At best we expected at least some mildly carnal passion; at worst we anticipated some bloodshed. Fortunately for us, this had nothing to do with watching WWE wrestling. As the interleading, steel barred gate between the two adjoining boma compartments was slid open, the pair of males in the one compartment and the pair of females in the adjacent compartment stood up and showed mild curiosity in the morning’s action. This was a chance for the dogs, which had been separated by a fence for the past three weeks to finally interact without the constraints of electric wires and bonnox fencing. This was the chance to take the important steps towards forming the newest pack in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP); a management step which is currently part of a plan to introduce new genetic stock into the HiP’s Wild Dog population.
As the park’s Wild Dog monitor walked back out of the boma, and returned to the vehicle to watch this play of potential passion unfold, the pairs of dogs turned round, ambled back to their initial resting spots and crumpled back into their respective disinterested Saturday morning gazes.
An elephant bull ambled out from the Acacias surrounding the boma, plucked the occasional clump of leaves and piqued the curiosity of the female dogs. The males didn’t budge. It was all rather dull and anticlimactic; like a roll of boerewors boiled in a pan instead of braaied. Predictably the dogs were simply unpredictable.
After 30 minutes, in an attempt to spark some interest from the lethargic dogs, a dirty old towel was dropped in the boma close to the interleading gate. Both pairs of dogs, unable to contain their excitement and curiosity, scampered across to the big rag. One male, having hurriedly and impulsively crossed the imaginary barrier between the compartments, turned and scuttled back to his side. The remaining male tugged at the cloth while the females nipped and twisted at the opposite side. The moves got bolder, there were a few quick sniffs and the veil of interest disappeared again. An observer suggested the cunning “hard to get” approach would pay dividends later; it seemed unlikely given the evidence dished out by silicone enhanced, MTV reality show starlets.
As the morning wore on, the cautious approach surprisingly began to bear fruit. The elephant dismembering a large tree nearby was still the more interesting option for the females; yet the males appeared to make more intentional “drive by” runs. As they got bolder, the females started showing hints of interest. Over the passing hours this gradually led to the four trotting out routes around the boma perimeter together, the occasional bit of nudging (they can’t hold hands) and then the slightly unusual social practice of a female poking her nose into a male’s crotch, lifting his body up with her head, and then walking under the rather awkward looking “Lycaon wheelbarrow”. We could only speculate how it would look if this was common dating technique played out by humans in the Mkhuze Cricket Club. This artificial bonding will most likely take several more weeks before they can be released into the reserve as a functional pack.
Similarly, a bonding process has also begun at Hlambanyathi Private Game Reserve with the intention of re-releasing a stable pack into the reserve. This follows the splintering of the previous pack in response to the alpha female (which was also the only adult female in the pack) being shot dead by poachers. Significantly for Wild Dog conservation nationally, these developments have also tied into an initiative to move Wild Dogs to Khamab Kalahari Reserve (KKR) in the North West Province. In need of female Wild Dogs to bond with a small group of free ranging males in their southern Kalahari landscape, the splintering of the Hlambanyathi pack provided such an opportunity. The conservation NGO, The Bateleurs, generously agreed to a request to fly two female Wild Dogs from KZN; a journey which by all accounts was an epic battle against winds, the weather gods and trying to stop the dogs waking up. It remains to be seen if KKR can now establish a functional pack as South Africa’s newest, Wild Dog metapopulation reserve. Fingers crossed.
The project to expand the current range, and facilitate proactive management of Wild Dogs in the diverse landscape of northern KwaZulu-Natal is carried out through a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trusts’ Carnivore Conservation Programme, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Wildlife ACT, Wildlands Conservation Trust and the KZN Wild Dog Management Group; supported by 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