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”, was 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 from the African wild dog research and monitoring team, African Wildlife Conservation Fund, (AWCF), 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.
As always I sketched and painted the social lives of these wonderful wild dogs, always a fascination for me and inspiration for my art.
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 it 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….
We watched over her until she recovered from the anesthetic and wobbled away from the area, eagerly accompanied by her siblings who had call waited for her at a discreet distance while we worked on her.
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 Dog Conservation and to become a label for “Pictus One”, a limited edition of Painted Wolf Wine…
The wine labels looking good! and tasting even better….
My paintings below celebrate Snare and her release from the deadly wire, but her haunted eyes also emphasize the ongoing threat of wire snares set for bushmeat, which the wild dogs inadvertently run into when hunting at speed…
“Wild Dog Snare and snare wire under a full moon”, acrylic on canvas diptych, (2 x 2 feet each panel), plus two smaller works, each called “Pep Rally”:
Close view of “Sketch Pep rally III”, acrylic on canvas paper, A3:
The Story of Snare has since then truly inspired some great collaborations, such as the Tshirt printed range that Bertie Bondi of Canned Clothing has created, using my painting of Snare as inspiration.
In my artworks, Snare still has those haunted eyes, memories of the deadly wire tight on her neck, but her eyes reflect also also the wise and gentle light of a mature female in her prime, a mother, a mentor, and a dedicated chaperone to generations of puppies.
Snare the wild dog female, wherever she now is, is an everlasting symbol of resilience and conservation success!