Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wild Bush Vet : Stalking Lions at Pandamatenga.

This is an update guest post by Dr Clay Wilson, a bush veterinarian based near Kasane in Botswana.The purpose of stalking the lions, is to dart them, so they can then be relocated to an area away from farmer's cattle. Farmers shoot the lion, or may lace a carcass with poison to kill lions preying on their cattle. That is a very indiscriminate way of solving the problem, as the poison will also kill any other animal, such as hyenas, cerval, or vultures. To lessen the impact on wildlife, Dr Clay Wilson recounts his story of trying to dart the lions that have been getting at the cattle, so he can then transfer them to a wilderness area.

Stalking Lions at Pandamatenga, and Canine Distemper Virus Vacination fundraising campaign.

Lions attacking farm cattle.
I promised an update and pictures but unfortunately, all the action was at night and I was unsuccessful in my attempts. There has been a pride of lions attacking cattle in the farm community of Pandamatenga. Unfortunately communication was not established in time and a farmer shot and killed an adult lioness. The next day I was on scene. Walking though the bush of the farm we found many fresh lion tracks to confirm they were in the area. We also found 3 snares that had been set up along game paths. This really gets my blood boiling. What a horrible death for the poor unfortunate. A cow of the farmer had died acutely, I believe of some plant toxin, so we were able to drag the carcass behind my vehicle to put out fresh scent to attract the misfits.

Expensive operation.
During this process I got stuck in the mud 5 times, broke my brand new winch which I purchased to replace the last one that burned out pulling over a darted elephant. Also a cut through the sidewall. So far the bill for this expedition is P8000.00 for winch and P2200.00 for new tire and P600.00 of fuel. At dark after a dinner of sandwiches and drinks I provided for the wardens, I had with me P340.00, we were off to set ourselves up. It had just become dark and as we drove down the road out, the culprits ran in front of us. They were already in the cattle enclosure at that time. 5 wardens squeezed into the back of the car, one in front and myself. Between the wires for spotlight with red filter, predator calls and dart gun I could hardly move.

The predator calls from our loudspeaker, wailed out various different frequencies, including a Buffalo calf in distress, the sounds of Hyenas fighting over a kill, and lions roaring to announce their territory. Our field of view was very limited as the bush was very thick, and we could only see 30 meters. I hear a noise in front and on goes the red spotlight. A fully grown lioness was through the bush 20 meters away and coming in. At this time, I mixed up the tranquilizing drug ( P 780.00) into a dart ( P 250.00) in preparation to dart her. Once the solution has been mixed its only effective for 3 days. Gun out the window awaiting her to come to the bait. Another set of eyes also running towards us at full bore. A large hyena runs in attracted by calls, and there is a sudden and violent but short fight. These are legendary enemies. There goes that opportunity.

30 minutes later another set of eyes. On with the spotlight. Here come the 2 young lions running towards us. As soon as the light goes on they disappear. They have been shot at and chased before, and every night others spotlight them and shoot up flares in an attempt to scare them in. Cages have been set with bait, but these lions are smarter than most as they have learned the ways of man.

I instructed the farmer to hang the bait in a tree and call me when the lions hit it. We head home in early hours of morning. One and half hour drive. Many elephants on the road feeding and crossing so we need to proceed cautiously. It’s amazing how such a large creature is not visible, especially if he’s walking down the road with his back to you.

A very uncomfortable night.
The next day I receive a call the lions are on the bait. Once more I head out and this time I need to change my tactics. Unfortunately, I had loaned out my night vision scope to an anti- poaching unit and have not received it back yet. Sitting alone 20 meters from the bait with only a branch to cover me, and having spread carcass contents on my clothes to mask my scent, I felt very vulnerable. The plan was to hear the lions feed on the bait then dart them without any benefit of light. Fortunately there was a sliver of moonlight so I could make out outlines. I did not expect the mosquito population, and had not brought spray as the lions would have smelled me. It was extremely uncomfortable, and miserable for the 3 hours I sat there. Wardens were waiting at camp ready to load the lions in to cages we had brought with us to relocate them. The lions never showed up. To this date they have not come back. I guess they knew there was a new sheriff in town. I wish them well and hope they change their appetite from cattle to wild game.

Not such a dramatic story, but it gives one an idea of what I deal with and the expenses involved. I don’t even want to add those up. Now I am busy organizing the vaccination campaign. Thanks to donations I will be able to pay for these and execute the inoculations in 4 days. Lots of work to do there, but it is essential for prevention of virus spread. I’m sure I will be able to post pictures of wild dogs attempting to savage my hand.

Canine Distemper Virus Vacination fundraising campaign.

