Wild Dog Diaries – 80: The ups and downs of Shiyane
The start of 2014 has been very eventful with the ending of two eras. Firstly, the moving on of Brendan Whittington-Jones from the country, who spent a remarkable 8 years in KwaZulu-Natal monitoring and managing the highly successful meta-population of African wild dogs. Secondly, we have witnessed the diffusion and splitting for one famous group of wild dogs in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park; the Shiyane pack.
At the peak of their power, this pack was a force to be reckoned with, numbering 28 individuals in 2012. A group of this size has a real chance at dominating a territory, if they can keep their numbers up and well fed. However, Mother Nature had a way of keeping an equilibrium by whittling down this group, season after season. When wild dogs are approximately 18 months of age they feel their strong driving instinct start to kick in; the need to reproduce. This instinct along with over-riding hormones, facilitates their curiosity to break away from their natal (birth) pack in search of new and attractive opposite sex companions. This is what happened to the Shiyane’s as their younger generation of males and females decided to split from the pack, instantly cutting their numbers by almost half. In this respect, the awe of Mother Nature is frightening who always has a way to knock a king off his throne and bring him back down to reality.
Some of the dispersers have been luckier than others where a few of the dispersing females have managed to bond with other males and formed the Madlozi pack, often seen between Mphafa and Bhejane hides in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. However, their brothers have not been as lucky, as 6 of the young males decided to venture out of the reserve heading westwards through heavy community lands. Unfortunately, when African wild dogs leave the safety of protected areas they are subject to much persecution. This persecution likely stems from humankind’s lack of knowledge and deep fear of carnivores. Historically, wild dogs were seen as vermin that savagely killed their prey and severely disrupted the herds they preyed upon. As these 6 males left the reserve we managed to keep track of them via the VHF radio collar placed on potential dispersers in case of such an event. Weeks of effort to find them proved difficult and with a lack of wild prey available, they turned to killing goats causing a high degree of tension in the communal and farming lands. However, with the help of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, WildlifeACT and many community members and farm owners, it was decided to catch these wild dogs and take them to a new home. Eventually, 3 of the 6 males were caught some 100kms from the reserve and placed in a holding boma in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (see Wild Dog diaries 79). The other 3 have remained well hidden, with only unconfirmed sporadic reports. One might ask why would these wild dogs leave the reserve and stay outside even after persecution. There is no simple answer, but we can hazard a guess: no competition from lions, hyenas or other wild dogs, ample supply of water, very easy to catch “prey” and most importantly, no available opposite sex dispersers inside the reserve. In fact, it has now been shown in a recent paper from the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Wildlife Management that these dogs are following historical routes of dispersal along optimal habitat patches west of the reserve.
What will come of the three males now in a boma? They will be socially bonded with females from Madikwe Game Reserve to form a new pack and moved to a new home this year. This facilitates natural dispersal and colonisation events, in line with meta-population strategy for wild dog management in South Africa. Others may ask about the fate of the rest of the pack, which up until recently rested on a knife edge. Some believe they have been pushed out of the reserve due to high numbers of wild dogs inside Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park while others believe there has been an increase in competition from lions. Whichever you decide to believe, a few things are for sure regarding areas outside of reserves: goats are easy to catch, communal land is littered with herds of unprotected livestock and most importantly, these areas are void of other competing predators. The six remaining Shiyane dogs spent six weeks out in the community killing goats resulting in intensely heated community interactions. This lead to the combined decision to capture these wild dogs for their own safety. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, WildlifeACT, Wildlands Conservation Trust, the Wild Dog Advisory Group of South Africa, the KwaZulu-Natal-Wild Dog Advisory Group and Sangoyana community members combined together to capture these dogs. Relying on the park’s wild dog monitor, Zama Zwane, to accurately locate these dogs lead to utilising helicopters, call ups and eventual net capture techniques resulting in the capture of four of the six wild dogs. These four wild dogs are currently in another boma in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park awaiting release to a brand new area to allow them to propagate their genes. The remaining two dogs are speculated to have returned to the park following the capture of their pack members, now running around the wilderness section in southern iMfolozi. A once formidable pack of 28 dogs now sits at two females, with their relatives dispersed in an already newly formed pack, holding bomas and others potentially living in the community forever.
Watch this space to learn of the outcome of the location of the new homes for the dogs in the bomas and see how the two remaining females fair in the wilderness of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
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 David Marneweck with the above information on 082 448 1721.