Photography and story: Nicholas Dyer
In early November 2019, Nick Dyer led an exclusive nine-day photographic safari in Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks in search of the elusive painted wolf.
Limited to six people and staying with African Bush Camps, it was action packed from start to finish. Join the excitement day-by-day as Nick recounts this experience illustrating the story with his photographs.
Through the Hwange grapevine there are still no reports that the Kennedy Pack has been sighted anywhere nearby. It’s frustrating but understandable. Hwange is one of Africa’s largest parks and there are huge blocs with no roads where the painted wolves can hide far from the sight of any passing vehicle.
However, we will definitely have a great painted wolf experience today as we are heading north to visit the world-renowned Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) who are responsible for the conservation of painted wolves in both Hwange and Mana Pools.
I know PDC well, having co-authored my book Painted Wolves; A Wild Dog’s Life with Peter Blinston who runs the organisation. It is a conservation efforts I have the most respect for. Their programmes which not only focuses on the ‘painted dogs’ themselves, but also has varied programmes for the communities that co-exist with them.
For the painted wolves, PDC have a strong tracking, monitoring and research programme and an extensive rehab facility which looks after injured wolves and those unable to be released into the wild. Injuries, and frequent deaths, are regularly caused by snares which are set by local communities trying to catch bushmeat – the painted wolves unfortunately are often their unintended victims.
To tackle this threat, PDC does three things; anti-poaching, community engagement and education. They have a twenty-strong anti-poaching team that patrols areas, collects snares and apprehends miscreants. They then work closely with the chiefs in the area to support the communities, drilling boreholes, planting vegetable gardens and have even set up a chain of AIDS clinics and maternity facilities.
Last but not least is their bush camp where over 1,000 children a year from local primary schools attend to learn about the painted wolves and conservation. They each spend five days here and for them it is like going to Disneyland. The message to the communities is clear – “Through us, the painted wolves are giving you these things – so please look after your packs!” It is highly effective.
We set off again at dawn. It’s a long drive so we plan to make it an all-day game drive and an exploration of the wider park. We pass Ngweshla, but the lions are nowhere to be seen this morning. There are elephants aplenty including one massive bull who greedily drinks fresh water directly from the pump as if it were champagne.
On the road to PDC my eyes are straining for any sign of painted wolves. I concentrate on the road looking for prints or scat, which is the more scientific name for dog poo! “There!” I finally shout. Dickson stops the car and we get out to inspect the paw prints in the sand. Definitely painted wolf tracks and a little black mound confirms it.
We track the direction they are going and take a detour, but it is clear they have moved off into the thick bush where we can’t follow. It seems that we had just missed them. We push on exploring the park, stopping for breakfast in a quiet grove of leadwood trees and watch buffalo and zebra graze in front of us.
At PDC we are met by Maria who takes us on a guided tour of PDC starting with a fascinating talk in their highly informative visitors centre. We visit the rehab which is currently housing several wolves, waiting to be released, including Peanut with a broken leg. At last we have seen some painted wolves today, and it’s a good introduction for when we get to see them in the wild.
After a picnic lunch we start our long trek home, not expecting to see much as it is in the middle of the afternoon when most animals are hiding from the sun. Dickson takes a detour with a knowing look in his eye and I start to wonder if he has got lost. Eventually he stops, scans in front of him with his binoculars and points to a termite mound in the distance. Two cheetah lie exposed on its shady side. They are a rare sight in Hwange, and as a species almost as rare as the painted wolves, they are a genuine delight to see.
We near camp and after a long hot day my guest jokingly grumble that they haven’t had a sun downer yet. “I guess the lion kill and the elephant birth have been a bit inconvenient.” I joke. Dickson takes us to a beautiful private waterhole near our camp. We join a small herd of ellies and watch the sun go down, along with seven ice cold gin and tonics.
About Nicholas Dyer
Nick is an award winning wildlife photographer, the co-author of the acclaimed Painted Wolves: A Wild Dog’s Life and Chairman of the Painted Wolf Foundation. His passion is for painted wolves and he has spent the last seven years following the packs in Mana Pools on foot. He now leads Painted Wolf Safaris so people can get to experience and understand these enigmatic and endangered creatures.
Learn more about the Painted Wolf
Join me on my annual ‘Walking with Wild Dogs’ safari with African Bush Camps and enquire below. For the itinerary details, visit African Bush Camps’ website.