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AFC Flag Expedition #5:
Painting the Painted Dogs - Artistic Study of An Endangered Hunter
Expedition Artist: Alison Nicholls
Purpose: To raise public awareness of and provide tangible support for the plight of the endangered Painted Dogs.
Location: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, Africa
Scheduled For: August 2007
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About Alison Nicholls
About the Painted Dog
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Artist Acknowledgments
 
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What's Next?
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The Flag Expedition may be over but "Painting the Painted Dogs" is really only just beginning. Now that my photos are sorted out (you don't want to know how many), I have to start editing video so watch out for clips in the future (including painted dogs chasing a hyaena and a young elephant being rescued from a drinking trough). Then the painting starts. I have so many ideas it is difficult to chose a single one and get going. But there's no time to waste because in March 2008 I have a series of exhibitions beginning, combined with a lecture series. 100% of fees will be donated to PDC and I will continue to donate 25% of the sale price of Painted Dog works to PDC.
 
I would like to thank everyone at Artists For Conservation and the Painted Dog Conservation project for giving me this wonderful opportunity to get so close to such beautiful dogs. I hope that my photos, video, sketches and paintings allow you to see some of the amazing scenes I witnessed on my trip and encourage you to help support conservation of this unique species.

Photos
  • Dogs Crossing
 
Coming Home
Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm writing this in Johannesburg airport as I'm leaving Africa. I have had a wonderful 6 weeks, seen some great painted dogs, met some great people and learnt so much. When I get home the hard work starts, lots of painting followed by an exhibition and talk series in 2008. But for now I'm having a lovely fruit smoothie in the airport departure lounge and my taste buds are remembering the wonderful taste of fresh dairy products! 


Photos
  • Resting Dog
  • Sunset
 
Ngamo School at the Bushcamp
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
My last full day at the Painted Dog project. I can't believe 6 weeks has gone so fast.
 
Today I'm at the bushcamp and Ngamo School from Bulawayo (Zimbabwe's second city) are visiting. They are having an art class so I have come along to see how I can help. The children don't get the chance to use too many art materials so first they are given a quick lesson in how to use watercolors. Then I show them some pages from my journal and explain how I did the paintings. Dought translated for me into Ndebele. Then we drove to a waterhole where the kids did some painting of an elephant and some sable antelope. I sketched them while they worked. When I get home I'm going to send some example drawings of animals where I have used circles and other shapes as the basis of my drawings. Hopefully they can use these to show the children easier ways to draw wildlife.

Photos
  • Art at the Childrens Bushcamp
 
Bushcamping
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Tonight we are bushcamping. Often people think that camping in the bush must be dangerous but whenever there is an 'accident' and someone is attacked by lions or hyaenas it is usually because they have slept with their tent undone or have fallen asleep outside. I have always told people that if you sleep in a tent that you will be fine.
 
However, on this occasion we are planning to sleep under a tree without a tent. I had carefully questioned Jealous about this and been assured that he has done this many times with no problems (none that he wouold tell me about anyway!). We found a good tree away from any game trails or sandy roads (often used by predators at night) and settled down with our canvas covered sleeping mats. At least there will be a fire burning all night, I reasoned. That will keep us safer.
 
And then the wind got up and Jealous decided to put the fire out in case it burned out of control. So now we are lying in the pitch dark with no fire. Hmmm. I'm imagining the news reports of my death. "She should have known better" was one phrase which sprang to mind!
 
We heard distant lions, hyaenas and elephants. A spotted hyaena walked around our vehicle during the night. I heard the slow, steady footfalls on the dried leaves. But as soon as we turned on a torch (flashlight) it disappeared into the bush.Strangely enough I did manage to get some sleep during the course of the night. It wasn't the best night's sleep I've ever had but it also wasn't the worst.
 

Photos
  • Bushcamping
  • Cheetah
  • Kudu
  • Heading to the water
  • Mud bath
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Dog Rehabilitation Facility
  • Hwange Wildlife
 
Spoor of Dogs
Monday, October 8, 2007
This morning we found the spoor (tracks) of 3 or possibly 4 dogs. We think these are the dogs that have been seen around Caterpillar pan (waterhole) recently. I was supposed to be going to the Childrens Bushcamp this afternoon to see an art class in progress but the prospect of seeing 3 or 4 dogs made me change my plans. So now I'll visit the art class on Wednesday instead.
 
Of course, as it turned out we didn't see the dogs this afternoon but there you go!
 
