A mod­ern ap­proach to African wild dog con­ser­va­tion

The Mercury - - METRO - COLE DU PLESSIS

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.

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