Painted Dog population falls 99%, but community efforts could save species
An interview with Peter Blinston of Painted Dog Conservation
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
September 29, 2008
|The Wildlife Conservation Network is holding its annual Wildlife Conservation Expo on Saturday, October 13, 2012 from 10am to 6pm at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco, CA. The lineup includes 20 prominent conservationists.|
The effort, led by Painted Dog Conservation (PDC), relies on advanced technology and community involvement to reduce threats to the species while simultaneously creating rural livelihoods and educational opportunities in a country where political turmoil has made life difficult for many people. PDC's strategy includes education programs, research to better understand threats to the species, and anti-poaching patrols to clear snares which are then turned into artwork by local artisans and sold to generate income for communities. PDC also offers HIV-AIDS testing and treatment to conservation workers and is helping establish HIV programs in some of the country's most desperate communities.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER BLINSTON OF PAINTED DOG CONSERVATION
Mongabay: What is your background and how did you get interested in working on the Painted dog?
Peter Blinston: My background and past experiences are varied. I actually have a degree in Operations Management and worked on cruise ships such as the QE2. However my passion, since I was 8 years old has been wildlife and it was the painted dogs that got me hooked, as I watched a documentary about the dogs when I was 8 years old, called Solo. It was made by Hugo van Lawick and Jane Goodall.
Mongabay: How many people are involved with the Painted Dog Conservation Project in Zimbabwe?
Peter Blinston: We employ 67 local staff.
Mongabay: Why are Painted dogs endangered and what are presently the greatest threats to them?
Painted dogs, courtesy of PDC
Mongabay: On your web site you mention medicinal uses of dogs. Could you elaborate on this? Is there a belief that wild dogs have healing properties?
Peter Blinston: Not so much healing properties though I did get approached once by a guy who had travelled from Cape Town searching for teeth, as he was told that this was the only cure for his mothers ills!!! In our area the teeth and organs such as heart are fed to domestic dogs and eaten by hunters so that they acquire the hunting powers of the painted dog.
Mongabay: Interaction with domestic dogs can be a vector for disease transmission for Painted dogs in some areas. Do you have a vaccination or sterilization program or are you otherwise seeking to reduce the number of domestic dogs in sensitive areas?
Mongabay: What are some other measures you are employing to help protect the Painted dog?
Peter Blinston: Our anti poaching units are our front line of protection. They clear thousands of snares a year in an effort to protect the dogs and the wildlife they coexist with. We also fit VHF collars that have a metal plate incorporated into them, which gives the dogs some protection if they get caught in a snare. Road kills are also common so we had warning signs put up along the main roads in the area.
Mongabay: What are the biggest challenges of your work?
Painted dog, courtesy of WCN
Mongabay: HIV-AIDS is prevalent in Zimbabwe. How does this impact the Painted Dog Conservation Project?
Peter Blinston: We started out with developing our own HIV / AIDS workplace agreement and Charlie Knowles of WCN got involved at that stage by sending a doctor from South Africa to test and council our staff. It was only then that we really realized the extent of the problem in terms of the number of affected staff. We are working with communities to help them develop nutritional gardens in an effort to help them fight HIV / AIDS
Mongabay: Does the political situation in Zimbabwe impact your efforts?
Peter Blinston: It affects us in terms of the economy as mentioned above but not in terms of political agendas or anything like that. We had to suspend our programs for a couple of weeks around the re-run election but that was all. We have had our moments in the past but we have a good board of trustees who I can call on to "ride shotgun" for me if required. We are well established and highly regarded, so know one tries to interfere. I have a bit of a reputation (apparently) for not being easily intimidated!!
Mongabay: Is there much tourism in the places you work? Does this help or hurt Painted dog conservation efforts?
Peter Blinston: There is very little tourism which is devastating for the region and the country as a whole. We rely a lot on sightings of the dogs from tourists and so we get very few, thus it is difficult at times to know exactly what is going on on the ground in terms of the populations.
Mongabay: How can people in places like the U.S. help Painted dog conservation?
Mongabay: Do you have any tips for aspiring field conservationists?
Peter Blinston: Study hard and become a lawyer or doctor.... something more sensible anyway!! If that doesn't work then listen to your heart. Conservation for me is about passion, a deep commitment to something you care passionately for.
Group takes "venture capital" approach to conservation