Wild Dog Diaries – December 2010
Wildlife conservation in our corner of the world has evolved dramatically in the past century. There have been notable local successes in natural area protection in the face of rampant mining prospecting, and some unmitigated disasters like the continental decimation of Black Rhinos. Vultures in our province are taking a hammering through targeted poisoning, poachers use cell phones to manage their illegal activities and the human pressures on the boundaries of the few protected areas are ensuring fragmentation and dramatic modification of natural habitats. The overly romantic image of game rangers slogging through “Big 5 country” on horseback is fading fast, replaced by the proverbial ball-and-chain of emails and the donning of polished Grasshoppers (a shoe brand, not a flower munching Orthopteran) to hammer out memorandums. Despite a passion for being in the field, laptops are becoming an essential part of a Section Ranger’s arsenal. While emails may be a burden for many, it also enables a far quicker rallying around a problem than was possible even two decades ago. Obviously these are generalisations but the point is that modern conservation, while perhaps built on the same fundamental principles of those in bygone days, is facing evolving threats and being fought for in quite a different manner to before.
Fortunately some changes can be positive though and Wild Dogs aren’t always getting shot at like “blerrie jakkals and rooikats” for killing game. The perception that Wild Dogs are worthless livestock butchers is slowly changing. There is a realisation slowly making ground that perceived or realised livestock related conflict with Wild Dogs is infrequent and manageable. Wild Dogs were legally classified as vermin not-so-many decades ago and wiped out with great gusto. Legendary conservationists in this country documented shooting packs as doing their bit for game preservation. While there are still areas of the country where this perception persists, growing research and greater commitment to the conservation of what is a charismatic species close to extinction in South Africa (about 450 remain in the wild in South Africa) will hopefully turn the tide for these animals.
Social media, using websites like Facebook and Twitter are promoting causes and linking the new generations of techno-savvy humans to the plight of conservation in urban or remote locations. For example type “wild dog” into group searches on Facebook. The two most striking responses that pop up are “Stop trade of African Wild Dogs” and “Save the Wild Dog of Tembe Elephant Transfrontier Park”. The latter has 1310 members signed up essentially as a public petition. A “wall” allows a person to write comments about the group or the particular situation; a far cry from telegrams, a carrier pigeon or a postal rider.
I suspect only time will tell us where this shift to gadgets and cyber-communication will lead. One thing one thing is certain though, the capacity for action and spreading knowledge and funds has never been greater; provided every now and again we stop, put down the smartphone, take off the Bluetooth earpieces, log off from being logged on, listen, smell the air and realise we live on a living, breathing planet where we can now choose to promote extinction or save and repair what remains.
The project to expand and understand the current range of Wild Dogs through the diverse landscape of northern KwaZulu-Natal is carried out through a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trusts’ Carnivore Conservation Programme, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KZN Wild Dog Management Group, Wildlife ACT and Rhodes University; supported by Wildlands Conservation Trust and Jaguar Land Rover South Africa.
You, the reader, are our eyes and ears through the region. If any readers observe Wild Dogs outside of protected areas, please note the location of the sighting, whether the animal is wearing a tracking collar and identify, or ideally, photograph any characteristic markings. Please then notify Brendan Whittington-Jones on 072 992 9483