As we walked back to the house this evening we saw wide-set eyes in the bushes and it turned out to be buffalo - one African animal you don't want to be walking into accidentally in the dark. After examining the eyes more carefully we decided they were far enough away for us to safely make it into the house. And now I can hear them outside, crashing through the bushes around the house.

Photos
  • Buffalo bull
  • Buffalo in the dust
  • Buffalo herd
 
Lupote
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Today Jealous and I were searching for dogs once more, again with no success. It can be very demoralizing to search and search without even the tiniest bleep on the headphones. But that's how it goes when you're looking for Painted Dogs.
 
In the afternoon I went with Jealous to his home in Lupote, not far from the Painted Dog project. This is his family home, which he shares with his mother and brothers and their families. Jealous showed us how they store their sorghum and maize, how they make their own bricks, how they built their homes and finally, the nearby borehole, provided by the Painted Dog project and now used by about 60 people in the area. In the mornings it is mostly used by villagers collecting water and in the afternoon it is used for watering the cattle. This area is not far from the national park and the cattle used to wander widely, looking for food and water. Now they don't have to wander so far for water and as a consequence fewer of them are killed by hyaenas and lions.
 
While we were visiting I did a quick sketch, which caused great amusement amongst the children when they saw their cooking pots, goats & chickens in the drawing. It is always wonderful to be invited to someone's home and this was a great experience. 

Photos
  • Lupote
  • Sketching
 
Searching for Dogs
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Another long day searching for dogs. Today Jealous and I headed out to the hunting areas which surround Hwange National Park. At every camp Jealous asked for information on dog sightings but no-one had seen dogs since August, except at one camp where they had a sighting last week. It was a long, hot day and we had no signal from any of the dog collars we tried to locate.
Photos
  • Tracking Dogs
  • Kudu & Zebra
  • Elephant Tracks
  • Giraffes
  • Kudu
  • Giraffe
  • Lionesses
  • Warthog
  • Zebra
  • Cheetah
 
Tough Life in the Bush
Friday, October 5, 2007
More lions today, again with a baby elephant kill. It seems that the lions here have found a favourite prey, probably easier than buffalo. Later in the day we saw a herd of sable come to drink at a waterhole. One female had a broken leg and hobbled along behind the others. She and 2 youngsters waded into the mud trying to find clean drinking water because the elephants were monopolizing the clean water. More elephants arrived and the sable were trapped in the mud, afraid to pass the elephants. The rest of the herd walked away from the waterhole and the 2 youngsters tried to follow by wading through the center of the waterhole - the thickest, muddiest part, also occupied by the hippos and a couple of large crocodiles. They got stuck and at one point one of them has its head on a crocodile's back! But the croc was obviously not hungry and ignored the calf. Eventually the rest of the herd returned to the waterhole and the calves broke free from the mud and followed the herd. The injured female was not welcome and several of the adults butted her with their horms, perhaps afraid that she would attract predators to the herd. They left without her and she hobbled off alone in a different direction. This kind of scene is witnessed quite freqently around waterholes at this time of year. It reminds you of how tough life in the bush really is.
Photos
  • Lions with kill
  • Baboon
  • Elephant damage
  • Stolen kill
  • Looking at a crocodile
 
School Visits
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Today I joined Zulu, the Painted Dog's Conservation Education Officer, as he visited some of the local schools. He is conducting an art competition for children who have visited the bush camp and know the painted dogs. They have to colour in an outline of the dogs and complete a sentence that starts "I like Painted Dogs because...". The best entries will win a prize but prizes are very hard to find these days. The children are happy even if they receive just one pencil in recognition of their efforts so I decided to donate 2 of my baseball caps as prizes. While the children were colouring their dogs I was sketching them from the back of the class (I'll be putting these sketches online very soon.)  Many of the children walk for miles to reach school and value their chance to get some kind of education. It was an interesting and thought-provoking day. The teachers try to teach with virtually no materials and work for extremely low salaries. In fact they were on strike and were not sure whether their students would be taking their exams in a couple of days.
Photos
  • St Francis Primary School visit
  • Drawing Class
  • Sketching in Class
  • Busy!
 
