African wild dogs for a name change

2016-03-09 22:10
African Wild Dog. (Photo: EWT)

African Wild Dog. (Photo: EWT)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Limpopo-Lipadi - It looked like an African wildlife version of "West Side Story."

A pack of African wild dogs milled around at dusk, seemingly ready to rumble, as in the musical about New York City gangs. Checking each other out, they made high-pitched whining or chirping sounds. They looked like they were up to something, or about to be — it was, after all, the hunting hour.

This endangered species with big, round ears and a patchy white, yellow and black pelt is in such jeopardy that there is talk among conservationists of renaming the species "painted dog" or "painted wolf" to dignify its image and ensure people don't confuse the name with a scrawny stray.

That way, the thinking goes, the species will become more than a footnote to other imperilled animals such as the lion and rhino that are viewed as having more gravitas.

"It's a discussion we have every year," said Kevin MacFarlane, reserve manager at Limpopo-Lipadi, a private game reserve in southeast Botswana whose insignia is a running wild dog. He was referring to a network of regional conservationists that manages wild dog populations and includes one faction that believes a name change would shed any negative connotations of the term "wild dog."

For his part, MacFarlane said he likes to focus on telling tourists that African wild dogs are "amazing" so he can "sell them on that."

A South African wine label, Painted Wolf Wines, agrees. On its website, it says it contributes some proceeds to the conservation of "this intriguing and beautiful animal."

The geographical range of African wild dogs, which are related to dogs and wolves, was vastly reduced over many decades as livestock owners and others killed them. The dogs hunt relentlessly as a pack, sometimes exhausting their prey in the chase (unlike lions, which rely more on stealth and stalking) and even learning to use fences to corral animals.

Highly persecuted

"It's such a successful animal in the wild that it was highly persecuted for a long time all through Africa," MacFarlane said in an interview in his office at the 207km² reserve, which used to be farmland.

"Everybody's got lions and it sort of sets us apart a little bit" to have wild dogs, MacFarlane said.

The fenced reserve north of the Limpopo River offers chalets for visiting shareholders and their guests. Warthogs, antelopes, monkeys and large lizards occasionally traverse the lodge grounds. A sign warns of the danger of lurking hippos and crocodiles.

Limpopo-Lipadi has 17 wild dogs; the population was reduced to half a dozen around the end of 2014 because of rabies, but recovered with the birth of pups. Reserve staff members are monitoring five lions that recently wandered onto the territory. Lions have been known to attack wild dogs or snatch freshly killed prey from the smaller predators, but the five newcomers have co-existed so far with the wild dogs at Limpopo-Lipadi.

Africa has between 6 000 and 7 000 African wild dogs, a far smaller population than in the past. About half live in Botswana, a southern African country whose relatively small population of more than 2 million people and large expanses of unfenced areas, many with at least some degree of protection for wildlife, are ideal for an animal that can travel long distances.

In South Africa, which has fewer than 550 wild dogs, conservationists move individual wild dogs to different reserves to prevent inbreeding and encourage the formation of new packs.

Packs usually have one dominant breeding pair and there are limited mating opportunities, said Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert, head of conservation at the Endangered Wildlife Trust. She said the African wild dog programme in South Africa could be a "blueprint" for managing other endangered species.

Davies-Mostert said the debate over whether to change the name of the species had gone on for many years.

"I think if there is anything we can do to improve their image, then we should probably do it," she said. Noting, however, that farmers who kill the wild dogs to protect livestock probably don't care what the predator is called, Davies-Mostert said: "But I'd like to see some evidence that it would actually make some difference."

Read more on:    endangered wildlife trust  |  botswana  |  conservation  |  animals

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.