Wild dogs run loose
Game reserve pack enters Empangeni and evades capture
THE hunt is on for a pack of African wild dogs that has been seen in the heart of the Empangeni industrial area, Ngwelezana and Heatonville. Reported sightings suggest that between 3-7 dogs, believed to have escaped from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), are roaming on farms, green belts and open land. Fast-moving, the pack - without tracking collars - has so far avoided capture as it ranged the area and avoided location over the weekend. Not renowned as being aggressive toward humans - but potentially so in certain circumstances - the greater likelihood is that humans will harm or kill the dogs. The Zululand Observer was contacted on Thursday morning following the second sighting of the pack in Bronze Street in Empangeni. Alison Rosso, whose colleague said he had seen the dogs in the area the previous Friday, provided solid evidence of the animals after she photographed two dogs in the built-up business area. ‘I initially saw two dogs in the road and I couldn’t believe my eyes. ‘It’s rare to see these dogs in a game reserve, let alone in your own town. ‘The dogs split up, one ran across to the field and the other ran into a bush in the opposite direction. ‘I thought that they would need to join each other again so I waited in my car for a little while and that’s when I saw three dogs emerge from the bush and join the dog in the open field on the other side of the road,’ she said. Terry Read, owner of Progress Engineering, confirmed that he too saw the dogs in the canefield behind his workshop. ‘One of my workers saw them behind our workshop and called me. ‘When I looked over the wall I saw one, the next thing there were two. ‘This was just before midday.’ Read said he also saw the dogs on his CCTV cameras. ‘In my office I could see them on our monitor and I saw them running before they disappeared along the fringes of the cane. ‘I counted about seven dogs in total.’
ZO initiates action
After informing Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife District Conservation Officer (DCO), Phumla Zulu, as well as KZN Wild Dog Advisory Group Chairperson, Dr Dave Druce, of the sightings of these endangered animals in Empangeni, the ZO initiated the mobilisation of a team to further investigate and track down them down. Fred Lubbe, a local professional photographer, and ‘Bryce Forduce,’ a trusted drone expert, accompanied the ZO to Bronze Street as the search for the dogs began. Cole du Plessis, Wild dog coordinator for the Endangered Wildlife Trust, based at HiP, was in constant communication with the team and said that he and a wildlife vet were on standby should the dogs be spotted. Du Plessis said there were a number of variables that would determine whether or not the dogs remained in the area. ‘If it’s a pack of only males or only females, they would be on the move searching for other dogs. ‘They could cover a distance of up to 70km per day. ‘But if it’s a pack of males and females together, they could settle into an area they feel comfortable in,’ he said. Working on this information the team, now joined by Ezemvelo DCO, Phumla Zulu, made their way onto the farm in the direction in which the dogs had been last seen moving. Audio files of African wild dog calls were obtained from Du Plessis and were blasted into the area via a portable speaker with the hope that it would attract the dogs. Zulu picked up a number of positive spoor in the area and began tracking the dogs. A drone in the meantime was flown overhead to give the team a better chance of finding the animals. After a long afternoon of searching, it seemed all hope had been lost and the search was called off with the intention of resuming early the next morning. However, ten minutes after leaving the farm the ZO received a call from a frantic DCO Zulu. ‘Come back, the dogs are here,’ she said with jubilation. At about 4:45pm three African wild dogs were seen running in and around the cane and the ZO together with Ezemvelo and Lubbe followed dogs for almost an hour, ensuring that they did not attempt to cross the busy R102. A message that the dogs had been sighted was relayed to the team at HiP and on Friday morning everyone gathered on the farm in Empangeni to locate the animals and safely transport them back in crates to HiP. After searching for more than an hour, Zulu received a call from a farmer in Heatonville who said that he had seen three African wild dogs on his farm earlier that morning. According to Zulu, the farmer said he saw the dogs at about 6:30am on Friday before they moved off in the direction of Thula Thula Private Game Reserve. However, they were reportedly again sighted near Ngwelezana and Heatonville on Saturday.
The African wild dog pack members, photographed on a farm adjacent to the R102 at Empangeni on Friday, all appear to be in fine physical condition.
A dog leaps off the ground in the canefield at an Empangeni farm