A Day With Dogs
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
We found the 2 male dogs again early this morning (Pita and one of his offspring). They trotted along the road in front of us with occasional forays off into the bush, eventually settling down out of sight in the bush. We stayed with them for a couple of hours, listening to the reassuring bleep from the headphones, to make sure they weren't going to move again. When we knew they were settled for the day we moved off to have some lunch at a shadier spot. Then at about 3pm we returned to them and waited until about 5pm when they started moving. These dogs are the father and brother of the dog that was released from the Rehabilitiation Center and the hope was that the 3 of them would find each other (they single male was released close by) and stay together but this has not happened yet. We watched the dogs as they got up and greeted each other, begging for food and making their lovely chattering sounds. Then they set off along the road and I managed some sketching as we bumped along behind them. As it got darker they peeled off into the bush and we returned to camp as it is impossible to follow them in the dark.
Photos
  • Painted Dogs on the road
  • Greeting ceremony
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Elephants Everywhere!
 
Elephants But No Dogs
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
My husband Nigel is flying home today so Jealous and I set of in search of dogs again, without success. We stopped briefly at the Nyamandhlovu platform which was surrounded by elephants. Although it is great to be able to sit so close to these huge animals it is not a calm and peaceful scene at this time of year. New herds run to the water scattering those already drinking, calves get separated from their mothers and there is constant jostling and squealing. One young bull pushed a younger bull to the floor and started jabbing him with his sharp tusks. The younger bull got up but appeared shaken and walked away on his own. The lack of water stresses the herds and this is very obvious from their behaviour.
Photos
  • Elephants
  • Sable
  • Blackwinged Stilt
  • Giraffes
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Hwange Wildlife
  • Elephants Everywhere!
 
Promising Signals
Monday, October 1, 2007
Today is Nigel's last day at PDC so we searched again for the lone dog but didn't find him. We found a signal from 2 males late in the afternoon but even though the signal was strong we couldn't locate them in the thick bush. But a signal (even when you can't see the dogs) is better than no signal at all so we went back to Ganda Lodge quite happy and had our dinner near the waterhole watching elephants. Lovely!
Photos
  • Elephants at the Railway Line
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Home for 6 Weeks
 
Mechanical Challenges
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Today we searched again for dogs, stopping for lunch at the Jambile picnic site. These sites are great. They often have an attendant who looks after them and there is borehole water, a toilet and shower (very basic but always clean as the attendant has nothing else to do). As I wrote my journal I could hear the elephants at the waterhole 100 yards away. In the journal I had been writing about how pleasant these rest sites are and thought I had cursed us because about 30 seconds after leaving the rest camp we had a flat tyre. This is not a major problem as Jealous carries 2 spares. The problem was that one of the wheel nuts would not shift. We tried everything, even spraying the nut with coke (which apparently has much the same effect as WD40) and Jealous even used his axe to cut a notch in the nut and try to hammer it free. Eventually he tightened all the other nuts again and this time it came undone, much to my relief.
 
We continued our search for dogs (in the last 2 days we have searched for 22 hours) but dusk came, no dogs were in sight and we headed back to camp only to find a lone dog on the main road. This dog was released from the Dog Rehabilitiation Facility while Nigel and I were in Victoria Falls. He had been caught in a snare and was released close to his old pack mate, but it seems that they didn't reconnect so now he's on his own. He looked well fed, which is good but a lone dog cannot afford any mistakes. One injury can mean the end of him so we hope he joins up with other dogs soon.

Photos
  • A lone dog
  • Painted Dog at Dusk
  • Elephant Bone
 
The Search Continues
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Today we searched for dogs all day but with no luck. However we did find roan antelope, a white rhino and three lions (one male next to a baby elephant kill then 2 lionesses lying on the road at dusk). Just another day in the life of a dog tracker!
Photos
  • Jealous
  • Lion
  • White rhino
  • In the PDC truck
 
Things Go Better With Coke
Friday, September 28, 2007
Today my husband Nigel and I left The Hide and returned to the Painted Dog project. We are staying at Ganda Lodge which is very close to the project and were very pleasantly surprised to find that they had had a food and drink delivery so were able to have a lovely cold coke while watching elephants at the waterhole. The cook also does amazing things with the limited food supply and we ate very well while we were there.
 
 
Victoria Falls
Thursday, September 27, 2007

It is my last day looking for dogs until next week as tomorrow my husband, Nigel, arrives and we will be spending time in Victoria Falls. But this afternoon we were successful in finding the 2 male dogs again, in the bush near the Makwa waterhole. They had killed a female kudu near the waterhole but unfortunately we were not the only ones who noticed - the 2 lionesses also saw and immediately stole the kill for themselves. The dogs could only watch as the lionesses ate their meal. This is why the dogs have to be such efficient predators - they often lose their kills to lions or hyaenas. By the time we left it was getting dark but hopefully the dogs managed to kill again and didn't go hungry.

