May 032016

An African Wild Dog Called Flame

African wild dog, African hunting dog, African painted dog (Lycaon pictus)
(Courtesy: Cathy T)


Courage is simply the nature of an African wild dog.

African Wildlife Management and Conservation was called to arms for a mission to catch and deliver one thousand, two hundred (plus/minus) mixed animals to two of Zimbabwe’s National Parks. Around a thousand to deliver to Gonarezhou and the remainder to Victoria Falls.

Our journey begins north of Harare, on down to the Savé Valley Conservancy in southern Zimbabwe, where the animals will be caught. The task is to catch and deliver the animals to Gonarezhou, part of the Greater Limpopo Trans Frontier Conservation Area , (GLTFCA). At the same time, another group of mixed animals will be moved up to Victoria Falls. Only then, can the team head back to base, regroup and prepare for the next venture, wherever that may be.

Still with AWMC, while at Savé one afternoon, after capture, while having sundowners, the group was approached by Dr. Rosemary Groom, about Flame, an African wild dog, with a broken leg ; a member of a pack that hunts in the conservancy. How he broke his leg, no one knows exactly, although something did a good job of it.
Dr. Groom is well known for the work she does with the highly endangered African wild dog at the African Wildlife Conservation Fund (AWCF) in Zimbabwe and includes the conservation of other large predators. It was at the behest of AWCF that Flame was operated on.

The obvious choice for the job as they were in the area, was the husband and wife team, Josh and Jacs. Joshua, one of the directors, does all the darting for AWMC and Dr. Jacs Mostert is the company’s highly qualified in-house wildlife vet.

To dart any African wild dog, made up of nothing but muscle and bone is difficult enough but to dart a scrawny, thin animal is a mission fraught with danger. These wild dogs were used to game rangers on scramblers. This set the scene for the use of the motorbike as the only vehicle of choice to dart from; for the most effective, least amount of trauma to the dogs. In case you don’t know, the less the animal has to run, the better their chance of survival and you’ll soon see why.

Imagine you are 2.00 m (6’6”) tall, have a ‘driver’, balancing a long-barreled dart gun, spare supplies and thick bush with a pack of African wild dogs that won’t stand still, even for a minute. How is one supposed to handle that?

When time is not your friend, when it means darting on the run, this the only option that remains to you. With no hands to keep you on the bike, because you need both hands to shoot a skinny body in the right spot where the serum will work! As a result of  Flame’s condition, he had to be darted when he stood still. Miracle, of miracles, Flame came to a dead stop twice, within range, which was exactly what Josh needed. When asked, Josh laughs, shrugs, holding his hands at his sides opened outwards, he exclaims, “It’s all in a day’s work.”

Fortunately, Josh is used to darting thousands of animals from the AWMC helicopter and just about any other vehicle you can think of, which is the reason it only took two darting attempts, with one glancing blow and one hit.

Now it was Jacs turn to show her mettle. Well, more mettle was needed this time, than usual. The sterile field veterinary kit, when opened, was missing both the saw and file needed for an amputation. Both should have been there when supplied.

“Josh, I need a sterile file and saw, it’s been left out of the pack”

“All I’ve got is my Leatherman, which has both!”

“Well boil it.”


“That’s all we’ve got. So boil it for ten minutes with all the blades open, while I start on the dog’s leg.”

There’s no time to waste when an animal has been darted on the run; it gets very hot and all its vitals change, increasing the danger of hyperthermia. This isn’t a calm, domesticated animal on an operating table in a surgery but a highly-strung, hunting machine. Here, time and monitoring the patient carefully, is of the utmost importance for success. If the animal’s temperature goes too low, it has to be covered with blankets to keep warm. And the air temperature was fairly cool anyway with long arduous hours still to come.

After Flame’s successful operation, the AWMC team nicknamed him Tripod. As you’ll see from the photos, he was hunting with his pack only two weeks later. Flame now sporting his new tracking ‘dog collar’, made it easier to keep an eye on him and his pack.

