Next Saturday sees the much anticipated “Taste of Africa” luncheon in the Mukuvisi Woodlands, followed the next day by the first Mukuvisi Woodlands half-marathon — the Mukuvisi 21.
Outdoor with Rosie Mitchell
Ticket sales and entries for both are in full swing and are generating much excitement. The “Taste of Africa” luncheon will raise funds for important African Wild Dog Conservation Projects.
The Mukuvisi 21, which includes a mountain bike race for the more competitive riders, plus a fun run and fun bike ride of half the distance, will raise funds for running costs of Mukuvisi Woodlands Nature Reserve, plus additional funds for wild dog conservation projects.
The intrepid Pedals4Paws Cyclists led by Jeremy Borg of Painted Wolf Wines will participate in the event. This enthusiastic group of cyclists is currently riding through game parks in Zimbabwe where African wild dog are found, to raise awareness and money for wild dog conservation.
Being the last Sunday of the month, the Woodlands concurrently hosts its walk/run/ride on the usual 3km and 5km routes for those who prefer a shorter, more leisurely outing.
This regular event, introduced during the last two years, has rapidly become very popular, especially with whole families, and between 150 and 200 people currently turn out for it, often bringing babies and children in prams in tow, and dogs on leads. It enables the public to explore the Woodlands more fully, on marked trails.
On June 30, the trails will be slightly adjusted so participants are taken during their walk, run or ride to the lovely msasa shaded site of the previous day’s lunch event, where the wild dog art exhibition and other displays will still be available to view. Likewise, those participating in the Mukuvisi 21 will take a detour here, where one of the water points will be set up.
The last full scale wild dog fund raiser was held in 2011, at the same site but as an evening event. It proved very popular and successful, while another lower key wild dog evening film show and event held in 2012, also drew a good crowd.
The luncheon this year offers tastes of cuisine from across our continent by Lee Vermark and her Gourmet Girls, fine wines donated by Painted Wolf Wines, talks by the country’s leading wild dog specialists, relaxing sounds of the saxophone from Tony Vas, spot prizes, an auction and the chance to watch the nearby game, while enjoying the event.
African wild dogs need very big territories to thrive
The route is circuitous, and at one point, a special gum pole bridge has been constructed for participants over a waterlogged river section of the route. The trail is marked very clearly using bright recycled soft drink cans, opened up and wrapped around trees, and there are four water points.
The cut off time for the 21km race is 4½ hours, and all who complete the course within that period will receive a special commemorative Mukuvisi 21 T-shirt, whiles fun riders and runners can buy one at US$5 — below cost. There are some donated prizes for those placed first, second and third in the running and cycling sections in the 21km race.
Once more, these events, like so many environmental fund raisers these days, are designed both to draw attention to the serious plight of a species, this time the African wild dog, and to raise money towards ensuring the species does not become extinct, which it could in the near future.
The African wild dog is the current, on-going focus of huge conservation efforts. Less than 100 years ago, there were half a million of these fascinating animals across Africa. Today, less than 5 000 remain. Highly efficient pack hunting carnivores, African wild dogs need very big territories to thrive.
As humans have carved up the land for agricultural, mining and settlement purposes, breaking up areas through which they once roamed freely, and as they have been ruthlessly slaughtered over the past century, so their numbers have shrunk to an all-time low. Tragically and unjustly viewed by many people as nothing but “pests”, they are still in decline. The balance of a wild dog pack is fragile and the loss of one key member, often means the loss of the entire pack in the months to come.
A pack needs at least nine members to fare well, each playing a vital role. Most African game parks are not large enough to provide suitable hunting ranges. When the dogs move beyond game park boundaries they come into conflict with humans, who often have little understanding of how they live, hunt and co-operate, and treat them as vicious pests to kill on sight.
The wild dogs are also exposed beyond these boundaries to diseases like rabies, which can spread like wildfire through a whole pack, wiping them all out in a cruel, slow death. In addition, many are run over, attempting, in following their traditional ranges, to cross roads.
African wild dogs are not inherently cruel, violent animals. They are super-efficient hunters and kill their prey fast. They allow younger dogs to eat first, and form hierarchies based on submission, not dominance.
Coherent social behaviour, strong bonds and submission, not aggression, is at the heart of their close-knit packs, probably because they raise large litters of dependent pups, in which the loss of a single individual would mean the pack might not be able to provide for all members.