Last year we had an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus in domesticated and feral dogs of Kasane, Botswana. In 4 years of service to the community I had not seen one case of this explosively deadly disease. I negotiated with relevant authorities for 9 weeks to try and get some support to vaccinate domestic dogs.
The main issue for me was that this is extremely contagious to the wildlife predator population.
Lions, Cape (painted) Wild Dogs, Hyenas, Jackals and Leopards are susceptible to this virus. In the interim during the negotiation, 3 cases in infection resulted in over 100 dogs that were affected and died. These corpses were thrown into the bush were hyenas scavenge every night, they subsequently got infected and took the virus to lions and other predators. Since sick animals go off to die it’s almost impossible to prove, as no carcasses were ever found or looked for. Kasane is a unique ecosystem in that here we live in direct contact with wildlife. There are no fences or boundaries to separate us. It of course means a lot of human wildlife conflict, but not a subject for this current concern.
 A fact is that this last past dry winter when the ONLY water source is the Chobe River and ALL animals have to come daily to drink, the predators live by the river. Prey at this time is easy to catch and there is no reason for the lions and other predators to leave the waterfront. For the first time in over 30 years I have been visiting Chobe, there were 4 months, where no lions were seen at the waterfront. To my mind the only reason for that was they died of distemper.
I am currently applying for grants and have full backing from the Parks department to research what lion logistics are in this area. This will include satellite collar monitoring and full blood work for presence of antibodies to various diseases. I know in my heart that they will be positive for distemper exposure. In the interim 2 new prides of lions have moved in to Chobe probably migrating form Savuti or even Zimbabwe. My PRIMARY concern is that I have to take immediate action and vaccinate all dogs in this community, as I did last year.
TIME is of the essence as I need to purchase vaccines from South Africa, and coordinate with all proper authorities to execute this vaccination. Dogs will be vaccinated with 5- in- one and also Rabies and dewormed. Tattoos will be placed in their ear to identify them for That was about $10 000.00 but that included blood works and all kinds of other expenses. I think I can get it done for about $5.00 /dog at an estimated cost of $5000.00

PLEASE THIS IS A SERIOUS ISSUE THAT CAN NOT WAIT TO BE EXECUTED. PLEASE DONATE WHAT YOU CAN SO I CAN GET THIS DONE. I HAVE NO OTHER SOURCE OF INCOME AT THE MOMENT AND NEED YOUR HELP. You can donate through my website or if you like, email me, and I will send you bank account numbers in USA and in Botswana to enable you to make a direct transfer. Let’s save suffering in hundreds of dogs and improve their quality of life and let’s prevent the spread into the wildlife population.

Donations may be made by Credit Card or PayPal here-Chobe Wildlife Rescue donation page

My Life…as a wild bush vet.

Dr Clay Wilson- Chobe Wildlife Rescue.

I have made donations before. Just recently I won a prize on Passports With Purpose recent fundraiser, and Ben and Carrie from purchased this for $200 which has been donated direct to CWR.
Thanks, Ben and Carrie.

All photos in this post by Dr Clay Wilson. Use on this site only.


Papercut Doll said...

I don't understand and I cannot get a grip on this story. It makes for a really interesting read but I missed the purpose of what he is trying to do - is he trying to dart them to protect the farmers or is he trying to protect them from the farmers? When he darts them - what do they hope to do with them? I think there's a big chunk missing or a link to another post which might help to explain it.

The canine distemper part made me cry, I had no idea how severe it is and how it is spreading, I hope you get everything you need to carry out the good work you are doing.

lindsay @_thetraveller_ said...

Jim, this is an amazing thing you're doing. As soon as I am back on my feet with a job I will not hesitate to help in any way I can. Good luck and I hope to be able to have a donation for you soon! :)

Jim said...

Hi Sarah-Jane, I've edited my intro to emphasise that Dr Clay is trying to dart the lion, so it can be relocated away from farms.

And Lindsay, thanks for the concern and offer to help when you can.

Jessica Mokrzycki said...

Wow, what amazing work to benefit and help save the lives of wild animals. I can't imagine all the lions that would have been put to death because they roamed too close to farmlands if not for Dr. Clay's efforts. I wish I had the means to help out in his cause, hopefully someday. I'll let others know though, and share on facebook.


Jim said...

Sharing this post Jessica is a great way to help, thanks.

Roy Durham said...

Jim i will share and pray that help will come. it is great work you and the doc are doing. i wish i had more then words but i will spread them. thank you for caring to do the work,and telling the story.

Jim said...

I'm posting this for Dr Clay who writes-

"Sorry SJ you are absolutely right. I had been posting progress on FB where Jim read the update. The whole purpose is to save the lions from being shot by relocating them to a part of Chobe national park that has no lions currently. This is over 200 km away from the farm. It's our hope that since there is so much game and water there, that they would establish themselves in that area and no longer be involved with human- wildlife conflict, in which in all cases the wildlife ends up either dead or injured. We cannot afford to lose any more lions or other predators. Their populations are severely being decreased by the encroachment of man.

Rachel Hoyt said...

Wow. What interesting and valuable work you've highlighted. Thanks for sharing the Doc's story!

Rhyme Me a Smile

Kerry-Ann said...

It is so wonderful to know that people are willing to put up with expense and miserable conditions to help save animals. Farmers encroach on wild animal territories and then kill them for taking down their 'food'. Such a delicate balance. Maybe if we ate less meat, there would be less need to destroy the wildlife populations territories and these beautiful creatures would be spared death by posion and traps.

Nelmitravel - Nelieta Mishchenko said...

Hi Jim what a great story. Relocation is the best option. They often do it with elephants in South Africa. Lions are such beautiful animals and I have a great deal of respect for them. Thank you for creating the awareness.


Discount NYC Hotels said...

I have read your forest story, it was really interesting,I really glad on your great job.

Zablon said...

Dr Clay Wilson- Chobe Wildlife Rescue life sounds exciting and frustrating at the same time

Jorie Pacli said...

I agree with Nelieta Jim! I think it's best to relocate them. We do not want to see lions become endangered too, do we? This definitely creates an awareness on us... Thank you Jim.

Debt said...

Well, it really nice to know that to people are willing to bear the costs and the miserable conditions to help save the animals.Farmers invade the territories of wild animals and then kill them to topple the food. And I am to agree that it is better to relocate.

Anonymous said...

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