When Jealous Mpofu was a child, he heard his father’s superiors discussing painted dogs, which are rare African canines known for their unique marble coats and are currently facing extinction.
Mpofu stated that they did not kill an animal, but rather seized its flesh. They also claimed to be wild animals.
His father owned a farm near the border of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Despite what the leaders of Mpofu’s father claimed, painted dogs are not scavengers. They are not similar to hyenas, which are bigger, only distantly related, and steal their prey. Nonetheless, farmers continue to shoot them and conservationists and tourists do not show much concern for them. Poachers targeting antelopes often capture them unintentionally, and they are also at risk of being hit by cars.
Due to loss of suitable living space, negative perceptions, and being targeted by hunters, the population of painted dogs has drastically decreased from approximately 500,000 to less than 7,000. These endangered animals are barely surviving in a small number of areas in southern Africa. Researchers fear that climate change could lead to their complete extinction. Despite facing many challenges, these underdogs are resilient.
However, they do have companions, and one of the most amiable is the individual who has been honored by Tusk charity as its Ranger of the Year for his 25 years of efforts to rescue these intriguing creatures from extinction.
In an interview from his office, Mpofu, who is 54 years old, shared that he first encountered a painted dog in 1997. He grew up walking barefoot to school and later worked as a casual laborer in Zimbabwe’s national park system. However, he ultimately left the job due to the country’s decline.
His life changed when he met Peter Blinston, a Briton who founded Painted Dog Conservation after learning about the animals in a Jane Goodall documentary at the age of eight.
Mpofu became the charity’s first ranger, and as money trickled in he crisscrossed Hwange searching for dogs, often walking 20 miles to the nearest mechanic when the charity’s one vehicle broke down.
In 2006, a tragic event occurred when the dominant male in Hwange’s final pack died, causing the group to break apart. To address this, Mpofu and his team relocated the dominant female to a new rehabilitation enclosure. As a result, there were no painted dogs in the wild for six months in Hwange.
The female was set free while an alpha male was selected from the enclosed area. Over the years, the female dog successfully raised up to 30 puppies. “Currently, we are monitoring some of these offspring,” he stated. “We did a good job.”
Mpofu manages a team of six rangers who monitor the five groups of dogs under the project’s care. The combined number of dogs is estimated to be between 150 and 200, covering over 1,000 square miles. He starts his day at 4am and ventures into the wilderness with his radio equipment, occasionally staying for extended periods of time. When he comes across a pack, he informs anti-poaching units to search the area for traps. He can identify each dog by the distinct markings on their left and right sides.
Blinston acknowledges Mpofu for rescuing many dogs from danger. In the previous year, he discovered a group of four dogs trapped in snares. “As I found each one, we removed the snares,” he stated.
Using his income, he has been able to provide education for all four of his children, including one who attends a boarding school. Mpofu is in the process of constructing a classroom at his former school and is sharing his expertise with children in rural areas.
Next month, he will be traveling to London to accept his award, possibly from Prince William, who was involved in creating the awards in 2013. Mpofu was taken aback when Blinston informed him that he had been chosen as the winner.
He was surprised by the news that he would receive a grant of £30,000 and chuckled when he heard. He mentioned that he would use it to support his wife Tendai, his family, and the community.
“I also want to demonstrate to others that when you receive money, it’s important to give back a portion to the community,” Mpofu explained. “I personally donate to the conservation of painted dogs, who have a unique way of sharing food by regurgitating for one another, with priority given to the puppies.”
According to Mpofu, lions are not as self-centered as they are generous and always willing to share.