Field guide and wildlife photographer Ross Couper was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in the Matopos National Park, so he has a special connection to the country and its fauna and flora. Here he shares his knowledge and memories of the local African Wild Dog population with us:
Singita Pamushana Lodge is located within the private Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Zimbabwe, which shares its southern boundary with Gonarezhou National Park. The park’s rich wildlife consists of 500 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, more than 116 species of reptiles, 34 species of frogs and 49 species of fish.
Painted Dogs, also known as African Wild Dogs, are unique to Africa and they are among this continent’s most endangered species. It is estimated that less than 7,000 remain in the wild. One of my favourite experiences seeing these animals at Singita Pamushana was one winter’s morning when we drove out past a rocky section of the concession; a piece of land that would make an ideal location for their dens.
As the land rover came to stop, above the early morning chorus of several birds, we could hear the distant calls from a hyena. It was a frantic scene; three hyena were moving in various directions, whooping and calling. Suddenly a flash of white appeared amongst the tall grass followed by three or four more – it was the wild dogs’s tails. Before we knew it, several pack members had arrived as if they are reinforcing the movement towards the hyenas. The scavengers beat a hasty retreat and the wild dogs feasted on the unfortunate impala ram that they had hunted earlier.
Observing these precious animals in their natural habitat from the comfort of a game viewing vehicle is such a privilege, as is the ability to provide them with a safe, natural habitat in which to flourish. The 130,000-acre reserve was specifically established to conserve and protect this significant wilderness region; something it has done with great success since 1994.
All proceeds from the management of Singita Pamushana Lodge benefit the Malilangwe Trust, and its numerous conservation and community outreach programmes. This Zimbabwean-based and -managed Trust was set up to develop a blueprint for creating harmony between conservation initiatives and community development in villages that neighbour wildlife areas. You can read more about the Trust and Singita’s work in the area on our website.
Field guide James Suter has spent a year travelling between Singita’s lodges in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania and reporting on the wildlife population of each reserve. He recently visited Singita Pamushana Lodge and discovered some unusual local inhabitants.
The diversity of wildlife to be found at Singita Pamushana Lodge is unmatched in Southern Africa. It is home not only to the well-known “Big Five” but also the “Little Six,” a group of small antelope which includes klipspringer, suni, grey duiker, steenbok, grysbok and oribi. The Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve also provides a sanctuary for three very uncommon antelope: the sable, roan and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. These shy animals are rarely seen and this area provides a fantastic opportunity to spot them.
Sable antelope live in savanna woodlands and inhabit grassland areas during the dry season. Their remarkable, scimitar-shaped horns, while beautiful, have unfortunately led to a sharp decline in the species as they are hunted for this highly prized trophy. They are unmistakable and luckily for us, sightings are relatively common in the concession. We were even lucky enough to see a large breeding herd of fifteen recently, as they made their way through the Mopane forests.
The roan antelope, named for their reddish-brown colouring, are similar in appearance to the sable and are one of the largest species of antelope found in Africa, exceeded in size only by the African buffalo and eland. There has also been a substantial reduction in both numbers and range of these animals, largely as a result of illegal poaching and the destruction of their natural habitat. Roan antelope are also heavily reliant on tall grasses and are vulnerable to lack of rainfall, making extended dry seasons and drought a serious threat to their survival.
The Lichtenstein’s hartebeest is the rarest mammal in Zimbabwe. They can run up to 60 km per hour and the males are highly territorial. The herd is generally led by an adult male, who often takes up watch on a patch of elevated ground, usually in the form of a termite mound. This male defends a territory of about 2.5 square kilometers year-round and during the rut, a male with a territory will try to round up as many females as possible. At this time, fights between rival males are common, and can last for extended periods of time.
Visit our website to find out more about the conservation programmes at Singita Pamushana Lodge and don’t forget to read our monthly Wildlife Reports from the region.
Zimbabwe boasts one of the largest African wild dog populations; over several hundred dogs can be found in the country’s national parks. Although once considered a pest, the “painted dog” is now highly endangered and they have become a symbol of pride in Zimbabwe, with the population almost doubling in recent years.
During our recent visit to Singita Pamushana Lodge, we were fortunate enough to witness a rare sighting of these cursorial predators. It is estimated that there are only six hundred to a thousand individual packs left on the continent and their lack of numbers coupled with the massive territories they occupy make sightings extremely gratifying.
Wild dogs can achieve a speed of up to 55km/h and maintain that speed for several kilometers, making it very difficult to keep up with them when hunting. They are incredibly efficient hunters, using both their intelligence and co-operation to ensure a successful kill and will literally run their prey to the ground. No two wild dogs are marked exactly the same, making it easy to identify individuals within a group. They are fascinating animals to observe and it always special to watch them interact with fellow pack members while enjoying their painted beauty.
Unfortunately the gradual disappearance of their natural habitat and outbreaks of viral diseases such as rabies and distemper makes them vulnerable to extinction. The preservation of the African wild dog population depends on the size of the region in which they can live and conserved areas, such as the 120 000 acres of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, provide sanctuary for these beautiful animals.
Follow field guide James Suter as he explores the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe and reports on the spectacular plants and animals he encounters. Some of his recent posts from the reserve include a spectacular cheetah sighting and tracking the local hyena clans.