On the mend

2011-10-14 00:00

A HAPPY ending is in sight for an African wild dog that managed to chew its way out of wire snares which trapped it after it left the safety of a private game farm near Mkuze in northern KwaZulu-Natal recently.

The dog, which suffered terrible injuries to the neck and stomach area during its ordeal, has joined a new pack in a boma where it was said this week to be “healing well”.

Conservationists are hopeful that the dog can be released back into the wild together with its new pack in the near future.

The fate of its three companions, with which it left the reserve, was never established but conservationists fear there is a good chance they too were caught in snares and possibly killed.

Wild dogs (also known as painted dogs) form extraordinarily strong bonds and if one is caught in a trap the other pack members will not abandon it while it is alive, according to experts.

The severely injured male wild dog returned to the reserve from where it had come, drawn to the company of its original pack, so enabling conservationists to dart and recapture it and to treat its wounds.

The incident represents another blow to the work of a group of dedicated conservationists whose dream is for packs of African wild dogs to roam freely across KwaZulu-Natal as they once did, and to see their numbers increase.

Chris Kelly of Wildlife Act Trust Fund, a non-profit organisation which is involved in ongoing monitoring of wild dog and other species in the area (working in conjunction with the KZN Wild Dog Management Group) said the wild dog was one of a group of four males that broke away from the original pack on a private reserve and dispersed across community land which is saturated with snares.

Wild dogs caught in snares are likely to “go ballistic” and thrash about until they are exhausted. Sometimes they manage to chew through the wire which becomes deeply embedded in their flesh.

Kelly explained that the behaviour of the young males in wandering off the reserve was to be expected.

On reaching a certain age young, single-sexed groups in a pack break away from the original family group and disperse in a bid to establish a new pack and so avoid inbreeding.

African wild dogs are critically endangered throughout South Africa (being the second most endangered carnivore in Africa) and Kelly estimates that only about 150 wild dogs currently occur in KwaZulu-Natal, and fewer than 500 in South Africa.

Because of their speed and tendency to cover huge distances daily, often along the same paths antelope use, this species is particularly vulnerable to snares that are prolific in the Zululand region.

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