By William Milasi recently in Hwange
A rare breed of Zimbabwe wild dogs, the painted dogs is facing extinction due to a plethora of reasons.
With a total population of between 150-200 of the painted dog species Hwange National Park boosts a large number of these endangered species scientifically known as lycaon pitcus meaning something like, “painted wolf-like.”
With dappled tan, black fur and flashes of white one would be mistaken in thinking that they a wolf like or wild dogs.
“The first thing you need to know about painted wolves is that they’re not wolves, nor, as their more boring name suggests, are they dogs.
“They’re in a separate evolutionary group from these more familiar canids. Lycaon pictus is their scientific name, which means something like “painted wolf-like”.
“But they certainly behave much like wolves and dogs. Lots of movement and lots of noise,” BBC’s Jonathan Amos aptly described them.
As known as wild dogs, painted dogs, are actually not dogs at all, but represent an evolutionary line of their own that is unique to the African continent.
Zimbabwe is one of a few African countries with these rare species.
At the turn of the 20th century Africa had a population of 500 000, painted dogs in 39 countries.
However, systematic bounty hunting, poachers snares, road kills, and poor land management have decimated the dog population, reducing it to less than 7000 today.
In Zimbabwe painted dogs are avaraged to be around 700 today and Hwange National Park have the biggest number.
“One of the reasons of the reduction in numbers of Hwange National Park painted dogs population is that survival rate of the puppies is very low,” Painted Dogs Conservancy (PDC) marketing officer Ronnie Sibanda said.
Sibanda said the reasons of low mortality for the painted dog puppies is that the wild dogs themselves generally are prey to predators such as lions and hyenas which make up a considerable number of fauna found in Hwange National Park.
A non-profit organisation found in Hwange the PDC is offering a sanctuary to wild dogs in distress.
“We are trying to save the painted dog species from extinction and PDC is that sanctuary for painted dogs in distress,” Sibanda said.
He elaborated on some of the efforts being undertaken by the PDC.
“When we have an injured dog we treat it here at the PDC’s clinic. We have the veterinary personnel which is here 24 hours a day. We also house orphaned puppies and try to raise them as the puppies cannot survive on their own. We also house dogs which ade considered as problem animals that is dogs which would be preying on people’s livestock,” Sibanda said before adding that the sanctuary is also into pack reconstruction.
The sanctuary is not a permanent place for the wild dogs as they need to face life in the National Park after rehabilitation.
“We maintain minimum human interaction with the dogs so as to maintain their wildness so that they will be able to be intergrated by other wild animals upon release,” Sibanda said.
Wilton Simango Community and Education Manager at PDC described challenges faced in making sure that the paintes dogs do not face extinction as a multitude of challenges.
Simango pointed out poaching as chief amongst these challenges.
“Poaching is real and a big issue. The decimation of painted dogs arises from human actions. It is human actions which is leading to the depletion of painted dogs and poaching takes the first spot.”
Simango said painted dogs are accidental victims as poachers would be snaring other game within the National Park for meat and the wild dogs are ensnared as accidental victims.
Poaching has increased in the national park especially during the lockdown period.
“We have noted an increase in poaching activities during this lockdown period. We managed to remove 1186 snares by June this year compared to 471 in the last period
The Pandemic is a reason for the upsurge in poaching,” he said.
Unemployment has been noted as the main reason which led to poaching.
To combat poaching PDC has set up anti poaching units were community volunteers amongst other activities are engaged in removing snares on daily basis, surveillance on poachers activities and raising community awareness about the dangers of poaching.
It also conducts insitu education programmes.
Government has put in place some measures to ensure the protection of painted dogs.
They are currently protected under the SI 2020-071 Parks and Wildlife (Specifically Protected Animals Regulations 2020.)
SI 56 and 57 of 2012 of the Parks and Wildlife Act.
“The threats are many. Loss of quality habitate and poaching represent the biggest problems unless we take action to address these threats, painted dogs will become extinct in our lifetime,” PDC Executive Director Peter Blinston said.