On The Edge
Acrylic on Canvas 24×30” by Alison Nicholls
During my visit to the Painted Dog Conservation project in Zimbabwe, I spent time with Esther van der Meer who was conducting research on the painted dogs (also known as African wild dogs, Lycaon pictus). We spent several days visiting waterholes both inside and outside Hwange National Park while she recorded details of kudu & impala, the main prey species for the dogs in this area. I was only present for a very small part of Esther’s research but I was interested in knowing her findings so after she completed and successfully defended her Doctoral Thesis, she sent me a copy. This painting was based on her work. Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side? Testing the Ecological Trap Hypothesis for African Wild Dogs in and around Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
On The Edge shows Painted Dogs (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 right-hand side of the painting represents the national park while the left-hand side represents the buffer zone. The border of the painting consists of the spoor (tracks) of kudu, impala, lion, hyena, people and vehicles.
Painted 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. On The Edge illustrates this with consistent numbers of impala and kudu tracks throughout, but more lion and hyena tracks inside the national park (right-hand side of painting).
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, selecting territories inside or close to the buffer zone and thereby exposing themselves to increased human activity. This is illustrated in On The Edge by the people & vehicle tracks which are only found in the buffer zone (left-hand side of painting). Dogs in the buffer zone 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. 30% of the proceeds from the sale of the painting will be donated to the Painted Dog Conservation project to help make the buffer zone safer for Painted Dogs.
On The Edge is an original acrylic on canvas, 24×30″, priced at US$3500 excluding taxes and shipping. Please contact me for details or visit www.NichollsWildlifeArt.com to see more of my African Inspired Art, including smaller originals, field sketches and limited edition giclées.
A donation is made towards conservation in Africa from every sale.
Dr van der Meer is now working to conserve cheetahs in Zimbabwe. You can read more about her work by visiting the Cheetah Zimbabwe Facebook page.
Until next time…