Wild dogs run loose

Game re­serve pack en­ters Em­pan­geni and evades cap­ture

Zululand Observer - Monday - - FRONT PAGE - Or­rin Singh

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.

Fred Lubbe

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.

Fred Lubbe

A dog leaps off the ground in the cane­field at an Em­pan­geni farm

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