Wild Dog Diaries – 76
I was recently reading a brief history of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Carnivore Conservation Programme which covered Wild Dog conservation efforts from the late 90’s until 2005. At that stage the managed metapopulation (which aims to conserve the smaller, geographically isolated populations as one collective “metapopulation” – an initiative in addition to the unmanaged free-roaming population in Limpopo Province, North-West Province and the Kruger National Park) which was being guided by the EWT through the national Wild Dog Advisory Group, was only seven years into its stride and the population figures were sitting at approximately 200 metapopulation Wild Dogs in 17 packs over eight reserves. Given that the initial goal of the metapopulation was nine packs, it was clear that conservation progress had been made.
So fast-forward to 2013, eight years later, and what do we have? The national metapopulation currently sits at approximately 200 metapopulation Wild Dogs in 17 packs over eight reserves. Sound familiar? On the surface this is rather disappointing. It looks stable, which is good, but not really progressive. Dig a little deeper though and one sees the real significance of this metapopulation initiative. Given that the entire national Wild Dog population is less than 450 individuals, and that there is a serious shortage of suitable, un-fragmented habitat, the “approximately 200” is a significant proportion.
In 2005 fenced reserves were starting to encounter the complexities of trying to manage a species which has high spatial and prey requirements (relative to competing carnivores) and which has pack sizes which can spike or decline rapidly depending on season and localised threats. Some reserves realised they may not be big enough, or possibly didn’t have the appropriate prey abundance or that management priorities had changed. The process evolved quickly, and at times required reactive population manipulation to respond to management challenges. Between 2005 and 2013 four reserves opted to remove their Wild Dog packs or lost them due to combined threats; Marakele (2007), Venetia (2010), Tswalu (2012), Thanda (2013). Those could have been devastating blows to the national population yet in that time three new reserves (Zimanga (2009), Khamab (2011), Tembe (2011)) came on board and Tswalu rejoined the national metapopulation. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and Mkhuze have been the stalwarts throughout this period. Combined with these positive steps our collective knowledge of how to manage Wild Dogs in fenced reserves has grown and evolved to be more pragmatic, to involve population management, and has resulted in emergency response funds to mitigate conflict and protect Wild Dogs, both at a KZN Wild Dog Advisory Group level and nationally through the EWT’s Bosman Emergency Response Fund.
Few reserves have epitomised the highs and lows of the managed metapopulation approach to Wild Dog conservation more than Mkhuze; a section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Following years of meagre population increases and additional introductions from the metapopulation, countered by larger declines, primarily attributed to the scourge of snaring which killed and maimed many Wild Dogs (and which continues to be a serious localized threat), the dedicated efforts of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife management staff and WildlifeACT monitors over the years were rewarded this year with two females collectively producing a litter of 12 pups. How this 18-strong pack navigates the year until the 2014 breeding cycle remains to be seen; but until then it’s good to enjoy a bit of optimism.
Find more Wild Dog information at www.wagsa.org.za. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s National Wild Dog Metapopulation Project is supported by Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, Land Rover Centurion, Investec, GCCL² and Painted Wolf Wines and in KZN is carried out through collaboration with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, WildlifeACT, Wildlands Conservation Trust and the participants within the KZN Wild Dog Advisory Group and the Wild Dog Advisory Group of South Africa.
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 notify Brendan Whittington-Jones on 072 992 9483