The afternoon of darting and collaring at Somkhanda Community Game Reserve almost became a failed mission because of bad weather, but fortunately the skies cleared, the wind died down and the pack of 13 African Painted Dogs was in a perfect location for the operation.
“It all went so smoothly and the dogs were relaxed, which makes things a lot easier. I’m so chuffed – three new collars fitted onto the Somkhanda pack,” Pippa Orpen, Wildlife ACT’s specialised monitor and node manager said.
Wildlife ACT — an NPO driven by a team of passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to conservation — is working hard to save this endangered species.
Only about 550 African Painted Dogs left in SA
The African Painted Dog is one of the priority species the organisation monitors in multiple protected areas, including Somkhanda in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
“With approximately 550 Painted Dogs left in South Africa, the next generation of pups is extremely important to the survival of this endangered species,” Orpen said.
“This pack was bonded and introduced to Somkhanda Community Reserve in December 2018. The males are from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and the females from Khamab Kalahari. This is the second generation of pups born with this genetic bloodline.”
African Painted Dogs crucial to Somkhanda’s success
Somkhanda is owned by the Emvokweni Community Trust on behalf of the Gumbi Traditional Authority, and managed in partnership with Wildlands, a programme of the WildTrust.
The reserve generates economic activity for the Gumbi community, mainly anchored by tourism and the wildlife economy. A species like the African Painted Dog is of interest to local and international tourists, and crucial for Somkhanda’s long-term success.
Daily monitoring of priority species allows Wildlife ACT to watch over population dynamics, movements, ecological influences, disease, snaring incidents and any human-wildlife conflict issues. Because Painted Dogs are top predators, their impact on the reserve also needs to be well understood.
Collars needed to save this endangered species
The African Painted Dogs from Somkhanda were darted and fitted with either VHF anti-snare or satellite collars, allowing the team on the ground to collect baseline data to better understand home ranges, daily movements, individual and pack behaviour, and diet.
This information is fed to reserve management to inform decision making on the reserve. Depending on the species of animal, collars can be customised with sensors to recognise different movement activity, temperature and even mortality.
The fragmented landscape of the province, with protected areas interspersed between agricultural and residential areas, makes the monitoring of populations of endangered species crucial.
“If the size of our protected areas were to increase or we were able to establish new protected areas in wildlife corridors, we wouldn’t need to manage this endangered species as intensively as we do, but until that time we will need to assist them,” said Chris Kelly, Wildlife ACT’s co-founder and director of species conservation.
Every African Painted Dog pack in KwaZulu-Natal is monitored by Wildlife ACT, ensuring a holistic understanding of the population in the province. In some areas, African Painted Dog populations have been severely affected by illegal snaring, especially in remote areas where law enforcement and monitoring are difficult.
African Painted Dog successes in KwaZulu-Natal include:
- Thanks to intensive monitoring, 29 of 43 African Painted Dogs were saved from poachers’ snares, and potentially many more prevented from being caught in snares as by-catch.
- Some have had limbs amputated due to snare damage. Four of the five African Painted Dogs that lost legs to snaring are continuing their lives running wild again. Though at a slight disadvantage, they seem to cope very well on just three legs.
- Two of the amputees were females that have since given birth and raised two litters of pups each.
How to help get more African Painted Dogs collared
“These statistics are clear evidence of how important wildlife monitoring is and how crucial it is for Somkhanda Community Game Reserve to partner with like-minded organisations such as Wildlife ACT in ensuring there is successful monitoring and conservation of the wild dog population,” Somkhanda game reserve manager Meiring Prinsloo said.
With the help of various benefactors and supporting organisations over the last 10 years, Wildlife ACT has monitored up to 70% of South Africa’s metapopulation of African Painted Dogs. Over this period they have helped relocate more 385 dogs, treat more than 144 for snaring and other injuries, and collared more than 289.
To help Wildlife ACT collar more Painted Dogs in Zululand, visit: givengain.com/cc/wilddogcollars/