With only 5000 – 6000 Painted Wolves left in the wilds of Africa this highly intelligent and social animal is considered critically endangered. Sightings can be rare outside of certain areas and Mana Pools, in Northern Zimbabwe, can be considered as one of its final strongholds on the continent. It was with great pleasure that Sean Wilyman, partner at Wild & Isle Safaris, was invited by Wilderness Safaris to view a project they had put in place to relocate a pack from Hwange National Park to their new Chikwenya Camp on the banks of the Mighty Zambezi River.
In conjunction with Painted Dogs Conservation and Wilderness Safaris, the Mphindo pack of 9 individual Painted Wolves were flown from Southern Hwange to Chikwenya on the 23rd September 2019. The reason for their translocation was due to human – wildlife conflict in their original home range. Human – Wildlife conflict is a major cause for concern in Africa currently as the increase in human populations require an increase in land to farm and live on. Humans are encroaching more and more on areas that the local wildlife call their home (there are no game fences separating people and wildlife in Zimbabwe). Painted Wolves are considered nomadic (to a certain degree) and require large ranges to hunt. They can travel up to 50 km a day looking for prey and their home ranges can cover any distance from 400 to 1500 kms. It is therefore inevitable that humans and Painted Wolves will cross paths at some point.
In the case of the Mphindo Pack of Southern Hwange, numerous complaints were lodged by a local village, to the Painted Dog Conservation, that the Painted Wolves had been decimating their livestock. Before the locals could take matters in to their own hands, many Painted Wolves are killed via wire snares and poisoning, the organisation jumped in to intervene. With the help of Wilderness Safaris, the Painted Wolves were darted and translocated to a boma at Chikwenya Camp in the Chikwenya region of Mana Pools. Here they will be housed, in a constructed boma, for a period of 6 months so as to settle into their new home. They will be released in April 2020. Guests at Chikwenya Camp are able to visit the Painted Wolves and can learn more of their plight via either Shepard or Thomas, their caretakers from Painted Dog Conservation.
While visiting Chikwenya, we were treated to an incredible lunch (including a delicious vegan option for Sean’s fiancé) and met with Shepard Phiri who was able to introduce us to the pack. Shepard, very kindly, gave up his time to provide us with a little background on their particular story and to inform us how they have settled into life on the Zambezi River thus far. The Mphindo Pack is led by an alpha female, as all Painted Wolves are, by the name of Snowtail. Her name was derived because of a white tip on the end of her tail. The Pack of 9 consists of 8 adults and one pup. Originally there were 8 pups born into the new litter however the others succumbed to other predation and wire snares. Two of the members of the pack (including Snowtail) have been fitted with a VHF collar so as to monitor their progress and assimilation into their new environment. There is another pack of Painted Wolves currently in the area, known as the Chikwenya Pack, which consists of 6 Painted Wolves who have been visiting them on a daily basis. The day prior to our arrival was the only day that the local Chikwenya Pack decided not to visit as a pride of lions had visited the boma causing serious stress to our Mphindo Pack of newbies. Other visitors to the boma have included leopard and hyena. They are, however, completely safe in their temporary fenced home. The two different groups of Wolves have shown no aggressiveness to each other, more an interest, and have been communicating via their high pitched whines and clicks. It is hoped that the two packs will assimilate forming one new Chikwenya pack upon release. This release, into the wilds of Northern Zimbabwe, will attract the attention of conservationists and wildlife photographers worldwide and guests of Chikwenya Camp will have the added bonus of being a part of this momentous procedure, a wonderful reason to book a stay here in April 2020!
The Painted Dog Conservation group was formally opened in 1992 and its duties include the education of local communities on the Painted Wolf and its plight (they even host Grade 6 learners from the local community’s schools once yearly), anti–poaching, the removal of wire snares in protected areas, assist in police raids on poachers and work hand in hand with the parks to help save the species. Simon mentioned that they have seen, through their efforts, positive change in the plight of the Painted Wolf in Zimbabwe. Wilderness Safaris have, very kindly, been involved in organising the translocation (via aeroplane), feeding and the housing of the Painted Wolves.
Our African wildlife faces numerous challenges going forward especially as competition for resources grow between humans and wildlife. It is the hard work and dedication of companies such as Wilderness Safaris and the Painted Dog Conservation that present us with the opportunities to live together in harmony. Long may their efforts continue!