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Conserving the African wild dog

Conserving the African wild dog

Conserving the African wild dog

The take home message when it comes to conserving the African wild dog is that they are unique and without protection could disappear from our wild areas. Like cheetahs (see Zambezi Traveller Issue 10, Sept 2012) the African wild dog need LOTS of space. Even in areas with high prey densities such as Chobe, Hwange and the Kruger National Parks wild dogs still roam widely, and when dispersing to find mates they can cover distances of up to 500km as the crow flies. While not completely understood the theory is that this behaviour results from an evolutionary history of avoiding stronger competitors such as the lion and the spotted hyaena.
This need for lots of space, coupled with a lingering misconception that they decimate wildlife populations and are vermin, makes the wild dog increasingly vulnerable as human populations in their range areas increase, and land is subsequently altered, sometimes irrevocably. Their wide ranging behaviour coupled with wild prey populations declining over much of Africa has also increased the chances of conflict with livestock producers, as wild dogs do kill livestock when natural prey is limited or not available.

Many protected areas of Africa are simply too small (<10 000km2) or have too large an edge effect to protect this species and conservation efforts must focus on encouraging tolerance to their presence in key connecting and buffer areas between the protected area networks of Africa. Disease from domestic dogs is an increasing threat to the wild dog, and the more humans encroach on wildlife areas the more this threat increases.

However, there are a number of positives when looking at the future of the African wild dog. It is no threat to humans, preferring to avoid areas of human habituation; therefore encouraging coexistence does not come with a potential cost to human life. Livestock can be protected quite easily from depredation by wild dogs without huge expense (e.g. using livestock guarding dogs, herding livestock during early hours of day and in the evening, keeping a donkey with a herd).

Wild dogs can also recover quickly in areas where they have been persecuted, given their high reproductive rates and their ability to disperse over large distances. A number of areas within Southern Africa have seen natural re-colonization of wild dog populations into areas where they were previously persecuted. What is needed is to increase tolerance and wild prey populations - if this happens the dogs will take care of themselves.

Conservation efforts are therefore focusing on raising awareness of the threats and possible mitigation methods across their known range and encouraging tolerance to their presence and commitment to maintaining enough land that is suitable for them (not necessarily fully protected or full of wildlife remember -  just suitable for a few  packs of wild dogs).

The new approach sees planning carried out at the regional level and then development of national action plans. Governments are actively being encouraged to promote the conservation of the African wild dog to the level of rhino and elephant with varying degrees of success. The most exciting development to date was the recognition of the African wild dog by the Kavango Zambezi TFCA Secretariat as a key species for the TFCA. All of this is possible because of the increasing and highly successful collaboration of government, private and community organisations in and across range states. If this continues and increases even more then the future of this amazing, iconic species may well be secure.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 11, Dec 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more about African wild dogs from the Zambezi Traveller:
African Wild Dogs - The Best Team in Africa
The Hwange painted dog project
Protecting wild dog in Luangwa
Zambezi key to African wild dog’s future
Wild dog – the picture in Zambia
The African Wild Dog
Building Boundaries with Scent