FOR THE LOVE OF THE

PAINTED WOLF

There is no other species quite like African wild dog. Also known as the Cape hunting dog, or painted dog, it’s scientific name, Lycaon pictus, means painted wolf, named for their colourful, haphazard markings that are as unique as human fingerprints. These remarkable animals are the firm favourites of many game rangers, conservationists and researchers, who rank them as the number one species to enjoy watching in the African bush.

Roger and Pat de la Harpe, featured in our first article on wild dogs, fell in love with wild dogs some years ago, whilst photographing them in Tuli Game Reserve, Northern Botswana. The plight of these fascinating animals, now the second most endangered carnivore in Africa, was already evident at that time, with numbers dwindling dramatically due to habitat fragmentation, persecution, poaching and disease. In this article, we look at some of the conservation measures that have been adopted to conserve wild dogs in South Africa, with a particular focus on the work being done by the non-profit trust, Wildlife ACT, who have made wild dogs a major part of their mission to save our planets’ endangered wildlife and wild places from extinction. Wild dogs are now found in only six of the 34 countries in which they once roamed freely, with an estimated 3000-5000 adults in 39 African subpopulations. Less than 550 still roam free in South Africa, making effective conservation methods and habitat sustainability ever more crucial to their survival.

The major reasons why African wild dogs are so endangered include competition with other predators and loss of their natural habitat due to human encroachment. Their wide-ranging hunting patterns frequently bring them into conflict with livestock and game farmers, who regard them as a threat to livestock. In addition, the manner in which they pursue their prey means they are easily snared as by-catch by poachers engaged in the illegal bush meat trade. The growth of wild dog populations is also dependent on them being able to range freely in order to breed between packs, something which has become increasing impossible for them due to habitat fragmentation. 

METAPOPULATION – A UNIQUE STRATEGY FOR WILD DOG MANAGEMENT

During the early 1990’s, the only viable wild dog population in South Africa was in the Kruger National Park. Natural pack dispersion, in which same sex young dog groups break away from their packs to bond with unrelated opposite sex groups and form new populations, was not possible due to the limited size of the habitat. In 1997 an international meeting was held in Pretoria to address the problem of how to establish a further viable wild dog populations in South Africa. The solution was to implement a metapopulation strategy which would enable wild dog populations isolated geographically to be managed by human dispersal, which would simulate natural dispersal and colonisation events.

A network of protected areas outside of Kruger National Park was identified and a specialist wild dog advisory group, WAG-SA, was formed to oversee the project. Comprising scientists, ecologists, conservationist, researchers, reserve managers and private landowners, it was tasked to monitor, implement and advise on the management of wild dogs in South Africa, according to a strict criterion-based framework.

When young wild dog groups were ready for dispersal they were darted and put into bomas (protected areas) with a group of unrelated opposite sex dispersals to bond. They were then released into new reserves to start new packs. The aim at the time was to establish nine new populations within a ten year period. This target was exceeded in 2002. By 2008 there were 12 packs and in 2013 this number had reached an all time high of 21. 

WILD DOGS COME HOME, THE RETURN TO KZN

Historically, wild dogs were considered widespread throughout KZN, however, the last recorded pack disappeared from the Zululand region in the 1930’s. In an attempt to recolonise the area, wild dogs were reintroduced into the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) in the early 1980’s. This population was incorporated within the South African meta-population management strategy, developed by WAG-SA, with the Zululand Wild Dog Management Forum, now KZN-WAG, being formed in 2004 to provide guidance.

WILDLIFE ACT, A KEY PLAYER IN SAVING THE AFRICAN WILD DOG

Many game reserves do not have the funding or specialist skills to run intensive conservation projects. Wildlife ACT provides funding, equipment, technology and manpower, with the ultimate goal of reintroducing wild dogs successfully back into their historical ranges and ensuring their ongoing protection.

 

Since 2008 over 250 wild dogs have been fitted with tracking and anti-snare collars.

According to Mark Gerrard, Wildlife ACT’s Director of Community Conservation, collaboration is crucial to their conservation efforts. Wildlife ACT prioritises their working relationships with partners, such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and is a key member of both WAG-SA and KZN-WAG. As a result of this collaborative work, the managed metapopulation in KZN and South Africa has increased substantially, with over one million hectares of reserve now actively supporting wild dog populations. South Africa is now in the position to act as a source population for neighbouring countries.

KZN has been the primary contributor to the growth of the wider South African wild dog population, with packs having increased from five in 2006 to over 14 to date. On the ground, Wildlife ACT works tirelessly to provide high-quality monitoring, emergency response, capture and relocation assistance and community education and awareness in support of wild dog conservation efforts.

Professional monitoring teams, supplemented by students and volunteers, keep track of movement patterns, habitat utilisation, population demographics, snaring or poaching incidents and breakouts from protected areas across seven game reserves.

The monitoring data collected is a critical tool for protected area management decision-making. For example, information about breeding success of a pack will help determine how many are available in the regional and national meta-population to re-populate new areas and thus help grow the population of this endangered species. This valuable information provides an essential and critical service in wild dog conservation and ultimate survival.

Emergency response As first responders to wild dogs in emergency situations outside of protected areas, Wildlife ACT plans to increase the capability of their response team. Ongoing funding and resources are needed to support the specialised skills required, as well as the mobilisation of the teams.

Education and Awareness Wildlife ACT shares knowledge with all stakeholders, including farmers and communities who live alongside protected areas, to help avoid conflicts and change negative historical attitudes towards wild dogs. Dissemination of knowledge to the wider public also enhances empathy and increases support for the conservation of the species.

Courses, students and internships Wildlife ACT offers unique African wildlife research opportunities in practical learning environments. Experience gained monitoring Africa’s iconic species and the habitats in which they live provides a wealth of valuable field research experience and training.

Conservation volunteers The only Fair Trade Tourism certified wildlife volunteer program in Africa supported by WWF, Wildlife ACT gives volunteers the opportunity to contribute to some of the most important and exciting endangered species conservation work being done today. Awarded 2nd place at the World Responsible Tourism Awards for Best for Wildlife Conservation, it promises an unforgettable lifetime experience.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

As a non-profit organisation, funding is crucial for effective wild dog monitoring. Wildlife ACT provide GPS and VHF anti-snare and tracking collars that not only help monitors find individual animals on a daily basis, but give wild dogs trapped by poachers’ snares a fighting chance for survival. These specially reinforced and riveted collars can prevent the animal from choking to death. They also send out an emergency signal when a dog is stationary for an unnatural amount of time. This gives monitors and rangers time to respond to the emergency and save the animal’s life. Costs such as daily monitoring & research, field work and administrative services on reserves are all covered by Wildlife ACT, making every contribution vital to help fund this crucial work. 

ACT Successes

In the last five years Wildlife ACT KZN assisted in the monitoring of every pack in KZN, deployed 80 dog collars and assisted in relocating over 100 dogs • Thanks to these efforts wild dog numbers have increased from five packs in 2006 to over 14 packs in KZN at present • Since 2008 over 250 wild dogs have been fitted with tracking and anti-snare collars • Over 140 have been saved, treated and rescued from snares and over 330 retrieved and/or relocated.

If you or your company would like to sponsor a wild dog pack, please get in touch by emailing info@wildlifeact.com For more information on the work we do with endangered wildlife, visit our website or visit our Facebook page.–