On The Edge

On The Edge © Alison NichollsThis painting shows African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) leaving Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, and entering the buffer zone – a mix of commercial farms, communal areas, trophy hunting & photographic safari areas which border the park. The dogs are surrounded by various spoor (tracks) of kudu, impala, lion, hyena, people and vehicles. The right-hand side of the painting reflects the situation inside the national park while the left-hand side reflects the situation in the buffer zone.

African Wild Dogs in this area are choosing to live in the buffer zone rather than in relative safety of the national park. Research has shown that both the national park and the buffer zone contain similar densities of the dogs’ main prey species (impala and kudu) but the buffer zone contains more dense vegetation. This results in higher hunting success and shorter chases, leading to better fed dogs and larger litters of pups. Lions and hyenas, which may steal kills, or even kill dogs & their pups, are also less likely to be encountered in the buffer zone. In the painting this is shown by consistent numbers of impala and kudu tracks throughout, more lion and hyena tracks in the national park (right-hand side of painting) and people & vehicle tracks only in the buffer zone (left-hand side).

On The Edge by Alison Nicholls.

On The Edge, acrylic on canvas 24×30″ by Alison Nicholls

Dogs use these seemingly sound ecological clues when making decisions about where to live and hunt. As a result they are abandoning safer habitat inside Hwange National Park and selecting territories inside or close to the buffer zone. By doing this they are exposing themselves to increased human activity and are being snared, shot and run over on the roads at a rate faster than they can reproduce. However, they seem unable to take humans and the danger of being near them, into account when deciding to live in or near the buffer zone.

How can conservationists use this research to help dogs survive this Ecological Trap? Forcibly keeping dogs inside the national park would require a fence, which would restrict the movement of other species. Altering the vegetation density and lion/hyena numbers inside the park to entice dogs to stay there, would be a daunting task and would have ramifications for the entire habitat. One viable conservation option is to make the buffer zone safer for dogs and other species by reducing snares, limiting speed limits on roads and educating people about living with dogs – all of which are areas of focus for the Painted Dog Conservation project.

On the Edge was inspired by Dr van der Meer’s 2011 Doctoral Thesis Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side? Testing the Ecological Trap Hypothesis for African Wild Dogs in and around Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. 35% of the proceeds from the sale of the painting were donated to the Painted Dog Conservation project. Limited edition giclées are also available with a donation of 20% to PDC from each sale. See Purchase Options.