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Painting the Painted Dogs

Nicholls Wildlife Art

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Nicholls Wildlife Art

In 2007 Wildlife Artist Alison Nicholls spent 6 weeks at the Painted Dog Conservation project near Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The trip was titled "Painting the Painted Dogs - Artistic Study of an Endangered Hunter" and was funded by the Artists For Conservation Foundation.



For nearly 9 years I lived in Zimbabwe and Botswana and it was during this time that I began to paint seriously. At first I painted landscapes (they seemed easier as they don't move too much!) but gradually I found myself concentrating on painting wildlife. This is now my full time occupation. Sketching in the bush can be difficult, hot, dusty and infuriating. Animals wander off as soon as you start to draw them. Others choose to lie under thick bushes so you can barely see them. But when you do a great sketch, all the hassle becomes worthwhile.


Some animals appear very frequently in my sketchbook - elephants (because they congregate around waterholes), lions (because they laze around in one spot for hours on end) and hornbills (because you can't set up camp without a resident hornbill). But some animals rarely appear - like Painted Dogs (also known as African Wild Dogs). There are several reasons for this. Firstly, you don't see them very often so when they do appear the excitement usually means the sketchbook is abandoned. Secondly, I've often seen them at dusk, not an ideal time for drawing. And thirdly, when I've seen them they've often been on the move, making sketching difficult. On one memorable occasion in the Okavango, 2 dogs chased an impala between our tents in near darkness and we could only identify them by the white tips on the end of their tails. For all these reasons Painted Dogs feature very sparsely in my sketchbooks. So when I joined Artists For Conservation and found out about their Flag Expedition program (which funds artist members to paint endangered species or endangered habitats), my first thought was Painted Dogs!


I knew I had to stay at a conservation project so that their knowledge would give me a better chance of finding these elusive dogs. And I had recently come across the Painted Dog Conservation project (PDC) based just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It was in Hwange that I first saw Painted Dogs, back in 1995. So it seemed fitting that I should go back to Zimbabwe to complete my Flag Expedition.


So from late August until mid-October 2007 I stayed at PDC and spent time visiting all aspects of the project. And believe me when I say there is far more to this project than just looking for dogs. There is a huge emphasis on the local community, schools and education. The project employs about 60 staff and is an important part of the local community. Here are a few highlights from my trip:


Tracking Dogs


I spent many hours out in the bush with Jealous, the PDC Dog Tracker. Jealous has spent years watching the local dog packs and knows the whole area extremely well. Hwange National Park is not fenced and as a result wildlife can be found moving between the park, hunting concessions, forestry land and communal lands. This means that searching for dogs can be a daunting prospect, even though many are collared. There is always great excitement when you hear a beep on the headphones, meaning you have located a dog collar. Then you hope you can get close enough to the dog to see it.



The Childrens Bushcamp


This is a great facility run by PDC. Local school children come for a week and stay for free. They are taught about conservation, the dogs and how they can help protect their natural heritage. It is a great place, buzzing with activity, and the kids love it!

The Anti-Poaching Unit


PDC operates 2 Anti-Poaching Units who each patrol 6 days a week in areas outside the national park. They are looking for snares, usually simple wire loops, set by local villagers. If they catch a poacher they turn him over to the local police & if they find snares they may set an ambush and wait for the poacher to return. I thought that the wire would shine in the sun and be easily seen but it soon becomes tarnished and then blends into the bush. Walking through thick bush in the heat, watching for animals and looking for snares all at once is not easy!


The Dog Rehabilitation Facility


The Rehab is where sick and injured dogs stay until they can be released back into the bush. Many dogs held here are recovering from snare wounds (although poachers don’t aim to catch the dogs, their snares are indiscriminate). I spent time here sketching dogs in close-up and listening to their strange calls at feeding time.


The Iganyana ("Painted Dog" in Ndebele) Art & Craft Center


The Art Center is in a village not far from the Painted Dog Conservation project. Snare wire found in the bush by the Anti-Poaching Unit is brought here and made into animal masks which are then sold to tourists. There are also artists who draw and paint the local wildlife. The center allows local artisans to earn a living and is a wonderful way to recycle snare wire.


What Next?


Now that my Flag Expedition is over, the next stage of the project begins. I am putting together a traveling exhibition of work from my trip and will donate 25% of sales to the PDC project. The first show is at Audubon Greenwich in Connecticut (USA) starting on March 1st. I am also giving a talk series and donating 100% of my fees to PDC. For a full list of exhibitions and talks please see my website.


I send out a monthly email newsletter so drop me an email to alison@nichollswildlifeart.com if you would like to receive a copy. You can also visit these websites for more details:



My Website : www.NichollsWildlifeArt.com


Painted Dog Conservation project website: www.PaintedDog.org


Artists For Conservation website: www.NatureArtists.com


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Alison working for The Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Alison is a respected wildlife artist working in watercolours and is a signature member of Artists For Conservation: through her artwork she supports a number of conservation groups in Africa including the Cheetah Conservation Fund (based in Namibia) and the Painted Dog Conservation project (based in Zimbabwe). The US Department of State has used one of her paintings as the backdrop for a flyer promoting the "Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking" initiative & she exhibited her work at the Botswana Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan. In 2007 she was awarded a Fellowship Grant by Artists For Conservation to conduct their 5th Flag Expedition. Her expedition, titled "Painting the Painted Dogs" involved a 6 week stay at the Painted Dog Conservation project in Zimbabwe.


Her interview for Safaritalk can be seen here:



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  • 1 month later...

I thought I had added a comment earlier, but I don't see it now.


I am sure the beauty of Africa, including wild dogs is a tremendous artistic inspiration. Wild dogs are not easy to photograph with their mottled colors, dark eyes, and often constant movement--especially the pups. Does that also present a difficulty in painting them? Do you have a favorite subject for your work? Or any that pose specially difficulties?


The video was great and the interaction between dogs and other species was fascinating.


Good luck at your March 1 presentation.

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