When Nigel and I arrived in Victoria Falls we were quite surprised at how many tourists there as we had been expecting a ghost town. It was also a relief to be able to get a good meal and drinks. This is because Victoria Falls is a tourist town and because it is close to the Botswana and Zambian borders so it is easier to get supplies from outside the country.

Althought I have visited the Falls several times they are always impressive. They are 1 mile (1.5km wide) and 330 feet (100m) deep. The water flow is seasonal and although this is not the time of highest water levels, there is still a huge amount of water flowing over the sheer drop. As you approach the Falls you see the spray rising high in the air and then you hear the roar of the water. As you walk closer you wonder what exactly you are about to see!

David Livingstone was the first European to see the Falls in 1855. He arrived by canoe with his local guide. They landed on an island in the middle of the Zambezi river above the Falls, walked to the edge and looked over. I can only imagine his surprise at what he saw. He named the Falls after Queen Victoria, although the local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is more descriptive. It means "the smoke that thunders". Nigel and I spent 2 days at the Falls. The first visit was to video and photograph, the second visit was to sketch. We saw some amazing rainbows and there was quite a lot of spray, which makes painting in watercolor a little easier!

While at Victoria Falls we also spent a few hours on a sundown cruise on the Zambezi River. It is quite strange because although you are not far from the Falls, the river is quiet, calm and smooth. You can see the spray rising in the distance and hippos in the shallows. The sun set as a beautiful red ball behind one of the green islands. Wonderful!

For the next 3 nights Nigel and I were officially on holiday / vacation. We had booked 3 nights at a private lodge called The Hide, in Hwange National Park. (I should point out that this is not funded by the AFC Flag Expedition program!) The Hide is not too far from the Painted Dog project so we knew there was a chance of seeing dogs while we were there. Unfortunately that was not to be, but we did see plenty - lions, buffalo, hundreds of elephants and many different antelope species including the regal sable. We spent one morning sitting in a hide (which is disguised as a termite mound) next to the waterhole and had great close-up views as wildebeest, zebra, impala and giraffe came down to drink.

Somehow Nigel and I had managed to get the honeymoon tent. I use the word 'tent' in the loosest possible way as we had a double bed, en-suite bathroom with tub overlooking the vlei (open grassland) and chairs on our own veranda. At night we lay in bed watching elephants walk past the tent on their way to drink. It was full moon so we could see clearly all night, Every time we heard a strange sound we just sat up in bed and looked out through the doors. For 2 nights we had a heard of buffalo bulls lying 30 feet outside our tent. We could hear them chewing the cud. The elephants were incredibly noisy. If you didn't know better, you could easily mistake some of their deep grumblings for lions. Until you hear a lion that is! On our second night we were woken at 1am by a male lion calling. The volume was incredible. He drank from the waterhole and we could hear him lapping up water. It was magic.

So now we are back at the dog project and for the next few days Nigel will also be here. Hopefully we'll find the dogs again.


Photos
  • Main Falls, Victoria Falls
  • Devil's Cataract, Victoria Falls
  • Main Falls, Victoria Falls
  • The Flag at Main Falls
  • Victoria Falls
  • Rainbows at Victoria Falls
  • Sketching at Victoria Falls
  • Elephants at Victoria Falls
  • Lion
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Victoria Falls
 
Tracking with Jealous
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I am now spending more time out "dogging" with Jealous, the PDC tracker. Even though some of the dogs are collared, it is still very difficult to find them due to their huge home ranges. Each collared dog has its own tracking frequency so you plug in the number and listen through the headphones for a telltale beep. Of course you have to know which dogs are likely to be in which area or you will spend your time listening on the wrong frequency. The tracking device has a range of about 3km but it doesn't indicate the direction, so when you hear a beep you have to change to the directional antenna, which can tell you the correct direction. Even then the dog may be in an area which you cannot reach by vehicle. So tracking is never easy.

The first day we searched with no luck at all but the second day we found a lone male dog at Caterpillar pan (waterhole) inside the National Park. Jealous didn't recognise the dog. Apparently a group of four dogs have been visiting this pan on a regular basis (which may mean they have a den and pups nearby, although it would be a little late in the year for this). Anyway, over the next few days we found that the dogs had an uncanny ability to predict our movements. They would appear just after we left or just before we arrived. It was very frustrating. But while we waited, we watched hundreds of elephants coming to the waterhole, including some very small calves.
 
