Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cusp: A wild dog conservation success story in Hwange National Park

A special wildlife report from Mark Butcher, Imvelo Safari Lodges' Managing Director.

At Bomani Safari Lodge with my family just before New Year, we went out on an evening game drive on the concession to patrol for predators. Half an hour before sunset, we found our Bomani pack of nine wild dogs; the soft light was beautiful, they were relaxed in open country and we all got some wonderful photos.

Later that evening, after dinner back at camp, reviewing my photos, my blood went cold when I saw one of the females had a broken-off copper wire snare tight around her neck. I sent a report to Peter and Washington at Painted Dog Conservation, for help in darting and removing the snare. By January 4th they had put together their team and came south to our end of the park. Only on the 7th did they finally locate the pack and get a tranquilizing dart into the female called Cusp, remove the snare, clean the wound and administer long-acting antibiotics.

On January 12th she was spotted again by our guides, sporting a clean red ‘collar’ and appearing to be in good health. And then on the 20th whilst on a walk with guests, Sibs and Dirk got some great photos of Cusp that showed the terrible wound apparently healing, and her in good health. Given the close-knit social structure of the pack, the loss of an Alpha or senior female wild dog can spell disaster, and it seemed a
catastrophe had been averted.

Then on February 15th Cheryl saw a wild dog with a severe abscess on the neck at Stoffie’s pan, and we suspected the worst, that Cusp’s injury had become infected. Unfortunately, photos of the dog were poor and a positive ID difficult. Vet Rob assured us it was unlikely to be a result of the snare wound as the long-acting antibiotics are usually very effective. Peter and his team returned to the area on February 24th and spent three days looking for the dogs.

Despite numerous sightings of the dogs after this, no positive ID was obtained; privately, I feared the worst.

Then on May 13th, whilst assisting with our feeding programme for schoolchildren at Ngamo Primary, I got a radio call from Gary, doing repairs on the engine for Stoffie's pan, that he had spotted a pack of nine wild dogs resting up in the shade. We drove over, located them and spent a wonderful couple of hours with the dogs.

Because it was a pack of nine, I kept searching for Cusp, but without certainty, and so just kept snapping photos. It was the middle of the day and the dogs were in and out of the shade of some i<i>Gaku. </i>I felt that we had evidence to confirm the fate of Cusp.

Back at the office the following week, I began poring through dozens photos and, happy days! One of the dogs looked just like Cusp with her wound absolutely healed. I immediately sent the pics to Peter at Wild Dog Conservation. A flurry of emails ensued; he said he’d need to review carefully before being positive in his ID, but did comment that one of the females was very pregnant. Enlarging the photos again, my heart surged when I realised firstly the female definitely was Cusp, and then that it was her that was heavily pregnant.

Her recovery from her terrible injury was indeed complete. After all the trauma she has
endured, we hope the next few months for her during denning will be easy ones!

****

Cusp, the alpha female of the Ngamo pack of African wild dog, was photographed with 12 healthy puppies in mid-August, to the joy of guides and guests at Bomani and Camelthorn Lodges on the south eastern border of Hwange National Park. Cusp is becoming a celebrity dog among wildlife enthusiasts. The alpha female bears heavy responsibility for the well-being of the pack, and especially the raising of youngsters.

After spotting a pregnant Cusp in May, the pack denned on the edge of the Bomani concession and were seen regularly by guests during the next few weeks. Wild dog are highly social animals and really entertaining to watch, whether hunting cooperatively or just playing together.

Imagine the delight of guides and guests with these current photos, taken on the pack’s first major outing with the puppies, revealing 12 puppies to the world. Packs with pups are vulnerable and will move dens at the first hint of trouble – such as leopard, lion or hyena prowling around. Then, as the pups mature, they move with increasing frequency until they no longer need the security of an underground dormitory.

We observed one dog with a limp, who is being cared for by the others – and guests couldn’t believe their eyes when a yearling dog managed to corner a kudu by himself – and then did not know what to do with it. The kudu was lucky to escape after a standoff – this time! The scar from the snare is clearly visible on Cusp’s neck in 3 of the photos but she is certainly well and in her element with all her babies. We love nothing more than watching in amazement as these rare and special animals bring up their pups – and we will be sure to share the stories with you as they unfold!

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