When Jealous Mpofu was a child, he heard his father’s superiors speaking unfavorably about painted dogs. These wild African canines have unique marble coats and are one of the most endangered species in the world.
Mpofu stated that the individuals claimed they did not kill an animal, but rather they only took its flesh. They also described themselves as being wild and uncivilized animals.
His father was a farm labourer on the edge of Hwange national park in Zimbabwe. Painted dogs, contrary to what the bosses of Mpofu’s father said, are not scavengers. Nor are they hyenas, which are much larger, only distantly related and steal their prey. But farmers still shoot them. Conservationists and tourists show little interest in them. Poachers aiming for antelopes ensnare them. Cars run them over.
Due to lack of suitable environment, negative portrayal, and being frequently hunted, the population of painted dogs has significantly decreased from approximately 500,000 to less than 7,000. They are barely surviving in a few isolated areas in southern Africa, facing the risk of extinction. Experts warn that climate change poses a major threat to their survival. Despite being at a disadvantage, they are incredibly resilient.
However, they do have companions, and one in particular is known to be incredibly kind. This man has been acknowledged by the organization Tusk as their ranger of the year for his dedication over 25 years in rescuing these intriguing creatures from extinction.
In an interview from his office to announce his award, Mpofu, who is 54 years old, shared that he had never encountered a painted dog until 1997. He spent his childhood walking to school without shoes and later worked as a temporary worker in Zimbabwe’s national parks. However, he left this job when he noticed the decline of the country.
After watching a Jane Goodall documentary at the age of eight, Peter Blinston, a British man, was inspired to start Painted Dog Conservation. This encounter later led to a life-changing experience for the protagonist.
Mpofu was appointed as the inaugural ranger for the charity. As funds gradually came in, he tirelessly scoured the Hwange area for dogs, sometimes trekking 20 miles on foot to reach the closest mechanic when the charity’s sole vehicle malfunctioned.
In 2006, a tragic event occurred where the dominant male of Hwange’s remaining pack was killed, causing the group to scatter. To address this, Mpofu and the team moved the alpha female to a new rehabilitation area. This resulted in a period of six months where there were no painted dogs in the wild in Hwange.
The female was released and an alpha male was selected from the enclosure. Over the next few years, the female dog successfully raised up to 30 puppies. The researcher stated that they are now monitoring some of these offspring and are satisfied with their work.
Mpofu leads a team of six rangers who monitor the five packs under the project’s care. The packs consist of approximately 150 to 200 dogs and cover an area of over 1,000 square miles. Every day, he wakes up at 4am and ventures into the wilderness equipped with a radio. He often spends days at a time in the bush and notifies anti-poaching units to search for traps when he comes across a pack. He is familiar with each dog’s individual markings on their left and right sides.
Blinston acknowledges Mpofu for rescuing numerous dogs. In the previous year, Mpofu discovered four dogs trapped in one pack. “As I came across them, I freed them from the snares,” he stated.
Using his earnings, he has been able to afford sending all four of his children to school, with one even attending a boarding school. Mpofu is currently overseeing the construction of a classroom at his former school and has started teaching his abilities to children in the rural area.
In the upcoming month, he will travel to London to accept his award, possibly from Prince William, who played a role in creating the awards in 2013. Mpofu expressed his surprise and excitement when Blinston informed him of his win.
He had no prior knowledge of the £30,000 grant he would receive and chuckled upon hearing the news. He expressed his intention to use it for his wife Tendai, his family, and the community.
“I also want to demonstrate to others that when you receive money, it’s important to share a portion with those in need,” stated Mpofu. “I personally donate to the conservation of painted dogs.” These dogs have a unique way of caring for each other by regurgitating food, with the youngest members getting priority for meat.
According to Mpofu, they are not as self-centered as lions and are always willing to share.