One day we sat and waited for the dogs from 6.30am to about 10.30am then headed back to camp. We arrived back at the waterhole at about 4pm and found a baby elephant stuck, upside down in the narrow drinking trough. We assume it was accidentally pushed in by adults while it was trying to drink. Its legs were waving in the air and there were no elephants nearby which was surprising us as we had not expected its mother to have abandoned it so quickly. Even a tiny calf like this can be very dangerous, one kick can easily break bones so Jealous and I could not try to move it alone. Jealous radioed Peter, the PDC Project Manager and he drove over to take a look. Of course by now there were about 50 elephants drinking from the waterhole so this was a dangerous situation.One of them may be the mother or, even if she was not there, the other elephants may try to protect the calf if we got too close. We used the 2 vehicles to form a barrier and Peter threw a towrope around the calf's front legs. Jealous was under strict instructions to drive at the other elephants (who were only 30 feet away) if they showed signs of coming closer. As Peter drove forward the calf was pulled upright and then staggered away from the trough. The towrope fell free and the baby was released! It seemed fine and immediately started bellowing for its mother. Later it left the waterhole with a small group of elephants but we don't think its mother was among them. It was unusual for such a young calf to have been abandoned but Peter thinks probably the mother was young and inexperienced. Or maybe it had already lost its mother when it arrived at the waterhole and fell in the trough.

Today we were out tracking again (having given up on the 4 dogs at Caterpillar pan) and near Makwa I heard a beep through the headphones. Just up the road we found 2 male dogs but, rather confusingly, they belong to 2 different packs and are not normally found together. The older dog is called Pita and is alpha male of the Umtshibi Pack. The younger dog is one of his offpsring, who had left to form a new pack - the Young Umtshibi. They trotted to the waterhole where they cautiously had a drink but then a spotted hyaena appeared. Hyaenas will often follow dogs in an attempt to steal their kills so this one came closer. The 2 dogs chased the hyaena and I got some great action shots. Both these dogs are collared but despite the anti-snare device on the collars one of them had a cut on his throat as if he had been recently caught in a snare. The dogs hung around for a while and the light was great so the sighting was perfect. I didn't manage to do any sketching at the time because there was too much action with the dogs moving and then chasing the hyaena so I flet I had to photogrph and video this. I don't normally sketch from photos when I'm in the bush but I think I need some evidence of this sighting in my journal so I may break my rule for once.


Photos
  • Hwange National Park
  • Jealous
  • Dogs on the road
  • Painted Dog at Makwa
  • Drinking
  • Seen something
  • Spotted Hyaena
  • Chasing the Hyaena
  • Elephant stuck in trough!
  • Painted Dogs at Makwa Pan
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Elephant Calf Rescue
  • Tracking Painted Dogs
 
Children's Bushcamp
Thursday, September 13, 2007
This week I have spent a great deal of time at the Children's Bushcamp because the Harare International School is visiting (Harare is the capital city of Zimbabwe). 20 schools visit each year, most of them from local areas, and they stay for a week. The children are taught all about the Painted Dogs and conservation efforts in the area. They go on anti-poaching patrols, game drives, spend time at the visitors center and the dog rehabilitation unit. The local schools visit for free. The private schools pay for their visit and also donate additional money to pay for a local school to visit. The children are aged 12 or 13 and are divided into several "packs" during their stay. They have morning, afternoon and evening activities. I accompanied two of the "packs" on their anti-poaching activity. This was far more strenous than it sounds. Although it is early September it is already very hot and we walked for about 3.5 hours through some quite thick bush. We had to quickly leave one area when we found breeding herds of elephant close by. The ground was covered in buffalo and elephant spoor (tracks) and it is very difficult to look for snares, watch where you are walking and also look out for wildlife.
 
We were taken to an area where poachers had been arrested recently for killing 2 kudu (large antelope). The poachers had pointed out some of their snares but the anti-poaching unit were convinced that there were more, so they brought us back to check out the area. In a fairly small area of low bushes we found 30 large snares. They were set in the kind of shady area and if a buffalo herd had come here many of them would have been caught. The snares were double layers of wire, attached tightly to a tree. A large loop is hung in the bushes, hooked onto low branches. When the animal puts its head or foot into the snare and tries to walk, the loop will close and the snare will tighten. The animal will struggle to break free, tightening the loop even further. Sometimes they can pull the whole snare from the tree but the loose wire can catch on another bush and the animal may be trapped in another location. Snares can cause horrendous injuries even to animals who break free.
 
