The recent story of Egyptian authorities detaining a “swan” oddly enough highlights several rather important conservation issues. The Guardian.co.uk reported “the bird, allegedly working for the French government, was captured in a heroic citizen’s arrest by a fisherman who spotted that it was wearing some sort of electronic device….it was a tracking device used by French scientists studying the birds immigration patterns”. Interestingly enough Iranian authorities arrested 14 “spy squirrels” in 2007; but that’s just some added trivia. Correct identification of species (the “swan” was actually a White Stork) and understanding species distribution and geographic movements are crucial to mitigating threats and implementing appropriate conservation measures. I suspect the French university did not have espionage allegations on their “threats to White Storks” list.
The European Stork with its tracking device
An example closer to home was the recently printed news report of 12 “wild dogs” slaughtering goats at Ndwedwe near Durban. The popular isiZulu newspaper used the correct word for African Wild Dogs, AmaNkentshane, but failed to actually validate the facts of the case before attributing blame. Subsequent phone calls by Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park’s (HiP) Wild Dog monitor, Zama Zwane, to the journalist and the witnesses, clearly established that the animals in question were not African Wild Dogs, but rather domestic dogs which had gone feral and were marauding through the area. Packs of feral dogs are not only a public health risk but also seriously threaten livestock in certain areas. It is important to make the distinction that feral dogs and African Wild Dogs are an entirely different species, so much so that they cannot interbreed.
Considering that African Wild Dogs are South Africa’s rarest carnivore, and don’t occur south of HiP, which is approximately 200 km north of Durban, the correct identification and understanding of distribution and ranging patterns is important. In KwaZulu-Natal there are only African Wild Dog packs in HiP, Mkhuze Game Reserve, Tembe Elephant Park and Zimanga Private Game Reserve. Given all the challenges facing African Wild Dogs, such unmerited negative publicity is unwelcome, an unbalanced perspective and counterproductive to conservation efforts.
In the North-West and Northern Cape provinces the outcomes of the breeding season among metapopulation reserves are still being assessed. To date 11 pups have been recorded for Khamab Kalahari’s pack, the Madikwe packs were denning when last reported upon, the Pilanesberg pack is suspected to be denning and Tswalu Kalahari’s pack remains in their boma until such time the reserve is ready for the release. So while 2013 appears to have been a productive one for packs within fenced reserves, the challenge remains to source more available habitat.
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 Fund, 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