Participating in the preservation of wildlife
Posted on 3 February 2016 by Sylvia
On this particular day in October, our operational manager informed us that the vet was coming to dart the wild dogs to vaccinate them against rabies and try to remove the collar from the alpha female as the battery was discharged.
Afternoon game drive
From that moment on there was a buzz amongst the co-owners; wouldn’t it be great if we could join the vet.
The vet arrived on a scorching hot day and, as is the way in our unique private game reserve, we were all encouraged to join him on his expedition. How lucky and privileged we all felt! The co-owners huddled together in a game drive vehicle, following the vet’s vehicle at a close distance, on our way to find the dogs.
However, there was one issue to tackle before finding the dogs. Darting the dogs is one thing, but how do you identify those that have been darted from those that are still to be darted ….. The vet came up with an innovative solution. He suggested that we use a bright red lipstick from one of the female co-owners, and was planning to dip the dart in the lipstick, so that the dart would leave a red dot on the dog. Clearly he has had this challenge before, but we were not convinced that it was going to work.
Darting the wild dogs
Our anti-poaching team had been tracking the wild dogs since the previous day. They started in the East where the dogs were last seen and ended up finding them in the North of our unique private game Reserve. Although they knew the general area where the wild dogs were, it still took a long time for them to pin point their exact location. During that time we were waiting ….. and waiting. It was uncomfortably hot but we were all so excited that it did not seem to matter to any of us.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for arrived: they had found the dogs.
From that moment on, everything went very fast. The vet hopped into our game drive vehicle. Our ranger, who knew the exact location of the dogs, took over driving from one of the co-owners and we went off road.
The wild dogs, were hard to spot in this area of the reserve, they blended in with the surroundings very well. Finally, twenty minutes and a flat tire later, we spotted the dogs.
They were very relaxed, almost totally disinterested in the game drive vehicle. The vet took his time to aim at one of the young dogs …………. hit!
The dogs took off for less than a minute, relaxed again, and the vet aimed again.
This went on for a couple of hours. He missed a couple of times, hitting a branch, sometimes miscalculating the distance, but he was able to hit a number of the young dogs.
We were all looking at the dogs, trying to remember the ones he had hit – the lipstick worked perfectly. We also took photos of the dogs darted already so that we could identify them the next day if the lipstick had worn off.
The alpha female: a challenge
The real challenge was to dart the alpha female. She and the vet have had a long and special relationship over the years. She had been darted a number of times before, therefore she had a good idea about what was going to happen. Every time he tried to aim, she moved away, as if she was playing a game with him, teasing him. Luckily, after a long time, he was able to get the shot in. Our game drive vehicle approached her very slowly. The vet and our ranger went out of the vehicle to check on her. She was down. We were allowed to get out of the vehicle, but by the time we were all out, she jumped up and took off again…… 50 meters later she thankfully went down again.
All the co-owners were excited, including the vet and ranger. After all of these hours in the sun, she was finally down, and we were able to vaccinate her and to remove her collar.
It was an experience none of us will ever forget. To be so close to a wild dog, to be able to touch her, to feel her rough skin and bony frame….. especially to be able to watch up close what the vet was doing with her: taking a blood an skin sample.
Once all of the necessary procedures were completed by the vet, we waited for her to wake up. The alpha female gave us a couple of stressful moments; she just wouldn’t come around. The vet had explained to us that this is always a complex and risky procedure, but we were totally unprepared to experience this at such close quarters. What lasted only a few seconds, seemed like hours, but after the professional helping hand from our vet, she woke up, stretched, jumped up and ran off to the rest of the pack.
We tried to locate the wild dogs again with the tracking device, but the sun was setting, so we decided to call off the action for the day and to return to our lodges. Driving back all the co-owners were quiet, digesting everything they had just experienced.
The next morning, the vet went out very early, and was able to dart the rest of the pack.