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The Story of Snare

The Story of Snare

The Story of Snare

In the many years that I have been watching and sketching wild dogs, I have never wearied of my passion for these graceful and seriously endangered animals.

Thick coats of black and gold, splashed with unique white markings and white flagged tails, greeted us when we first saw the particular pack of wild dogs that we watched throughout 2007, in the south of the Save Valley Conservancy. Lean and long-legged, with astonishingly large black ears and elegant black masks, these animals were a painter's dream of energetic movement and colour.

Except for one young female. A gaping wound betrayed a wire snare wrapped tight around her throat. She was wary and difficult to approach, since the pack had not yet denned. I called her 'Snare' and knew she would die if we did not help her.

The Alpha female of Snare's pack was visibly pregnant, and obviously looking for a suitable den site. After many anxious days, scouts located the den in a warthog burrow and we began to  habituate the dogs to our presence, in the process discovering that  more than nine pups had been born.

Each day I watched Snare struggle to breathe. She resolutely trailed after her pack on every hunt, interacting as best she could with her boisterous siblings. Thin and subdued, she avoided playing with the new puppies, unlike her sisters.

Her siblings licked her terrible wound and chaperoned her constantly. I cried as her brother repeatedly tried to bite the terrible noose from her neck. Snare tried hard to interact with her siblings in the pep rallies before evening hunts, but she could not match their playful exuberance.

Another tragedy then hit the dogs - a python discovered the burrow and, overnight, ate many of the pups. The Alpha female immediately relocated the four surviving pups to a nearby warthog burrow.

After some aborted attempts to dart the elusive Snare, eventually we immobilized her. Removing the wire, we found that it had begun to cut into her trachea. Cleaning the wound as best we could, we administered antibiotics and hope...

Then came a transformation that was wondrous to behold - slowly but surely Snare went from strength to strength,  interacting more and more each day with the pups and hunting with her pack.

She was a new animal, the breath still faintly whistling through the healing hole in her neck, but her eyes bright and her enthusiasm boundless. She became a leader of the hunt, often being the first to return with the Alpha male, both bloody necked from a successful kill, to regurgitate food for the Alpha female and the pups.       

Snare will be forever an icon of survival in my memory; an indomitable, invaluable, social animal.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 08, March 2012)