Snares are set by some villagers who then sell the "bush meat" to other villagers. The anti-poaching unit remove snares and apprehend poachers who are then handed over to the police. Poachers may have to do community service or may be sent to prison. Normally the anti-poaching unit do not carry firearms because the poachers in this area are not armed, but when the children go out there is an armed guide who watches for wildlife.
 
The Dog Rehabilitation Facility is another area the children visit. They see the dogs being fed and hear the very strange, bird-like noises that they make. The dogs are like birds in aother way - they regurgitate food for their pups and other pack members. They don't fight for food at a kill, the important thing is to eat all the meat as quickly as possible so that it can't be stolen by another predator. Then the dogs who have not received enough will beg from other members of the pack and food will be regurgitated for them. That way food is shared equally.
 
The full life cycle of a Painted Dog is explained in the Visitor Center, a brand new, thatched building beside the main road into Hwange National Park. The story of the dogs is told by focussing on Eyespot, a real Painted Dog who was collared by researchers. Each section of his life is wonderfully illustrated and explained using photos, paintings and text (in English and Ndebele). The sections focus on Eyespot's life as a pup, his family life, the hunt, his training to be a hunter, how he left his 'birth pack' to start a new pack, how his new pack were snared and killed, and finally, how the future is uncertain for the species. It is a truly impressive center, explaining every known facet of Eyespot's life and why we should conserve this fascinating species.
 
As part of their visit the children also accompanied both dog and lion researchers for an afternoon. Approximately 40 lions have been collared and lion numbers are increasing in the area (lion hunting in areas surrounding the national park was recently stopped to allow their numbers to be correctly determined). I went out with the Lion research project one afternoon and using the radio collars we found 3 lions and 2 lionesses lying in the bushes to escape the heat of the day. We think they had a buffalo kill but the bush was too thick to see through.
 
This afternoon I am out with the children and Jealous, the Painted Dog tracker, to see if we can locate any of these elusive dogs. Look out for more updates in the coming days. 

Photos
  • Childrens Bushcamp
  • The PDC Anti-Poaching Unit
  • Removing a snare
  • Iganyana Art & Craft Center
  • Art Center
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Childrens Bushcamp
  • Anti-Poaching Unit
 
Hello from Zimbabwe!
Friday, September 7, 2007

I have arrived safely (and so has my baggage) and I've had a hectic first week here at the Painted Dog Conservation project. I flew from New York to Johannesburg in South Africa (we refueled in Senegal in West Africa) and then on toVictoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I left New York on the evening of the 29th August and arrived in Victoria Falls mid-morning on the 31st. Unfortunately it was too hazy to see the waterfall when I flew in but I'll be back in a couple of weeks to see the Falls properly.

I haven't been in Zimbabwe for a few years so it was strange (and strangely familiar) to be driving down the straight, tree-lined road from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park, passing local villages, baobab trees and lots of cattle.
 
The Painted Dog Conservation project is located just outside Hwange National Park and has facilities in a couple of locations. The new Visitor Center is beside the main road into the national park and the Dog Rehabilitation Facility and Children's Bushcamp are close by. The PDC offices are in the new Visitors Center but I was staying a few kilometers away, where the old offices were located, next to Ganda Lodge. As I arrived, the official opening for the Visitors Center was taking place. There was a big party for the local chief and villagers, PDC staff, National Parks staff and other visitors including Chris McClelland (an AFC member) and Margie, his wife. They had emailed me previously to say that they may be here when I arrived...and here they were! We hadn't met before but over the next few days I saw quite a lot of them and I'm sure we'll get together again in the future.

The next day was Saturday so I took the day to get my bearings and take a look at the waterhole next to Ganda Lodge (within walking distance of where I am staying). It is very quiet, as are many lodges in Zimbabwe these days, so I spent the whole afternoon sketching alone as elephants and buffalo visited for a drink.Then I went to the Dog Rehabilitation Facility where I got my first up-close look at the dogs. Generally, the dogs in rehab have been injured (mostly by snares) or have been sent to PDC from other parts of the country. I'll be back to the Rehab Center again soon to see them feeding the dogs.

