In the year of 2008, we spent much of our time observing a pack of African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus) in the south of the Save Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe.
Consisting of four adults, four yearlings and, initially, more than nine puppies, this pack had had more than its share of tragedy, including a python attack!
The young female, “Snare”, I so called because when we first saw the adult dogs, she had a wire snare tight around her neck, causing a gaping wound. She was difficult to approach since the pack had not yet denned down, still pursuing their nomadic way of life.
The Alpha female was visibly pregnant, and obviously hunting for a suitable den site.
All we could do was to keep alert for occasional sightings of the dogs. I truly became discouraged-Snare’s wound was so traumatic that it seemed she could not possibly survive if we were unable to remove the vicious wire.
At last, scouts located a den site and we were able to begin to visit the dogs, slowly habituating them to our presence, and discovering that they had at least nine fat pups ensconced in a warthog burrow. Joyful hours were spent watching the new family, but we struggled to coordinate a darting team in the first few days.
Each day I would watch poor Snare struggling to breathe and keep up with her pack. She resolutely trailed after them on every hunt, interacting as best she could with her boisterous siblings-always thinner than the rest and staying away from the new babies, unlike her sisters. Her siblings, in turn, cleaned her terrible wound and chaperoned her constantly. She tried hard to jump and play with them before evening hunts, but was always subdued in comparison to their exuberance.
Another tragedy then hit the dogs-a huge python found the burrow, whether by intent or accident we will never know, and, overnight, ate many of the pups-leaving only four whom the Alpha female immediately relocated to another den close by.
After some aborted attempts to dart Snare, eventually we got lucky and immobilized her, with the help of Reuben from the African Wildlife Conservation Fund, and Graham Connear of Hammond Ranch.
The pink dart was easy to see once it had penetrated her rump…
Removing the wire, we found that it had begun to cut into her trachea, thank goodness still a small hole. Cleaning the wound as best we could, we administered antibiotics and left her to recover.
Clive and Reuben admire their handiwork…
Snare’s paw, gently held in my hand….
Over the next few days I saw a transformation that was wondrous to behold-she went from strength to strength, daily interacting more and more with the four tiny pups and hunting enthusiastically with her pack.
Snare was a new animal, the breath still faintly whistling through the now healing hole in her neck, but her eyes bright and her enthusiasm boundless. She became a leader of the hunt, often being the one to return first with the Alpha male, both bloody necked from a successful kill, to regurgitate food for her mother, the Alpha female, and the four new pups! My sketch of Snare, playing with her siblings, reflects her joy…
Inspired by her story, my many oil paintings and sketches show Snare interacting before a hunt with her siblings, a symbol of the stamina and will that these dogs show in the face of adversity. She now had the strong potential to be a leader, an Alpha female with pups of her own in the future.
Snare has since been my inspiration for a large oil painting , auctioned through Tusk Trust and Painted Wolf Wines, to raise money for African Wild Dogconservation and to become a label for “Pictus One”, a limited edition of Painted Wolf Wine…
the wine labels looking good! and tasting even better….