ORYX Outlook – Spotlight on African Wild Dog Conservation
At ORYX we don’t want to be just another safari company with only vague nods in the direction of conservation. Part of our mission is to actively promote the organisations that we work with and as best as we can give an overview about what is happening on the ground. The ORYX Outlook blog is our contribution to this by publishing insightful and informative articles covering both species and current issues.
African Wild Dogs or “Painted Dogs” are amazingly social carnivores. They are often underrated by traditional safari goers in favour of the other top predators such as lions (you can currently vote for them as part of Wildscreen Arkive’s underappreciated species competition). This probably because they are more difficult to see due to their rarity and wide ranging habits. As a single pack can require a range of up to 5,000km2 and they can travel distances of up to 50km per day they can be tough to keep tabs on.
African Wild Dogs are one of Africa’s most endangered mammals and one of the most threatened carnivores in the world. They face multiple threats across their range.
The huge territories sizes are the biggest problem when thinking about wild dog conservation. Even keeping up with them to record their daily behaviour can be challenging and designing a reserve to contain them is even more difficult. Any reserve less than 5,000km2 wouldn’t be able to support a single family group without some interference from “edge effects”. In fact it is estimated that protected areas need to be greater than 10,000km2 in order to prevent possible contact with human settlements.
The other issue with extreme range size in an animal that lives in family groups is maintaining genetic diversity. Animals need to disperse between different groups to avoid the pitfalls of inbreeding for this reason small isolated populations are also extremely vulnerable to sudden environmental change.
The exceptional home range size means that the key to wild dog conservation lies in habitat corridors as even most of the larger reserves cannot fully contain African wild dog packs. Preventing persecution through education is essential as the wide ranging nature of wild dog ecology means that human contact is almost inevitable.
At ORYX we work with several partners through Tusk Trust that are doing excellent work with wild dogs including Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) and The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT).
Painted Dog Conservation (PDC)
The Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) project is based in Zimbabwe which is home to a sixth of the current population. The PDC project aims to protect the range and increase numbers of Wild Dog using a conservation model built on education, community involvement and international support.
The greatest threat to the African Wild Dog’s survival in Zimbabwe is human wildlife conflict with the communities that border the dog populations. African wild dogs traditionally have a reputation for attacking livestock, despite this rarely occurring in practice.
Initially PDC worked with farmers to create a “ceasefire”, designed anti-snare radio collars, which provide the dogs with some protection if caught in a snare, and erected road signs to warn motorists of the dogs’ presence. During this same period, the project successfully lobbied the authorities to have the painted dogs placed in the ‘Specially Protected’ category of the Parks and Wildlife Act.
PDC also established an 18 man anti-poaching unit (APU), which has collected over 10,000 snares since its inception. A rehabilitation facility designed to cope with an injured individual or an entire pack was constructed using Tusk funding.
In 2004 with Tusk backing, the project opened the “Iganyana Children’s Bush Camp” with a philosophy aimed at developing the perspectives, attitudes and feelings of the students towards the environment.
The area where PDC is based suffers from over 90% unemployment. To combat this the PDC runs a Community Development Project that employs men, women and children from the immediate area using the snare wires that are collected by the APU teams to create crafts that are sold worldwide. This project is backed up by a programme to establish “nutritional gardens” in the surrounding villages, which provide food security and teach sustainable use of natural resources.
As a direct result of these achievements, the painted dog population in Zimbabwe has grown from 350 to 750 individuals, a feat which has not been achieved in any other country during a similar period.
The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT)
The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) is one of the longest running large predator research projects in Africa. It is led by husband and wife team Tico and Lesley McNutt who founded it in 1989.
BPCT research on wild dogs has found that the health and welfare of the entire predator population is a key indication of overall health of the ecosystem. Thanks to a grant from one of Tusk’s supporters, BPCT are now able to keep track of their collared packs of Wild Dogs via aerial surveillance.
One of the most ground-breaking contributions BPCT are making is the BioBoundary project which aims to develop artificial territorial scent marks to limit movements by Wild Dogs into areas where they come into conflict with people and their livestock. The hope is that this will create “virtual” neighbouring packs that will deter dogs from crossing into areas where they are at risk. BPCT has established a Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry laboratory in Botswana to assess the hundreds of chemicals that make up wild dog scent.
The Bioboundary concept will have applications all over the world where human rural development may conflict with wildlife including; wolves in Europe and North America, tigers in India, dingoes in Australia, and lions all over Africa. The impact of successful development of a Bioboundary would have tremendous impact for both the wild predator populations and the people who live near them.
For the full range of locations that ORYX work with visit: www.oryxwildlifesafaris.com