AFC Flag Expedition #5
In late August 2007, Alison Nicholls embarked on a six-week expedition to Hwange National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe, with a view to raising public awareness of and support for the plight of the endangered Painted Dogs.
The journey was made possible in large part by a Fellowship grant under the AFC’s Flag Expeditions Program. The expedition also served to support and draw attention to the Painted Dogs Conservation Project (PDC) based in Zimbabwe.
Today, Alison is recounting her exciting adventure through a series of artworks, lecture series, and a traveling exhibition.
The much-maligned Painted Dog is on the endangered species list, in large part due to poaching activities. Painted Dogs are a highly nomadic species that, like many top predators, have been regarded as vermin and eradicated accordingly. Their numbers have dropped dramatically from over 300,000 in 1900 to approximately 3,000 today. They have vanished from 25 of the 39 countries forming their historical range and are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature & Natural Resources (IUCN) list of endangered species. Zimbabwe contains one of the last viable dog populations and the main threats to their survival today are snares intended for other species, disease, and road traffic accidents.
Painted Dogs are also highly social. They are cooperative hunters and the loss of even one pack member can have a devastating effect on the entire pack. Every member of the pack is involved in caring for pups once they leave the den and even sick and injured pack members are fed and cared for by their companions.
With the help of scientists from the PDC, Nicholls was able to get up close and personal with the subjects of her paintings. Along with 12 and 13 year-old visiting school children, Nicholls embarked on game drives, and anti-poaching patrols with the Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) to remove snares that had been set up to trap wildlife in the area. The snares are then used by local artisans to make creative items for sale to support the PDU in its ongoing efforts to save the targeted species. Each year, 20 schools visit the area for a week-long stay to learn more about the Painted Dog and Conservation efforts.
The Visitor Centre and the dog rehabilitation unit also contributed to the learning experience, recounting the life of ‘Eyespot’, a real Painted Dog collared by researchers. Through photos, paintings and text, Eyespot’s life is illustrated and focuses on his early days as a pup, his family life, the hunt, his training, leaving his birth pack to start a new pack, and finally the uncertainty of the species’ future.
Having seen firsthand the animals in their natural habitat, and collaborating with the scientists and researchers at the PDC, Nicholls will take the next several months to complete a number of large watercolors, using the knowledge and images she acquired on her journey.
“My aim,” explains Nicholls “is to have the artworks on display for the whole of 2008, coupled with a lecture series. The exhibition will travel to various venues to help spread the word about this amazing species. I was so impressed with the efforts of the PDC that all fees from my lecture series and 25% of all artworks sold, will go in support of this amazing organization. As well, the expedition journal, detailing my six-week adventure, complete with photos, sketches, and personal observations, is now posted on the AFC website at www.natureartists.com. I am truly grateful for the opportunity that AFC has afforded me in enabling this tremendous journey.”