Although some members of the agriculture and game farming sectors may shudder, curse and disagree, I think that despite the management headaches it can cause, we as Wild Dog conservationists need to be mightily relieved that Wild Dogs can produce large litters of pups. That superb ginger creature, the Orangutan, only produces a single offspring every six to eight years! If Wild Dogs bred that infrequently (rather than an annual average litter of approximately ten pups) I have little doubt they’d be playing table tennis in extinction hell along with the unfortunate Dodos, Quaggas and Passenger Pigeons.
As it currently stands, the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) population is recorded at approximately 140 individuals. It is I’ll admit a slightly misleading figure since the strength of a Wild Dog population is generally measured in the number of packs (which are a more stable indicator of population persistence). However to illustrate the point that Wild Dog conservation is largely about mitigating threats and enabling safe passage between populations, the provincial population is currently the same as it was one year ago. Those who oppose Wild Dog conservation would illustrate that at an average of ten pups being born per pack, and there being 12 breeding packs (as there were in KZN last year), the population would increase by 120 animals. Nature it seems, rarely works on averages, but rather on localised fluctuations. Wild Dog populations can temporarily reach high densities at one location yet be hanging on by a toe in another nearby reserve.
There were approximately 65 pups recorded to have emerged from dens last year in KZN. Since our current population figure is largely stable, that would indicate close to 65 mortalities (which would be a mix of natural mortalities, those caused by snares, vehicles and poachers). Research indicates that Wild Dog populations generally incur an average pup mortality rate of 50%. This still leaves a significant depletion of adults and yearlings.
A sobering thought given that they only exist in five reserves in KZN and still receive little conservation attention from provincial and national conservation authorities.
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 and Land Rover Centurion.
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