I spent the next 4 days out with Ester who is doing her PhD about the dogs, trying to find out why they spend so much time outside the park, where they are obviously in more danger of being snared, shot by farmers or hit by vehicles on the roads at night. Ester is trying to find out if there is a difference in prey behaviour outside the park so she is studying the duiker (a small antelope), impala and kudu, which are the dogs main prey. For one week each month she visits a different waterhole each day, some inside and some outside the park. She stays at the waterhole for 12 hours from 6am to 6pm and notes the behaviour of the impala and kudu who come to drink. So together we visited 4 different waterholes. It was hot (40C in the shade) so sitting in the vehicle was quite uncomfortable at times but some of the waterholes have viewing platforms so that it is far more pleasant. Over the course of the 4 days we have seen hundreds of elephant, hundreds of buffalo, many antelope species, 5 white rhino, 2 lionesses and 3 Painted Dogs! We found the dogs lying on the sandy road near Makwa pan (waterhole) in the late afternoon. They lay next to us for a while, completely unconcerned and enjoying the cooling temperatures of the late afternoon, then they got up and trotted down the road to the waterhole where they were chased continuously by elephants, had to move out of the way of a large white rhino and were then chased by 2 lionesses! Lions are one of the dogs' main enemies so this was a tense moment. Luckily the dogs escaped and disappeared into the bush. It was a wonderful first sighting, especially as the dogs escaped without harm into the dusk.

So it has been a pretty tiring start to my trip but sitting by a waterhole for 12 hours straight is a great way to get some decent sketching done. My journal is filling up fast and if I continue at this rate I may need another one! I have also managed to do a couple of Yupo sketches and have taken some great photos, which I am trying to send so that they can be loaded onto this site. However, the connection is a slow dial-up and I am trying to find away to reduce the file size of the photos I have taken (even if I take them on the lowest resolution my camera allows they are far too large to send from here). I'll figure something out and hope to get you photos soon.

Now I'm off to the Dog Rehab as they will be feeding the dogs today. So that's it from me for now. I'll send another update next week.


Photos
  • Visitors Center
  • Inside the Visitor Center
  • Bushbuck
  • Baboons on a Termite Mound
  • Butterfly
  • Resting Dogs
  • Painted Dog
  • Dogs and elephants
  • Move!
  • Dogs and White Rhino
  • Elephants everywhere!
  • Zebra
  • Impala
  • Impala and Baboons
  • Drinking elephants
  • White rhino
  • Sketching elephants
  • Waterhole scene
  • Blue Wildebeest
  • Pan at Sunset
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Visitor Center
  • Dog Rehabilitation Facility
  • Home for 6 Weeks
 
Departure!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

By the time you read this my Flag Expedition will be underway. I'll update this blog while I'm away if I can, but even if this is not possible during my trip, I will be posting lots of new entries, sketches and photos when I return.  So wish me luck and plenty of great dog sightings! 


Photos
  • Departure
 
August 2007 - Art Materials
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
 Now that my visit to Zimbabwe is less than a month away, I am making sure that I have all the right art materials. If you have been into an art supply store recently you will know that there are endless options available. (In order to ensure that I donít come home with half the store, I make a list and try not to wander aimlessly picking up bits and pieces along the way. Ordering online works well too.)

So what exactly do I take with me on a bush trip? Hereís my checklist:

Paints. I have a wonderfully small, lightweight watercolor set containing 14 half pans (blocks of solid paint), two small mixing palettes and a water container which sits in the lid. I also have another collapsible water container for use in camp when I have more time and space available for painting.

Brushes. I take a variety of sizes, although I donít use any of the really large mop or wash brushes that I normally use in the studio. The brushes have plastic tubes which protect the brush hairs and they are stored in a canvas brush holder which unfolds into a stand, keeping them both handy and clean.

Paper. Iíll have the AFC Journal, a lovely leather-bound book in which I will be recording all sorts of details about the trip Ė daily sightings, sketches, notes, future painting ideas etc. In addition I plan on doing some watercolor sketches so Iíll be taking 11Ē x 14Ē sheets of Yupo paper in a hard binder.

Pencils etc. Iíll have a selection of graphite pencils, a range of colored watercolor pencils and a variety of fine tipped drawing pens.

All my materials are lightweight, compact and can be packed away quickly (very useful when your wildlife subject decides to walk away). Over the years I have figured out which materials suit my sketching style, but it took plenty of trial and error. But with the range of materials available today, even the trial and error is fun!  


Photos
  • Art Materials
 
July 2007 - the Expedition Journal
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
I am sure you have heard artists say that the hardest part of creating a painting is making the first mark on a blank canvas or piece of watercolor paper. Well imagine that you don't just have a single piece of paper but that you have an entire journal to complete. One of the thoughts that has been occupying my mind recently is 'how I will begin my expedition journal?' What exactly will I put on that daunting first page? A sketch, my expedition logo, a map?

