We wanna survive

2008-01-12 00:00

Both the cheetah and African wild dog are protected species in KwaZulu-Natal, with wild dogs listed as critically endangered.

With this is mind, uMkhuze Game Reserve, funded by the Wildlands Conservation Trust, has implemented the uMkhuze priority species monitoring project that will enable increased monitoring of five priority species in the park (including elephant and rhino), but with particular emphasis on cheetah and wild dog.

According to Paul Havemann, the conservation manager of uMkhuze: “The objective of the project is to obtain spatial data on the movements of dogs and cheetah, [and] there is also the important aspect of obtaining daily sightings of the animals [especially dogs] to reduce the threat of loss of individuals through snaring.”

The park has collared and is currently monitoring six wild dogs, six cheetah and three groups of cheetah cubs. All six of the cheetah were collared when they were re-introduced into the park, but the collaring of the wild dogs is somewhat more challenging, says Havemann.

“We collar the alpha dogs in the packs and then when the pups reach 14 to 18 months, we try to figure out which [of the dogs] may disperse from the pack and collar as many of those as possible.”

Monitoring animals is done daily by two dedicated monitors — in a 4x4 and on a quad bike — with the occasional assistance from field staff.

Monitors are equipped with telemetry equipment, GPS and radios and alternate between tracking wild dogs and cheetah, says Havemann.

Monitors collect spatial data on animal movements, take note of group compositions, the condition of the animals and photograph them.

All of this information is used to compile and manage a database on the animals, with a particular focus on the KZN wild dog metapopulation.

Wild dogs in South Africa are critically endangered and before a number of wild dogs were reintroduced into Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in the early 1980s, they had been absent from KZN for about 50 years.

The reintroduction has been successful and numbers have increased in the province over the last three decades, but projects like these are important for better understanding the needs of the population and reducing and managing threats to their survival.

According to Havemann, the largest threat to wild dogs, and to cheetah, is habitat fragmentation, because they require large areas to be viable as a species. This is one of the biggest challenges to their conservation.

In order to ease this, priority is being given to creating dispersal corridors between protected areas. These are tracts of land that are ecologically healthy and have the correct prey species that connect protected areas and allow free-ranging dispersal of animals rather than the manipulated dispersal currently practised.

Because of this project, uMkhuze and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (formerly St Lucia Wetland Park) have the potential to be the second biggest contributor to the conservation of dogs in KZN, after Hluhluwe-iMfolozi. This project will be lending insight into the potential of the park to achieve this, says Havemann.

Another aspect of the project is to offer an opportunity for local community development with the potential for long-term business sustainability. The assistant monitor on the project is a youngster from the local community that has been trained by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

In the long term, the park is hoping to establish a community-based guides/monitor programme where a pool of qualified guides will be available to both private and formal sectors.

“The demand for these services is huge and the feasibility very positive,” says Havemann.

Finally, the project also provides for the running of environmental clubs and weekend camps for youth.

These camps are aimed at educating the youth, especially those who have the increased likelihood of coming into contact with these animals, about the importance of their conservation and survival. “The camps are focused primarily on wild dogs, their conservation status, the importance of them economically and ecologically, the need to report them before destroying them and so forth.”

African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)

The wild dog is identified by its unique pattern of black, yellow and white fur, from which its Latin name — “painted wolf” — is derived.

Wild dogs are found in scrub savanna and lightly wooded areas.

They live in packs comprising several related adult males and one or more females originating from a different pack. Only the dominant female raises pups. Litters can range from two to 19 pups.

Wild dogs have extremely large home ranges, sometimes up to 1 500 km2, although these often overlap with other packs.

They hunt in packs, with impala being a favoured prey.

They reach speeds of up to 72 km/h while chasing prey, and nearly 80% of all hunts end in a kill.

The African Wild Dog has been proved to have a “bite force quotient” — the strength of bite versus the animal’s mass — of 142, which is the highest of any living carnivorous animal.

Protection Status:

“Specially protected” in KZN and “endangered” in the SA Red Data Book.

Listed as the second most endangered carnivore in Africa and one of only three mammals in South Africa that is endangered.

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