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Where Wild Dogs roam
Unique study aims to save the Endangered African Wild Dog by understanding where they wander
ONCE considered vermin, colonial governments ordered widespread eradication of the African Wild Dog. Today, Wild Dog numbers are still on the decrease in some regions due to loss of habitat and prey, as well as direct persecution by livestock and game farmers.
The Wild Dog is Africa’s rarest large carnivore, after the Critically Endangered Ethiopian Wolf. Classified as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, the only viable contiguous population of Wild Dogs in South Africa can be found in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Census results reveal that even here, numbers have decreased, from 434 in 1995 to about 140 in 2009.
In recent years, their numbers may have stabilized around the relatively small amount of Wild Dogs now present.“ The small size of the population exposes them to more risk,” says Dr Sam Ferreira, SANParks Large Mammal Ecologist. “If for example”, he adds, “a disease breaks out in the Kruger population, there are not enough animals to serve as a buffer and allow immunity to develop effectively. This could lead to a dramatic decrease in numbers or even local extinction of this population”. Small populations may also carry higher risks of inbreeding.
Wild Dog packs roam over long distances, and packs within the KNP population could possibly be moving outside of the park’s borders into unprotected areas. For the first time, researchers are now focusing their attention exactly there – where the KNP’s borders stop. The purpose of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Kruger Western Boundary Project is to investigate if Wild Dogs and Cheetahs are moving beyond the park’s borders and if so, where are they moving and how their movements are affected by different land uses. The study also aims to gather information on human attitudes and tolerance towards these animals, and the threats these species face. The EWT is partnering with SANParks, Rhodes University, Jaguar Land Rover South Africa and a number of land owners, managers and communities to make this unique project happen.
Making it happen
The project is focusing on the movement behaviour of Wild Dogs beyond the western and southern boundaries of the KNP. Starting in 2010, the project is using questionnaires and interviews to investigate Wild Dog and Cheetah distribution, land use, threats and attitudes towards these two species. The land adjoining the park, including private nature reserves, hunting and game farms as well as lodges and crop farms, is being surveyed. This gives researchers an idea of the geographic layout, land-use practices and obstacles (such as negative attitudes and physical elements like roads) that affect the animals’ distribution or survival.
Researchers have also asked land-owners to provide them with sighting records and photographs of any Wild dogs and Cheetahs from the last 15 years. These will be analysed to identify individual animals from their unique coat and spot patterns providing information on movement and survival of animals.
To date, says principal researcher, Jessica Watermeyer, a Master’s student at Rhodes University, the project has received more than 14 000 photographs of Wild dogs, and 9 000 of Cheetahs. Preliminary results show that several Wild Dog packs use substantial areas outside of the KNP in the private nature reserves along the western boundary, and one pack has a home range that does not include any areas inside the park. Wild Dogs come into conflict with humans outside the park and deaths have been reported from shooting, snaring, poisoning. They also seem to be susceptible to being killed in road traffic accidents. Watermeyer says that there has been no clear indication that snaring has a detrimental effect on Wild Dog numbers but better information on the baseline population will be necessary to really explore this.
The research team is hoping that those involved will acquire the knowledge to educate others in related land use practices about the threatened status of Wild Dogs and Cheetahs and the importance of their conservation. It is also hoped that the project will contribute to the development of management strategies that aim to improve human tolerance, appreciation and understanding of both species.
Ferreira adds that the project will afford the KNP a more global picture of the Wild Dogs. Wild Dogs regularly exploring areas outside the borders of the KNP may experience significantly more threats associated with humans than those spending most of the time inside KNP. The existence of the KNP population may be at risk if it cannot sustain the risks for dogs leaving the park. Alternatively, it is possible that the protection Wild Dogs experience within the park could compensate for losses outside KNP.
According to project field worker Grant Beverley from the EWT, “people must realize that their actions outside the park are affecting the population inside the protected area”.
*Grant Beverley is stationed in the lowveld. If you have any sightings information on Wild Dogs or Cheetahs, or need further information on these two species please contact him on
0832256214 or firstname.lastname@example.org