Painted dogs, also known as wild dogs, are actually not dogs at all, but represent an evolutionary line of their own that is unique to the African continent.
You would be forgiven for confusing these mottled, big-eared animals for hyenas—but they are distinctly different creatures.
While hyenas are more closely related to cats, painted dogs share a distant common ancestor with jackals, wolves, coyotes, and, as their name suggests, domestic dogs.
They have more than looks in common with man’s best friend!
They are intensely social, have strong family bonds, spend most of their time together, and take care of one another’s pups.
Their first priority is to protect their pack; pups get first feed after a kill, ‘aunties’ act as pup-sitters for other mothers, and if a painted dog becomes ill or injured, their pack-mates rally round to care for them.
Sadly, painted dogs are one of the most endangered species in the whole of Africa.
At the turn of the 20th century Africa had a population of 500 000 painted dogs in 39 countries.
However, systematic bounty hunting, poachers’ snares, road kills and poor land management (reducing suitable habitat) have decimated the dog population, reducing it to less than 7 000 today.
Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) recognised that unless the public prejudice and ignorance surrounding painted dogs was addressed, the species would become extinct in the next few decades.
This cemented our core approach to helping painted dogs, which remains the same today: to identify the critical issues and find a way to make a significant and lasting contribution to painted dog conservation, conservation of nature, and the lives of the local community with a special emphasis on the individual.
Our mission is to create an environment where painted dogs can thrive.
How are we trying to do this?
We have put together a conservation model that will really work in the long term, and make a significant difference to the painted dog population in Zimbabwe. We employ more than 60 people from the local villages to run our conservation programmes and run our education and outreach programmes.
These efforts span everything from our Anti-Poaching Unit team which patrols local areas daily to provide a direct form of protection for the painted dogs.
These highly trained scouts work closely with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority and Forestry Commission patrolling areas bordering Hwange National Park and removing snares on a daily basis.
We run our Rehabilitation Facility where we treat injured and orphaned dogs before returning them to the wild.
Opened in 2002, our Rehabilitation Facility has a veterinary clinic and eight enclosures that allow us to house and care for injured, sick or orphaned painted dogs, and compromised individuals/packs with minimal handling until they are returned to the wild.
We also conduct research where we monitor painted dogs on a daily basis across Hwange National Park, Mana Pools and the Mid-Zambezi.
We monitor painted dog packs using radio collars to track their behaviour and hunting patterns, identify causes of injury or death, and keep a close eye on packs we deem particularly vulnerable or in unsafe areas.
In addition to helping painted dog populations, we want to help human ones, too.
Our education and outreach programmes prioritise community spirit. We have established projects and programmes that directly help improve the lives of local residents.
To this end, we have set up a Children’s Bush camp, a Visitors Centre, collaborative art projects, conservation clubs, community gardens, and
Visit us at our Visitors Centre and speak to knowledgeable staff, view artwork, wander through a system of trails to view painted dogs housed at the adjacent rehabilitation facility, explore the surrounding teak woodland, and gain a very real sense of the world of the painted dog…for free.
The centre is open to both local and international visitors.