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Status Report on Painted Dogs of Mana Pools, July 2020 Nick Murray, BC President

I started following these dogs when I began guiding in Mana, in 1997, and I’ve followed them in the Park throughout the full guiding season ever since.

The numbers of painted dog in the Park as of July 2020, based on my own eye witness and reports I have received from other guides and camps, are as follows:

  • 35 dogs sighted in the south eastern section of Mana - Nyamawani. These dogs certainly use Chewore; for many years there has been a big pack in central Chewore.
  • 16 sighted on the southern boundary road
  • Pack of 6 or 7 reported by Kavinga camp
  • 13 were sighted by me, one month ago near Kanga camp. We are calling it the Dandawa pack.
  • 9 adults and 7pups in the Nyakasanga pack
  • 3 adults in Ilala pack plus new pups

Here is a video from July 2020 of Violet/Nyakasanga pack’s new puppies.

 
 

History

Dr. Norman Monks, (Warden and Ecologist) in his 2008 study showed that approximately 50% of Mana Pools lions and hyenas live along the flood plain. Bear in mind that the flood plain is only about 10% of Mana Pools National Park, and that the lion population in Mana is currently about 110 lions. The area in which the Nyamatusi pack of painted dogs lived, the floodplain area of the Nyamatusi Wilderness area, is known for its lions. There is currently a mega pride of over 25 lions in the area today. We have frequently found the aftermath of lions killing painted dogs: a dog carcass full of bite marks with lion tracks around the carcass and seeing lions with little pups in their mouths. Predator pressure is tremendous and unrelenting on painted dogs. The recent Mana Pools Carnivore Research Project supported by Bushlife Conservancy, will provide data so that Zimparks ecologists can develop conservation solutions for management of the carnivore population.

For the long time Mana visitors, you will remember the early 90s when painted dogs were a rare occurrence. The dogs made their appearance in the early 90s and did very well and built their numbers up to a pinnacle of three packs using the floodplain area. This lasted for about 15 years. It should also be noted that the lion numbers were low in the time that the dog numbers built up. Between Vundu and Nyampei, we could go for a couple of weeks without seeing lions. This prime habitat for painted dogs began to change when two lionesses were introduced from Matusadohna, after they had been caught in snares. One lioness, Catherine, changed the population status of the lions in central Mana for many years with her prolific production of cubs (Monks 2008). She lived to a ripe old age of 17 years.

There is a concern now about inbreeding of the painted dogs. Why are the dogs from inland not dispersing into the area along the Zambezi, as they have done in previous years? This is another question Zimparks hopes to answer through the Carnivore Project. In the Nyakasanga pack in 2019 Jiani (father) bred with Violet – there is photographic evidence of them mating. Jiani was killed by lions before the denning season took place. In 2020, Violet’s brother, Sarge is her mate. The pups all look very healthy at this stage, with no visible deformities. The demography and population status of Lions (Panthera leo) in the Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe by Norman John Monks.

By way of sharing history of the past 5 years of the dog movements of the floodplains of Mana Pools, here is the family tree.

At the end of 2015 early 2016, Tait, the alpha female of Vundu pack died and the Vundu pack dispersed.

  • In 2016, Chiwenga pack dispersed to Chewore Mouth, and Janet the alpha female died (Tait’s 2008 daughter).
  • Early 2016, Nyamatusi pack evolved from 7 males from the Nyakasanga Pack and 7 females from the Vundu pack.
  • In 2019, Blacktip, alpha female of Nyakasanga pack died, as did her mate Jiani. This left Violet as the alpha female. This is the evolutionary line of dogs whose dens I have been visiting for the past 17 years consecutively. The Nyakasanga pack is now 9 adults strong and 7 pups at the den.

The Nyamatusi pack I filmed at the den in 2016, were featured for the BBC Dynasties series. Tammy had 7 healthy pups and 7 healthy pups left the den. In 2017, she had 7 pups and 7 again, in 2018. In 2019, Tammy had 10 pups. All these pups were killed by predators, as were all the adults, bar one. The Nyamatusi pack lost 44 dogs in 4 years. The only people visiting the den in 2017, 2018 and 2019 were researchers.

One of the speculations is that the filming of wildlife documentaries may be disturbing the packs. Many people will have seen the BBC Earth Dynasties series, which was filmed in Mana Pools. The series was narrated by Sir David Attenborough. As you would expect, the BBC Earth film crew and Sir David were very ethical professionals, who put the wellbeing and longevity of animals first. All filming was done with a Zimbabwe National Parks Ranger present to ensure the production followed Zimparks regulations. We can confidently say that this series did not affect the population of these two painted dog packs. The BBC Earth series has raised the profile of painted dogs across the world. All other film crews we have guided since have followed the same protocols of ethics and professionalism, under Zimparks monitoring.