I think you are too fat sir. I’ll fix it quick.

No troubles!

A problem soon fixed.

A problem soon fixed.

Flame looking down into his den opening and as you can see, with a broken leg and getting too thin.

Flame before his op at the den.

After darting, the animal is blindfolded, vitals checked, the dart removed and the wound treated, after which he can be moved safely.

African wild dog Flame on the operating table.

Josh and Jacs doing their pre-op inspection, with no time to lose. Fortunately, Flame has not lost too much blood, even though he had a compound fracture (open fracture) – a broken bone piercing the skin.

First you shave then you cut.

When they shave you in the bush, at least you are first knocked out. If there’s a next time… tell your doc how it’s done in the bush.

All set.

Instruments ready, drip in and vitals checked. It’s all go.

Now it’s Jacs turn for the long haul, fixing this very scarce and endangered* animal. One of the rarest animals on earth. And we are very proud to share this with you all.

Please note, from here on, things get rough for sensitive viewers.

Clamping stage.

Before the operation can continue to the amputation, all the necessary arteries and veins must be clamped off.

One Leatherman – first boiled then cured in meths

Having been boiled for ten minutes, the Leatherman awaits its duty, resting in methylated spirits – equal to 85% ethanol and 10% methanol and purple poison.

Family member, looking-on.

A family member, checking that everything’s going well. “Look after him, there aren’t too many of us left around anymore.”

One fortunate dog in good hands. Only true professionals don’t wear gloves ;-)

If I were an animal, I would pick Jacs to operate on me, before anyone else in the world. Sure, safe and extremely competent. I think the best trained wildlife vet there is. But then I have some insider information.

All’s looking very good.

If Flame could see this, he would be very pleased; a lot of healthy tissue to repair with.

Ready for repair

One leg ready for the next stage. Amputation. Now comes Josh with his Wave Leatherman. The bush can be a strange place sometimes.

“Hi all, have you seen how dark it’s getting?”

Mother, with babies, checking on Flames situation. The babies may even be his own. The remarkable thing was that after Flame had led Josh and Peter on the scrambler round about, he ended up being darted a short distance from his own den, where all the family lived.

When one works with wildlife a long time, it becomes more and more evident that they know a lot more about the lie of the land than we give them credit for. In this case, I am convinced the clan knew Flame was in good hands, otherwise they could have attacked at any time but didn’t… You explain that?

The offending part is now removed.

Josh has cut through the bone with his Leatherman and is now preparing to file the edges down, also using the now famous tool.

File, swab. File, swab. (Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat). You get the drill?

Filing takes time and persuasion.

Filing the bone down is very important to prevent it from cutting its way through the flesh after healing. Thankfully, Josh had a knife with him and his knife had a good saw and file on it; otherwise this would have been a nightmare job. With the bone now filed down, Jacs can complete the miracle work she does.

“Hi all, have you seen how dark it’s getting?”

This has been a long, arduous work.

What never ceases to amaze me, is how these two always have the necessary equipment with them at all times, even to the head lamp. Now the sterile field medical kit, with missing saw and file, was the supplier’s mistake.

Final stitches for Flame.

In case you don’t know, the smell of blood is an attractant to predators at night-time, more than in the day. Just a reminder here of the dangerous conditions this scene represents.

Voilà! The miracle work finally done. Next job!

Josh applying the gentian violet.

One of the most precious wildlife cargos on earth has made it.



Flame getting a move on, with his new collar and Tripod frame.

It is obvious from this photo, to see how Flame’s condition has improved, only two weeks after his leg op. Here you can clearly see by his markings, why he was named Flame.



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Meet Our Authors: The Wildmoz team, Cari and Moz, have a lifelong passion for the Bushveld and share adventures and stories about Africa's good things. Wildmoz is Africa - the cradle of life! Travel writing about wildlife, African folklore, wildlife art, Kruger Park and wildlife safari info! Taste life as it is in Africa.
 Posted by on May 3, 2016