Monday, November 02, 2009
I've gone to the dogs
Big news... I have been appointed as one of the patrons of the Australian-based wildlife charity Painted Dog Conservation Inc!
When I started writing books about Africa I hoped that one day there would be some way I could do something via my writing to help raise awareness (or money) for conservation issues.
After a false start (in which one organisation told me they didn't want me to help them raise money because I wasn't famous enough - ouch), I was contacted out of the blue one day by John and Angela Lemon, who run the Painted Dog Conservation organisation in Western Australia.
John and Ange had read my third book, SAFARI which features a (very attractive) painted dog researcher, Michelle Parker, who is based in Hwange Natioinal Park, Zimbabwe. As it turned out, John and Ange had also been working on dog research and conservation in the same park, and John had been instrumental in building a painted dog interprative centre and refuge just outside Hwange's Main Camp.
Readers with long memories may recall that I've spoken at a couple of John and Ange's fundraisers over the past two years, and auctioned off names in my books to help them raise money. There are a couple of big donors to the cause who feature as characters in my latest book, IVORY.
Painted Dog Conservation Inc supports in-situ painted dog research and conservation projects in Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The interpretive centre, which I visited recently during my trip to Zimbabwe, is quite frankly the best facility of its kind I have ever seen. And I'm not just saying this because I'm now a patron. (I'm standing out the front of the centre in the picture up the top of this post).
The centre provides a wealth of informaiton about the endangered painted dog via the (mostly true) story of one plucky doggy, named Eyespot. Large colourful murals paint the painted dog picture in a way kids (and grown ups) can absorb information, and have their heart strings tugged at the same time.
There's no entrance fee to the centre, though by the time you've heard all of Eyespot's trials and tribulations (delivered in a very warm, and very polished manner by the lady guide) you can't wait to get your wallet out.
Interestingly, and scarily, the entire building (and it's a biggy) is made of mud bricks reinforced by snare wire. Subsistence poachers place snares in the national park to trap small buck, such as Impala, for food, but curious predators (like the dog below) and every other manner of mammal also get ensnared. One of the main activities of the dog conservation project in Hwange is anti-poaching patrols and snare collection.
As well as educating visitors and locals alike, the centre also functions as a refuge for injured or otherwise disadvantaged painted dogs. While I was there visiting the centre was caring for a litter of puppies whose parents had been killed by lions. With other animals these might have been left to die in the wild, but there are so few painted dogs left in Africa (only about 2,500) that these little doggies had to be saved.
Our guide around the enclosures, Xmas, (that's him and me below) told us that once the pups reached a certain age (big but not too big) they should be able to be reintroduced to the wild and adopted by another pack. What nice animals these dogs are.
Now, I'm not sure what a patron is supposed to do, so if you have any ideas, please let me know. For now, it's probably enough that you all click through to the website here and learn a bit more about painted dogs.
I might not know what to do, but I am touched and honoured to have been invited to lend my ongoing support to this very good cause.