A modern approach to African wild dog conservation
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, the Kruger National Park (KNP) was the only safe space for the African wild dog in South Africa.
Most of the population outside this protected area had become locally extinct and the species was proclaimed the most endangered carnivore in the country. The greatest threat to the animal is habitat loss.
In 1997, a strategy meeting was held to revive African wild dog conservation in South Africa by undertaking a population and habitat viability assessment (PHVA).
This recommended reintroducing the species into feasible, protected sites outside the KNP.
KwaZulu-Natal, under the leadership of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and support of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Wildlife ACT, became the frontrunner in restoring African wild dog populations and managing the species. Tembe Elephant Park was one of these testing grounds for range expansion.
However, the project came with challenges. African wild dogs face numerous threats from people: persecution, snaring, poisoning, roadkill and disease.
A further concerning challenge is that our protected areas are limited in size. As African wild dogs require a lot of space, this situation can increase the risk of human-animal conflict.
Two years ago, Tembe Elephant Park came close to losing its African wild dog population for this reason. The resident pack at the time continued to exit the park over a prolonged period and caused livestock losses within the neighbouring community, which in turn led to extreme conflict with the park.
The resolution lay in a gathering of all stakeholders – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Tembe Community Trust, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Tembe Safaris and Wildlife ACT – to collectively find a way forward.
Together, the parties were able to delegate responsibility and put in their best effort to sustain the species in the 30 000-hectare Tembe Elephant Park.
A robust memorandum of agreement between the parties now incorporates breakout and compensation protocols, GPS collars, monitoring, research, and management tools.
This document paves the way for a more modern approach to African wild dog conservation and will ensure that all parties ultimately benefit by having the species present.
In South Africa, there are only 590 African wild dogs that are spread between 14 protected areas, and a handful of free-roaming African wild dogs in the Waterberg region.
In Africa, wild dogs are extinct in 25 of the 39 countries they once roamed.
As the only country with a stable population on the continent, South Africa is in a unique position to provide a source of wild dog packs for protected areas elsewhere in their range, where in some cases populations have been extirpated for decades.
In the context of biodiversity conservation, this team victory is of highest value to Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa and the African continent.
In August, a newly formed pack comprising two males from Tembe and two females from the Kalahari were released into Tembe. This pack has settled well since its release and there is hope that a new generation of Tembe pups will make its appearance before year’s end.
Du Plessis is KZN regional carnivore co-ordinator and wild dog range expansion project co-ordinator, Endangered Wildlife Trust.
WILD dogs are back in the Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal.