Wild Dog management can be a tricky affair. While there is the strong desire to see pack and individual numbers soar, partly so we can tick it off as a species “saved”, it always has to be tempered by some distinct realties. Wild Dogs of the Lycaon pictus variety don’t appear to have changed in form or operating style for millions of years (if the available literature is to be believed). Historically they were a successful predator, both in terms of African spatial coverage and simply by figuring out a niche among other competing carnivores and pushing on through to a period when mankind figured out the game of fencing land, blowing things up and generally fighting the biological world with tar, bricks and other products of industry.
So here we are, with Wild Dogs still trying to operate as they always have, in a world which is radically different to even a few hundred years ago. However with us trying to confine this creature into fenced reserves, we start to hit all the complexities which can be imagined when you have an animal which doesn’t really understand the details of land ownership, liability, holding back on the breeding instinct or that some animals are OK to eat and others are taboo. Wild Dogs relate hunting effort and energy expenditure and are generally expected to alter prey selection based on the energetic effort required for capture; but will also opportunistically hunt prey. Getting the most food for the least effort makes sense; until one starts assigning arbitrary economic values to certain prey species based on how “sexy” they are perceived to be.
“Can’t they just understand we are trying to help them” we often say. In the face of human related dangers, like capture for example, Wild Dog pack members often just can’t help but chase each other around and frolic as if taunting that distance an immobilizing dart can fly. It’s hard not to admire and be amused by them even when they infuriatingly thwart all the best management efforts, repeatedly. The reality is that Wild Dogs are Wild Dogs and that isn’t going to change. What we need to keep doing is work out ways that we can balance human needs, desires and politics to facilitate a strong enough, sustainable land network to give Wild Dogs the chance to do what they do best; survive.
To show we have made SOME progress, I graphed out Wild Dog populations in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Africa, over the past seven years. The populations were counted at the beginning of May each year so that packs were only including adults and yearlings, rather than showing temporarily skewed high points with pups included (in general there is a 50% pup mortality among litters pups so waiting until they are yearlings gives a better idea of annual population trend). What it doesn’t show is that as the Wild Dog population has increased, so has management complexity. But what is encouraging is that in KZN we are better off than we were in 2006 both in terms of overall population size (and pack numbers) and the number of reserves cooperating to take resident Wild Dogs. It’s also encouraging to see that although Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park remains a critical haven for Wild Dogs, the spreading of the population over additional reserves has meant the risk to the greater provincial and national population through some catastrophic event (such as a disease outbreak) is reduced.
Find more Wild Dog information at http://www.wagsa.org.za. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s National Wild Dog Metapopulation Project is supported by Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, Land Rover Centurion, Investec, GCCL² and Painted Wolf Wines and in KZN is carried out through collaboration with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Wildlife ACT, Wildlands Conservation Trust and the participants within the KZN Wild Dog Advisory Group and the Wild Dog Advisory Group of South Africa.
If any readers observe Wild Dogs outside of protected areas, please note the location of the sighting, whether the animal is wearing a tracking collar and identify, or ideally, photograph any characteristic markings. Please notify Brendan Whittington-Jones on 072 992 9483.