Wild Dogs or the African Painted dog is the rarest predator in Africa.
It is said that there are about 400 of these animals left in South Africa. One must remember that the average pack numbers are only ten, and each pack has an Alpha male and Alpha female which are the breeding pairs. Therefore there are more or less only 40 breeding pairs of wild dogs left in South Africa.
One of the reasons there are not many wild dogs left in South Africa, is that the wild dog was seen to farmers as vermin, because it was thought they were killing their live stock, so the farmers shot them.
The dogs in Hluhluwe Game Reserve are monitored ever day by researchers using telemetry methods. In different packs, Alpha males and females carry the collars. Each day the researchers will follow different packs, not only do they monitor the movements of the dogs but also the type of food they are eating and their behavior with one another. The dog’s droppings are also collected for research purposes. Each dog is also easily identified by its unique colour patterns. When dogs split from a big pack these animals are chased to see which ones are thought to be the alpha animals. They are then darted and collars are then placed on them. The method used to dart the wild dogs is pretty simple, a carcass of an impala is tied to a tree. The dogs are then called in by using the calls of wild dogs feeding, once the dogs are feeding on the carcass the Alpha dog is darted and once it is asleep the researchers will put the collar on. While the dog is down other tests will also be done and blood samples taken.
One of the biggest problems the Hluhluwe Game Reserve has with its wild dogs is blood lines. So what is done to help with this problem is to introduce new blood every few years, however this is no easy feat. The method that is being tried at the moment is to capture dogs from the wild and put them together in a boma with captive bred dogs. These dogs must be of opposite gender with the hope that they bond and once released the dogs removed from the wild will teach the captive bred dogs to hunt. This is not always successful and so a few attempts have to be made.
These are very entertaining animals to watch and it would be very sad if the species were to die out.
History of the Wild Dog in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve
The Hluhluwe and Umfolozi Game Reserves were separately proclaimed in 1897. Connected through a corridor of state-owned land, the reserves were formally joined in 1989 to create the 960 km² Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Completion of the integrated management plan and formal proclamation of the reserve as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (HiP) is still in process. The reserve is bisected by the tarred R618 district road which runs through the corridor and links the towns of Mtubatuba and Hlabisa
Lions, wild dogs, brown hyena and cheetah were exterminated from the two reserves by 1920 through vermin control. Leopards and spotted hyenas are indigenous to the reserve and although hunted, they were never eliminated. Lions were reintroduced into the reserve in 1958, cheetahs in 1965 and wild dogs in 1980. Fortunately the most favoured prey species for wild dogs in the reserve, impala and nyala, are also the most abundant antelope species.
Wild dogs are South Africa’s rarest carnivore and are classified as endangered. Historically 39 countries in Africa had resident wild dog populations; today there are only 13 countries which still hold wild populations.
Twenty two wild dogs, sixteen of which were captive reared, were reintroduced into HiP in four stages from 1980 until September 1981 and formed a single pack. Four additional wild dogs were introduced in 1986 but before long they emigrated from the reserve. For several years the maximum pack size fluctuated between 28 animals in 1986 and seven animals in 1995.
To strengthen the population additional introductions took place in 1997 (3 males + 1 female), 2001 (2 males + 2 females), 2003 (5 males + 3 females), 2006 (3 females), 2008 (1 male) and 2008 (3 females). The population currently comprises 81 adults and yearlings and 24 pups in nine packs although this fluctuates on an almost monthly basis. Although wild dogs were recorded to have left HiP sporadically since 1984, with the exception of ad hoc reports from members of the public or from private Game Reserves, the routes or fates of many of these dogs are unknown. However, the dispersal of two female wild dogs from HiP to Thanda Private Game Reserve in 2004 was the catalyst for a formal wild dog reintroduction into that reserve in 2005.
In 2006 (3 dogs) and again in 2009 (8 dogs) dispersal groups of wild dogs left HiP and headed towards Opathe Game Reserve (bordering Ulundi), turned and headed north towards Vryheid, went east to the Pongola/Magudu region and then veered southwards again before being captured in the areas around TPGR and Munyawana Private Game Reserve. These dispersals each covered approximately 300km over periods of between one and two months.
Despite further reintroductions of wild dogs into reserves (Mkhuze, Hlambanyathi and Tembe) within northern KZN, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park continues to hold the bulk of the population for the province. The population is the second largest of any individual reserve in South Africa, after the Kruger National Park; and therefore critical to conservation efforts for the species.