Er worden binnen het project veel activiteiten georganiseerd voor de lokale bevolking, zaken die niet altijd rechtstreeks met het project te maken hebben.


Het Painted Dog Conservation Project sponsort de lokale voetbal league. Niet alleen heeft het project kleding, schoenen en voetballen gesubsidieerd ook wordt er jaarlijks een prijs aan het winnende team uitgereikt. Het sponsoren van de voetbal league heeft niet alleen een positieve invloed op de spelers zelf maar ook op de omringende dorpen want iedereen loopt uit om de wedstrijden gade te slaan.

The week of Jealous Mpofu

For years the Painted Dog Conservation foundation has worked on the protection of wild dogs in Zimbabwe. It’s a hard battle in a socially complex country, with an animal species that does not generate a lot of popularity and a fast growing human population that increasingly needs more land. However, a motivated team fights to save these beautiful animals against all odds. Jealous Mpofu is at the forefront of that fight.

Monday July 27
At 4.30 a.m. my alarm clock goes off. It is really cold, almost freezing, and my warm bed is a tempting place to stay. I get out of bed though and wash myself with cold water. No time for breakfast: the dogs won’t get any younger! My Land Rover, with eight times around the world mileage on the clock, is not bothered by a cold start and growls when I draw onto the sandy road heading for the Eco Volunteer house. Ron van der A, chairman of the Painted Dog Conservation Holland and his son Jeroen, are ready to go when I collect them at 4.45 a.m. I look forward to a cup of lovely hot chocolate and a ‘Goudse stroopwafel’.

I can keep myself reasonably warm thanks to my fleece jacket and thick skiing gloves. But the Land Rover is like a fridge. After all it is winter in Zimbabwe. Today’s mission is to find the Nyamandlovu pack. It consists of Socks, the alpha female and Browny, the alpha male, Ring a male with a defective radio collar, Thembele, Andrew and Don. Teanea has a working collar but he has not been spotted for a while and seems to have left the pack with his brother Brush. I am particularly worried about the latter two. What has happened tot them? To find the Nyamandlovu pack now is a challenge. Regardless, I drive out with a smile on my face ready for the challenge. I know these dogs very well and I am confident I will find them.

I am on my way to Guvalala pan (watering place), where I saw the dogs the last time. On arrival at 7 a.m. I hardly see any game, let alone dogs. Most dogs spend the night in the woodlands, where it is warmer at night, rather than on the open savannah. I slowly drive back on secondary roads while checking the sandy paths for dog tracks. Unfortunately, I only see hyena tracks. Inexperienced trackers can easily confuse dog and hyena tracks but they present no problem for me. Soon I find fresh dog tracks (not overrun by car tyres which means they are still fresh) that point in the direction of Nyamandlovu viewing deck.

I continue but there are no dogs to be found. At 8.30 a.m. I arrive at the platform and the rising sun warms my cold bones. The hot chocolate does not only warm my hands but together with the stroopwafel warms me up and gives me energy to go on.

Hwange National Park has many watering places, and pumps running on solar energy keep the fresh water at the right level. I continue my way to the Bala Bala pan. No dog tracks either. It is almost 10 a.m. now and getting too warm for the dogs to be moving. They hunt when it is cool so mainly at sunrise and sunset. Also when there is a full moon there is enough light for the dogs to go out hunting. This makes it harder for me, because when they hunt at night (like now at the of July) they have already found shelter in the woodlands to rest when I enter the park.
I drive home and drop Jeroen and Ron back at the house before filling up the fuel in my Land Rover. Now, in the heat of the day I need to take some rest and spend some time with my daughter Tracey and youngest son Peter.

It is 15.30 hrs and we are back on track. The day seems to have been quite unsuccessful until we need to wait for elephants crossing the road. We call them moving shadows, as they are hardly visible when they appear from behind the trees. And they won’t make way. The Land Rover cannot compete with a moving rock of 6.000 kilos, so I am careful.

Due to this natural delay I am lucky. I catch a signal with my short-range antenna. It is the signal from Surf’s collar. Surf is the alpha male with a group of females that dispersed from the Nyanmandlovu pack. The pack is moving in the direction of the rehabilitation centre, which they often do to see if there are any wounded and/or orphaned dogs, wondering why they don’t join them. It is getting dark so I can go home with peace of mind. I smile to myself remembering that it is only four days until my wedding day!!! Though my beautiful wife Tendai and I have been together for more than fifteen years, married in our traditional culture, we had decided earlier in the year that it was time we should be married in the “eye of the law”. That day was fast approaching.

