WILD DOG DIARIES – 56

Ask anyone who has monitored Wild Dogs at some point and they’ll have their favourites. Those individuals who commit extraordinary time to keep us up to date with the various pack’s social intricacies are more susceptible than most to the charisma of Wild Dogs since they are the ones most often exposed to the theatre. It’s tricky not to get sucked into some emotional tie with this species because they’re such vibrant animals and individuals often have clear personality traits. With their sleek and slightly spindly physique they almost seem quite precious and fragile at times; even when they constantly impress upon us that they are tough as nails. They can hunt even when missing limbs or have snares slicing deep into their flesh, they kill other animals to survive themselves and it is apparent that given a break from human persecution and habitat fragmentation they can persist. It is a bit of a charismatic, tender and yet brutally efficient liaison that Wild Dogs can have with observers, prey and amongst themselves; essentially a real-life Sopranos or Godfather series.

Tambo was one of those characters which, in part because of his two crumpled, rather unsavoury looking ears, stood out. He just looked a little more bad-ass than his pack mates. His history showed us the potential that Wild Dogs have to capture our imagination and achieve popularity among tourists and the general public. His ignominious death, killed in a snare, represented how much work we have ahead of us to create safer reserves and range land for Wild Dogs, despite the hard work put in by many people already.

In late 2009 he led a dispersal group of eight males out of the south-western corner of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in a roughly circular route of over 300km (past Ulundi, Vryheid and Hluhluwe) for nearly two months. He was the last of his crew to be caught, darted from a helicopter while hurtling through the grass of Phinda desperately trying to avoid capture. Reunited with his five remaining (two died during this dispersal event) travel companions in the Tembe Elephant Park boma, they were all later transferred to the Mkhuze Game Reserve (MGR) boma  as we tried to source them appropriate females with which they could establish a new pack. The fact that their release into MGR only took place in mid- 2011 was an alarming indication of the lack of available, “spare”, female Wild Dogs nationally.

It would have been all too Hollywood though for this Hugh Hefner cross Bakkies Botha of a Wild Dog specimen to have retired subtly. His physical prime had been passed prior to release from the boma, and to highlight the complex and hard nature of the pack dynamic, he was displaced as the alpha male by a member of the original dispersal posse; relegated to an average member of the rather extraordinary Mantenga pack.

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 9483Image

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About whittingtonjones

I’m Brendan Whittington-Jones, a Capetonian and a ginger – what a pearler of a combination! I manage the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s KZN Wild Dog Project in northern Zululand. The initial aim of the project was to answer research questions around what influenced where wild dogs moved when they dispersed out of protected areas, and what the attitudes of rural communities surrounding these protect areas are towards wild dogs. Over the years, the project has evolved to play a stronger management role in wild dog conservation in the province. I coordinate the KZN Wild Dog Management Group, where we focus on range expansion for the species, collective management of the species in the province and mitigation of potential wild dog conflict with landowners. One of the bonuses of my job is the opportunities I have to explore new reintroduction locations like Tembe, or track after dogs through parts of the region I’ve never seen before – although I would prefer it if the dogs did this in shorter stints rather than month-long treks.
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