Back in 2009, when I’d really just started travelling as part of my job as a journalist, I got invited to spend some time in Zimbabwe. At that point, the country had just been ‘restarted’ under a coalition government and the Zim dollar had been replaced by the US dollar to stabilise the economy.
My trip’s main highlight was a visit to Vic Falls, but as with all travel, it’s the small details that are often the most interesting to me. As an added extra, we were treated to an evening at The Hide in Hwange National Park. Now the park has seen it’s share of hardships as with the rest of the country, but passion and dedication had kept up the levels of conservation here as best as possible at that point. While the infrastructure looked a little worn, all in all it was holding up pretty well considering how little money is channeled into upkeep and maintenance. On our way out of the park, we decided to stop at a small, newly-built centre just outside the main gate. It had piqued our interest on the way in and really, how often do you find yourself in Hwange with some time to kill?
The Painted Dog Conservation Centre had only been open for a few months at that point, but the dedication to the cause of saving endangered wild dogs was bright and clear. The centre, a rehab centre for injured dogs as well as an information centre for passing travellers and locals, is beautifully set up with interesting details, informed staff and a small wooden walkway that loops over an enclosure for the wild dogs in the rehab centre.
The assistant manager of Painted Dog Conservation, Forgie Wilson, showed us around in the short time that we had. The info centre is beautifully laid out and has so much detail about these gorgeous creatures, while the wooden walkway allowed us the chance to spot the wild dogs currently residing there. What was important to me was that this isn’t a place to go and cuddle cute wild dog puppies, it is a genuine conservation centre focused on helping injured wild dogs and educating locals on the importance of these animals in our ecosystem.
Forgie explained that the term ‘wild’ made the animal seem scary and dangerous to locals. This meant there was little regard for their wellbeing, with wild dogs often killed or run over, making their dwindling population all that more scarce. By using the term ‘painted dog’, locals were being involved in their conservation efforts and taught about why it’s important to save this endangered species, and making them seem ‘less scary’.
You may wonder why I’m writing about some place that I visited what seems like forever ago. This morning I came across the Painted Dog Conservation Facebook page and it made my heart so happy that the centre has not only flourished in what I imagine must be difficult circumstance, but has added community development to its role and is happily reporting on a new litter of pups inside Hwange itself.
If you’re visiting Vic Falls, it’s worth a visit out to Hwange if just for a night or two and to spend some time at the centre. This place stands for a very worthy cause and I can only wish them every success moving forward. I will go back here one day to see how they’re doing, until then Facebook updates will have to do!
I pulled out my old pictures from my visit here, they’re not the best and I clearly didn’t understand focal point of my camera on that day. Nevertheless, here are some blurry (happy) wild dogs that were based at the centre during my visit.