Tuesday July 28
I wake up restlessly. The cold night and worrying about the dogs has kept me awake. My daily ritual is a cold splash of water and a kiss on my wife and children’s cheeks. Leaving their warmth behind I focus on my beloved dogs. I share my passion with Ron so at 5am he is all ready. The signal from Surfs collar tells me that the pack is near our rehabilitation facility (rehab), so we quickly drive there. We call Peter Blinston, the Managing Director. He is staying in Victoria Falls for business and is celebrating his birthday today. We sing a happy birthday into his voicemail.

We see surf and the three females, Sam, Fran and Nat on the road and approach them slowly. As we get close we gasp out loud in shock at the sight before us. Nat’s ear has been cut off leaving a deep wound.

The dogs move slowly along the tarmac road. Black asphalt is warmer and the road is the easiest way to cover long distances. Quite a perilous undertaking since, apart from poaching, car accidents are in the top 5 of causes of death for painted dogs. I ask Ron to take some sharp pictures so that we can determine the condition of the dogs.

Surf is limping caused by a thorn in his leg but that is the least of my worries. I am more concerned about Nat. Her ear is cut off; the trachea cut open and there is a deep cut in her neck near the collar (protective radio telemetry collar). The wounds do not look new, I estimate maybe two weeks old, as it was also approximately two weeks ago when I last saw these dogs. The dogs take care of each other and other pack members have undoubtedly licked the wound clean, but still…she is in poor condition and I can only imagine the pain and suffering she is experiencing. These dogs are so tough.

At first I had the impression that the wound had a natural cause, inflicted for instance in a fight by hyenas. However when zooming in on the photos I discover a snare. I call Brent of the lion project in the region, who has his own problems with the most famous lion of Zimbabwe being poached. Yet, after my call, he’s immediately ready to help us with his dart gun and the right dose of anaesthetic. Brent is in front and I follow, but the dogs disappear in the dense undergrowth and a clear shot is impossible now. Disappointed and anxious I drive home realizing that I won’t get much rest.

15.00 hours. It is far too hot for the dogs to move around, but I can’t wait and head for Dete Vlei, a 20 kilometre open strip of land. Near Ivory lodge I catch Surf’s signal. By that time I have been on the road for two hours and Brent joins us. Unfortunately, it is too late to dart Nat. An anesthetized dog that hides in the bush will soon be in danger, which of course especially counts for the wounded Nat. She can’t flee from her natural enemies. Frustrated I drive back home. I have no appetite and there is not more than I can do than sleep.

Wednesday July 29
I get up despite a high fever and a bad cough but its only a cold I caught from Ron and nothing to complain about compared to Nat’s suffering. Despite his cold, Ron is not staying home either. Nat’s condition is all that matters to us. We take hot tea, water and a blanket with us. We know it will be a long day.

Ron is dozing under the blanket, but I stay alert, ‘I am a professional.” I encounter the rangers of a nearby lodge. They saw a dog two hours ago and point me in the direction that it went.
Hillary, my colleague and the former Chief Ecologist of National Parks reports on the radio. He is out looking for Nat as well. But like us, he has not seen the dogs.
Brent reports and tells me he is ready with his dart gun. What remains is finding Nat.

Hillary reports again and asks for our location. Still no sight of the dogs though and so we keep searching the area for another three hours.
I eventually give up at 10.25 a.m. and head home, collapsing into bed after taking two aspirins.
At 15.30 hours I wake up sweating. I dreamt of Nat and her terrible wound. I take another two aspirins and pick up Ron. We have a joint mission and are determined to make it a success.

17.21 hours. Bingo! A clear signal from Surf’s collar. Will Nat and the other members of the group be with him? Yes, they are complete.and near the Rehab. Here they will rest. In the meantime Peter returned early from Victoria Falls and tomorrow he will be out with us ready to dart Nat. I prepare for another restless night. Of course my own health is less important than Nat’s. With only 700 hundred wild dogs left in Zimbabwe, each individual is of inestimable worth for the survival of this unique animal species.

Thursday July 30
4.30 a.m. I get up but the flu holds me in its grip but I don’t tell Ron. Peter and the dogs count on me. I can’t back out now. I pick up Ron and Peter is already in his Land Rover. The signal from Surf’s collar is strong, so we know the dogs are still around and we quickly locate them on the tar road near the rehab. We wait at a distance while Peter manouvers his Land Rover into position and he darts Nat in her left hind leg. Nat flinches as the dart hits her and she walks a short distance before lying down. In her weakened state the immobilizing drugs quickly take affect and in less than three minutes she is completely still.

Peter gets out of his Land Rover and picks Nat up, carefully placing her in the back of his Land Rover as the other dogs stand watching. They show no signs of alarm, it’s as if they know we are trying to help.
Hillary has already informed the team and Clive and his team have prepared an outdoor shelter for Nat. Clean water, desinfectant and blankets are ready when we arrive. Carefully Peter puts her on the blanket and together with Clive I assist them cleaning the wound.

