African Wild Dog’s once occurred throughout sub-Saharan Africa but today only occupy a fraction of this area. Habitat, fragmentation and isolation, exacerbated by human persecution, are the main factors contributing to this decline. There are currently about 5 500–6 000 Wild Dogs left in the wild globally and the species is listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Only a handful of countries have viable Wild Dog populations, with the largest populations occurring in northern Botswana, Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
Wild Dogs are particularly challenging to conserve because they range widely and occur in low densities. As such even the largest protected areas are able to support only small populations. The conservation and management of small, fragmented populations has therefore become an unavoidable necessity.
Lycaon pictus their Latin name literally means painted dogs, which is a very fitting description for this carnivore which is covered with brown amber white and black splotches. Wild Dogs are South Africa’s rarest carnivore and were wiped out in KZN in the 1930s. Thankfully, today there are two sizable and healthy populations in the Kruger Park and northern KZN with numbers well over 100 in both areas. Unfortunately there are less than 400 Wild Dogs in South Africa.
The KZN Wild Dog reintroduction initiatives began in 1980 and currently four reserves have resident Wild Dogs, namely Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Mkhuze Game Reserve, Thanda Private Game Reserve and Hlambanyathi Game Reserve. In 2006 the EWT started a project to further expand the range for Wild Dogs in KZN, in partnership with EKZNW, Land Rover South Africa and the Smithsonian Institution.
In December 2009 four male Wild Dogs from the then De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust were relocated to Tembe Elephant Park and accommodated in a boma. In February 2010 three females from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park joined them. Under the careful supervision of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife thr group soon bonded into a single pack and produced eight pups while communities in the area were prepared for their release.
The 300km2 Tembe Elephant Park in northern Natal which borders Mozambique was recently a hive of activity when the pack of 14 Wild Dogs including the 8 five-month-old pups, were released. This big day would not have happened if it was not for a dedicated group of people who had engaged in extensive community liaison and loads of preparation work for more than a year to ready both the pack and the local community for the reintroduction of the dogs into the area.
It was an emotional occasion for the many people involved when they finally saw all their hard work bear fruit as the first members of the pack made their way out of the boma. Kelly Marnewick from the Endangered Wildlife Trust explained that this release of this pack is a vital step in the survival of the South Africa’s managed Wild Dog population.
The potential for conflict between reintroduced Wild Dogs and neighbouring landowners is high. Wild Dogs are often confused with domestic dogs and sometimes attack livestock, Wildlife ACT, with support from the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Wildlands Conservation Trust, began to actively engage community stakeholders regarding the project in March 2010. This was the first time that a KwaZulu-Natal tribal authority has been actively engaged in and supported the decision making and preparation process for the reintroduction of Wild Dogs.
Wildlife ACT will be monitoring the Tembe pack, while the EWT will remain involved in its role as coordinator of the KZN Wild Dog Management Group.
Land Rover South Africa as well as the Green Trust, have provided much of the support for these activities in KZN. The Wildlife ACT, the Wildlands Conservation Trust, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife ( EKZNW), Tembe Tribal Authority, Dr M. Toft and Tembe Elephant Park Lodge have been the key partners in this latest reintroduction exercise.
The formal Wild Dog Metapopulation Programme to expand the South African species’ range was initiated in 1998.
The Programme is coordinated by the Wild Dog Advisory Group (WAG). The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has chaired WAG since its inception and many projects have been implemented including those in the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve and Marekele National Park (also in Limpopo Province), and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana. The national Wild Dog Range Management Project’s ultimate objective is to establish safe corridors between reserves for natural dispersals of the species.
The Tembe pack has adjusted well thus far and we will monitor their progress closely and would like to congratulate all parties involved on the successful reintroduction of Painted Dogs to the Tembe Elephant Park.
Roy Griffiths - Land Rover Experience Gerotek & Inchanga
Published: March 2011