Mana Pools National Park is the jewel in the crown of the Mid Zambezi valley. During the rainy season, as flood plains on the Zambezi River fill with water and transform into lakes, the park is virtually inaccessible. Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) is at the forefront of protecting painted dogs in Zimbabwe, but the rains have prevented them from operating in Mana Pools year- round. That changed this year; PDC built a permanent research base in Mana Pools, their second in Zimbabwe, making their work there more reliable and effective. PDC’s stronger presence in the park has also sparked new opportunities with a long-time partner. In 2019, PDC collaborated several times with top tourism operator Wilderness Safaris; their work together has strengthened conservation for painted dogs in Mana Pools, providing a new beginning for one pack in particular.
The painted dog population in the Mid Zambezi Valley is Zimbabwe’s largest and uniquely links Africa’s distinctive southern and eastern populations, with Mana Pools at the center. Understanding these dogs gives conservationists valuable insight into protecting the species as a whole. With year-round access, PDC can consistently monitor this special population and more accurately document population estimates, distribution, and survival rates. Wilderness Safaris offers their guides and clients opportunities to participate in this monitoring. When they encounter painted dogs they can record details of the sighting, including photos, and share that information with PDC, thereby enhancing the data that informs PDC’s conservation planning. Additionally, immediate reports of injured dogs helps PDC take action in real time.
PDC also collaborated with Wilderness Safaris to successfully relocate a vulnerable painted dog pack to Mana Pools. This pack had made a den near Mpindo village, almost 350 miles south of Mana Pools, where they had six pups. Close proximity to people gave the pack ample opportunity to prey on the villagers’ goats. To mitigate the conflict, PDC relocated the dogs to nearby Hwange National Park, but they soon boomeranged back to Mpindo. With the dogs hell bent on denning near the village, it was necessary to relocate them much farther away.
Mana Pools was an ideal place to bring the Mpindo pack, but the drive would take 12 hours over excruciatingly bumpy roads, putting undue strain on the dogs. It was safer and faster to fly. With logistical support from Wilderness Safaris, PDC flew all nine dogs to Mana Pools. Before they can be released, the pack needs time to acclimate to the new location and for the pups to grow. PDC and Wilderness Safaris constructed a holding pen where they are housing the pack until they can be released in a few months. Wilderness Safaris generously paid for the pen and is assuming the cost of feeding the dogs. Once the pack is released, they will also help PDC with follow-up monitoring.
Whether relocating a specific pack or monitoring an entire population, PDC and Wilderness Safaris have demonstrated multiple ways to work together, improving conservation for Mana Pools’ painted dogs with each collaboration.