First we put a blanket over Nat, put in earplugs and a KLM sleeping mask over her eyes to reduce the stress. Like the dogs, the team work well together. The snare (made of an old bike brake cable) is removed first. The wound and what is left of the ear are cleaned routinely. The snare had almost done its devastating work but the protective collar saved her life. The wounds are extensive, the worst we have ever seen and Peter decides that he needs to take her to the vet in Bulawayo.

As Peter departs on the three hour drive to Bulawayo drive towards Ivory Lodge, following up on a report of three dogs seen that morning. I drive with images of Nat’s horrific wounds in my mind and hope the operation will be a success? And how will the return journey go?
Later that day I hear the operation was successful and considering the torn wound that is a real miracle. Nat is taken to the Rehab where I have been waiting since four o‘clock. The team is standing ready to receive her carefully take her to an isolated shelter where she can recover. Despite the long day I stay with her to see how she recovers from the anesthetic. It is not a matter of course that a dog wakes up. It is not only the anesthetic, but also how she copes with the stress of the anesthetic, the transport and recovery that make it a risky affair.

I am very happy and relieved to hear her weak Hoo-call for her pack members. It is getting dark and I drive home. On arrival I receive a phonecall: the other pack members have already paid her a visit. Tired but satisfied I go to sleep. Tomorrow Tendai and I will be married at the Registrars office in Hwange, but I’m not nervous. It will be nothing compared to the wedding ceremony for 300 people next Saturday!

Friday, 31 July
4.30 a.m. I get up at the usual time. Today is the day; my wedding day. I pick up Ron because he will photograph and film the event. Despite the fact I called him at 5.30, my uncle, who will be my best man, is not ready on time. I pick him up

and though his shirt is not tucked in and his tie still loose, he climbs in. Best men and bride are all there now. At 6.15 we are on our way to the Registrars Court in Hwange Town. Ron is more nervous than I am when it comes to being on time. But we are on time and at 9.30 we are married and happy, despite our terrible flu.
I can’t put Nat out of my mind. Conservation is a 24/7 affair.

Friday, 7 August
In the week following Nat’s surgery more changes have taken place. Surf is missing. Sam and Fran, who are Nat’s sisters, have joined two new males named Gceke and Africa. We name them the Ganda pack.
I pick up the signal from Sam’s collar in a block of woodland near our Visitors Centre. I don’t hesitate and together with Ron I drive into the bush.

I contact Peter who immediately comes into action. Nat has had such a speedy recovery (she has eaten loads of meat and the wounds have healed well) that we would like her to join the pack as soon as possible and thus limit the stress she suffers. He races to the Rehab Facility to release Nat. This is the moment we have been waiting for. The gate is opened and Nat races out to join her pack. It’s hard to tell if they are pleased to see her or not. She is very submissive to Fran. I follow the pack until night fall and wish them well.

Saturday, August 8th
4.30: I pick up Ron again and head out to look for Nat and her pack. Peter is also out in his Land Rover with Bob and they pick up the signal from Sam. The pack are heading towards Dete Vlei . We race ahead, hoping to see them in this open area but they cross it immediately and though we are only seconds behind we are frustrated. We know this area like the back of our hands and make a very educated guess as to where the dogs are heading. Driving around to the other side of the block to intercept them. We are right . We sit waiting on the road in the thick bush listening to the signal from Sam’s collar. Eventually the dogs emerge. Blood on their faces and fat bellies tell us they have killed and eaten well. Nat is with them and we are happy.

Monday 17 August
15.00 hours and I am driving through Hwange National Park looking for Nat. She was spotted alone last week, which makes it harder for her to hunt than being in a pack. Apart from the fact that she is still recovering from her injuries. My anxiety grows, why is she alone? I meet some tourists who have photographed her. She is desperately thin. Why is she alone? I see vultures sitting in a Boabab tree and drive towards them fearful of what I might find. There is no kill under the tree. I turn around and my heart stops beating. At less than two metres from the track lies a dead dog. It is Nat.

My suspicions are confirmed. The neck wound is completely open. The wound was the worst we have ever seen since the start of the project twenty years ago. Yet we had good hopes after her initial quick recovery, which makes the blow even harder to digest. I feel anger about the poachers and I feel powerless to punish them, but all I can do is accepting the situation. A moment later I inform Hillary and Ron and we comfort each other by awkwardly laying hands on each other’s shoulders.
National Parks allow me to take Nat’s dead body with me. In silence I drive back to our project. In the shadow of a tree we bury her.
We will never know what happened and why she was alone. We suspect that she had been “competing” with Fran for the alpha female status and Fran took advantage of the situation to become dominant. But it is still strange that she would be alone. Maybe she left the pack, not willing to accept her lower ranking and was hoping to find males to form a pack of her own? We will never know.