My journal is a lovely leather-bound notebook provided by Artists For Conservation (along with an AFC Flag which will be featured prominently in the expedition photos). In the journal I will record details of my entire trip Ė notes of my daily activities and sightings, sketches of the dogs and other wildlife of the area, small Ďthumbnailí sketches which are ideas for future paintings as well as anything else of interest that I find on my travels. I will be spending the vast majority of time at the Painted Dog Conservation project (PDC) based on the edge of Hwange National Park but will also be visiting Victoria Falls (or Mosi-oa-Tunya) so interspersed with dog sketches you can expect some dramatic waterfalls and scenes of the Zambezi river.

After the expedition the journal will be scanned and you will be able to read the whole journal from cover to cover on the AFC website. Then, starting in spring 2008, I am planning an exhibition series to raise funds for the Painted Dog Conservation project. These exhibitions will include reproductions of pages from the journal. So whether you see the journal pages in an exhibition or whether you read the journal online, examine the first page at length and remember that this was the most difficult page to create!


Photos
  • AFC Expedition Journal
 
June 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Another three months to go before I head off to Zimbabwe for my Flag Expedition! My flights are booked - New York to Johannesburg then on to Victoria Falls. My husband Nigel will be joining me for 2 weeks but for most of my trip I will be staying at the Painted Dog Conservation project in Hwange National Park.
 
I'm trying to complete some of my many administrative tasks before I go. You might be surprised at how much admin is involved in being an artist. Whenever I finish a new painting I note the details in my card file, photograph it, store it correctly and upload the image, price and details to my website. Like any other business I have to keep good accounts and keep my mailing list up to date. And there are numerous other tasks like this. So some time ago I began scheduling one day each month for admin. Now I can concentrate on painting until admin day rears its head and then I get all my filing, banking and record keeping done. Well thats the theory. In reality I may need more than one admin day each month. So I'm trying to clear the backlog before I go away. 
 
At the beginning of June I wrote my first email newsletter, containing information about my Flag Expedition, my latest paintings and sketches and a section I called "Snippets from the Studio". I've had a great deal of positive feedback from the first issue so if you would like to receive this monthly email please add your details to my Mailing List. I will update this blog on a monthly basis before my trip and as often as I can when I'm away. July's entry will cover the expedition journal I'll be completing during the trip. 

 
 
May 2007 - Preparations
Thursday, May 31, 2007

Although my expedition to Zimbabwe takes place in late August I am already knee-deep in preparations. One of my main expedition aims is to raise awareness of Painted Dogs, the Painted Dog Conservation project (PDC), AFC and my artwork. All this requires publicity and lots of it. Print publications, TV, Radio and Internet coverage are all part of the plan, so updating websites, sending press releases and researching organizations online have been keeping me busy. Luckily my previous incarnation as a computer consultant comes in handy here.

I have created a new page, called AFC Expedition, on my personal website and there is plenty of new information on the AFC Flag Expeditions page too. Next I will be coordinating with PDC to link our websites.

Making sure I have the right equipment for the trip is also essential. I'll talk about art materials in the next entry but other equipment I'll be taking include an SLR camera, video camera, GPS and probably a satellite phone (that'll keep my family happy!). For the technical among you, here are my camera details. I went digital last year and bought a Sony A100 10Megapixel SLR with 2 lenses, an 18-70ml and a 75-300ml. I have a nice lightweight tripod which is invaluable when I need to take shots of myself sketching. I have three 1GB compact flash memory cards but this will not be enough for a 6 week trip so I'm buying a digital storage device with an 80GB hard drive. I will plug my memory cards into this and download the images, leaving my memory card free for new photos. I don't want to carry a laptop so this is a perfect solution.

My other main task at the moment is scheduling exhibitions and talks for my return. I sketch when I'm in the bush so I will need several months after my return to complete a number of larger watercolors. Then in March 2008 I will begin exhibiting the new watercolors along with sketches, journal pages and other items from the trip. My aim is to have the exhibit on display for the whole of 2008. I aim to schedule at least one talk at each exhibition venue and will be planning additional talks at other locations. Hopefully I will be able to coordinate the talk schedule with Gregory Rasmussen of PDC so that we can give some talks jointly.

In addition to this I am working on commissions, giving lectures about living in Africa and putting together my new email newsletters. Please email me at alison@nichollswildlifeart.com if you have any questions about the trip which you would like me to answer or if you would like to receive my newsletters.
 

 
 

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