Denning season is the most exciting time of the year for a wild dog conservationist. Denning means pups and pups mean an endless amount of play and fun. As wild dogs live in packs, they look after one another and for the pack as whole, the denning season is a particularly stressful time.
Denning is normally during the dry season, where a pack chooses a specific den for the alpha female to give birth in. It has recently been found that dens are selected in areas of rough terrain. The next question to ask is why would wild dogs choose such areas for dens? The answer we think is related to lion activity. Normally, lions don’t utilise these areas often, making them ideal areas to raise pups. In fact, lions have been found to be the major factor affecting mortality of wild dog pups.
Additionally, new pups in the pack mean more mouths to feed. An alpha female can give birth to 18 pups, meaning that numbers in a pack can double overnight! In order to obtain this extra amount of food, the adults in a pack have to ensure that they provide enough food for these new pups by regurgitating food for the alpha female. The alpha female will feed on these remains and lactate for the pups before they start eating meat. So, the first month after the pups are born are a highly sensitive time, where it is essential for the pack to provide enough food for the alpha so she can wean the pups.
With the adults starting hunts from the den, they have to venture out to find food before they return to the den. Part of the research I am conducting for my PhD is investigating exactly how far adults get from the den before they have to return to meet their energetic demands. This may shed light into the amount of food that a pack needs in order to give the pups the best chance of survival. Survival of pups is the number one priority for a pack of wild dogs. Ensuring that pups survive means a healthy and thriving pack and it also means that the genes of that pack are put back into the system. Currently, of the 10 packs of wild dogs in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), 8 are confirmed to be denning. Although no pups have yet been witnessed, satellite collar data clearly shows how the packs are utilising one spot, just after all the alpha females were seen to be heavily pregnant. I will be anxiously keeping tabs on all the dens in the hope that we may shortly get a visual of the newest additions to the KZN wild dog population! More to follow next month…
Find more Wild Dog information at Wild Dog Advisory Group South Africa. 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 David Marneweck with the above information on 082 448 1721.
Written by Endangered Wildlife Trust’s David Marneweck