why it is important to preserve nature.
We moved into a small hut , and then went out on ” dogging ” (searching for painted dogs) . Two people on the PDC : Jealous (weird name? well his brothers name was X-mas) and Edward go and looking for wild dogs every day to see how they move and how they can work more efficiently to save the wild dog. We didnt see any painted dogs yet but we went instead to the PDCs wild dog hospital where we got to watch them feed the wild dogs that are currently taken care of by the staff. Also we went in and cleaned their drinking and bathing water from algae and dirt. Hard work to do every day, but we found a dead baboon male wild dogs apparently killed , and we carried it out to the garbage ( see diagram). The staff seemed more than happy, “That ‘s the one who steals my breakfast all the time!”, they said and smiled.
The following morning we went to the PDC’s “anti- poaching -unit ” to participate in the search for snares.. The poaching of painted dogs is almost exclusively locals who puts out snares due to the lack of food and not with firearms. Also, it was Joel’s birthday too and a better way is there well not to celebrate it than to go and pick snares? Last year the anti poaching unit found several thousand snares. To prevent that the snares comes back to the poachers again, PDC produce the artwork of them which you then that tourist can buy. This artwork has become relativley famous and actually they have been selling this in Sweden through Kolmården Zoo. We went out in the wilderness for about five hours but found ” unfortunately ” no snares ( it was of course fun anyway … and it is good that poaching becomes less common in the area!) Seven giraffes was considerably scared when we marched through thorn bushes and they ran inflexibly from us with noises and crashes.
The positive thing about the poching of wild dog is that it is due to the extream poverty in Zimbabwe. This is of course not good but the problem is more easily solved then when billionaires abroad finance terror networks to shoot rhinos. The negative thing with the snares is that you cant make snares choose which animal to catch. The local villagers takes what they can get.
What would then be the most effective for an organization that PDC to prevent poaching ? Obviously, it is good to remove snares but it does not prevent problems on a grass root level. PDC is therefore working with the local villages in the area. They help to fund wells and start farming projects in the villages and start something called ” conservationclub ” in schools.
Wild dogs are being poached because people are in search of food. By helping them to grow vegetables they preven that the locals are hungry and therefore prevents poaching. This means that Painted Dog Conservation functions , like many other conservation organizations also as a humanitarian organization for the locals.
In the afternoon we went out with the kids on safari. Everyone seemed excited to get to see all of the Best: lions, elephants, cheetahs, and so on! When it rattled into the grass next to the driver and I asked what it was. He said smiling that it was a Francolin ( a pheasant-like bird in the size of a pigeon ) where upon Joel shouts as if he had gotted crazy…. DID YOU say PANGOLIN??! Pangolins are small ant eating mammals with a shell like body, and they are among the rarest animals to see, even for locals. However, they do not have that much in common with a francolin… Joel ‘s dream since he left the airport of Sweden has been to see this elusive animal.
The next morning, the fifth day, we went out on the dogging again and talked with Jealous and Edward about Zimbabwe , how it ‘s been there and how it works now. In 2008 Zimbabwe changed their currency because of their problems with inflation. The highest bill at that time was 250 trillion dollars and then you could not even get a loaf of bread for it. One can imagine the amount of bills that could be required to buy something. Ironically , it took several car loads to even buy a car.
…When I suddenly shouted to ” Pangolin ” it was natural that everyone today shrugged when they thought I was screaming ” Francolin ” . Anyway, a pangolin happily and untroubled walked alongside the road! This was an epic moment of our trip! Jealous (44) and Edward (72) has been driving around in the bush all his life and seen the ONE (1) time before. Furthermore the people at PDC were amazed. One of the guys explained to us that there was one , just one thing , that he wanted to see before he died (quite dramatically to express themselves so when you are 22 years old) and it was a pangolin . His dark skin almost paled when he heard that we had seen one.
We continued to search for the wild dogs and we had the signal on the antenna but without success as usual. Driving around in circles, we saw most of the most spectacular animals you can see but the dogs seemed to fool us again and again. Since we had no plans for the last ten days before the journey home , we asked if we could stay an extra week.
Then one dusky evening I peered for the first time behind the car, and there I saw the three wild dogs we had been trying to find for such a long time! We followed the dogs and got to see them two more times that night but nothing more after that. It is a beautiful animal but also scary and a little terrifying with its black , sharp look. For a pack to have a good chance of survival they must be five dogs. Until last week, this pack was five dogs, but two dogs run over by a car. We could still see the blood on the road.
The time we had left on the PDC was a great way to end the trip on, peace and quiet, with safaris almost for free, every day. Some people pay thousands of dollars a day for this, but not us! We forsure feel gateful to PDC and their hospitality. However, it was time to return back to Sweden after 5 months away. The nights before the journey home, we spent at the home of a little crazy aunt who loved mushrooms. She had found the bioluminescent fungi that seemed to be her favorite – but all went just as well. We went to the airport in Johannesburg through the local trains which had signs every where which said ” STAY ALERT, STAY ALIVE “, which was where our trip ended.
Of course we want to thank everyone who has helped us in working on this project. All researchers who we visited, welcomed us as guests have shown us great hospitality and commitment.