African Wild Dogs were one of the first wildlife sightings we had on a road trip through Namibia in 2015.
The multi-coloured dogs, with striking resemblances to pavement special mutts often seen in SA’s townships (with much larger ears), were lying next to the road outside a Namibian national park when we spotted and drove up to them.
We stopped about 2m from them, but they seemed disinterested – their tummies protruding grotesquely from their fit frames, with every heavy pant.
They’d just eaten and the warm gravel road provided just the spot for an afternoon nap.
We drove a little loop around them, took a few photographs, and pushed on. “We’ll see them again tomorrow…”
We thought nothing major of the sighting, really.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was that I was seeing four of only 500 individual African Wild Dogs left in the wild in Namibia.
In South Africa, there are less than 450 wild dogs left.
“This,” says Dr Kelly Marnewick from Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Carnivore Conservation Programme, “includes the dogs in the Kruger National Park, Wild Dogs in fenced reserves and some dogs outside protected areas”.
The severe vulnerability of these creatures became even more apparent to me when emerging National Geographic explorer Dr Steve Boyes, dubbed ‘The Wilderness Protector’ in the recent NatGeo Adventurer of the Year competition, posted a photograph of the African Wild Dogs to the Okavango Wilderness Project Facebook page.
“Proof that the critically endangered African Wild Dog has a home in these upper reaches of the Okavango catchment, and even more reason to protect this area!” Steve’s brother and fellow explorer Chris Boyes writes.
READ: Meet SA's NatGeo Adventurer
Regardless of this safe space the dogs have near the source of the Okavango Delta along the Cuito River, the odds are against them.
Human encroachment is the main parasite killing off these animals, reducing their range and their numbers. Because of land clearance, urbanization and the shrinkage of herds of prey, Africa's unique Wild Dogs are now restricted to scattered populations in parks and reserves.
Many African Wild Dogs are also being snared in traps too.
“They are vulnerable to be caught in wire snares, which can result in death or serious injury like the loss of limbs or serious lacerations,” says Dr Marnewick.
She says targets are not necessarily set for the Wild Dogs, but for bush meat.”
But the dogs are being killed purposefully too. “By people who want to prevent the Wild Dogs from preying on livestock or game that have an economic value to landowners,” says Dr Marnewick.
As if it isn’t difficult enough for them to survive, the Wild Dogs are also vulnerable to diseases – “especially those that are transmitted by domestic dogs like rabies and distemper”.
Survival is easier in the protected areas and national parks of southern Africa.
But in these parks, space is limited, and the dogs have to contend with many other predators for food.
It sounds like a lost case, but there is hope as conservationists and citizen scientists are working non-stop to fight for a future for the Wild Dogs.
In May last year, for example, a pregnant Wild Dog and her unborn pups were spared with the help of conservationists.
Teenage entrepreneur Nadav Ossendryver, founder of Latest Sightings, joined the rescue mission with Kruger Wild Dog Project’s Grant Beverley, and said afterward that it was “an emotional time” for him.
You can see the rescue mission here:
This particular Wild Dog is a member of the “Ditsala Pack”, which currently contains six individuals, and she is the Alpha female. You can see in the video how the other members of the Ditsala Pack nervously run around where the vets treated their leader.
African Wild Dogs are highly social creatures that live in packs with separate dominance hierarchies for males and females.
Unique to social carnivores, it is the females rather than the males that scatter from the natal pack once sexually mature, and the young are allowed to feed first on carcasses.
Latest Sightings has been working alongside Grant Beverley and The Endangered Wildlife Trust to assist the Kruger Wild Dog Project since 2011. With the help of reports from civilians, Latest Sightings and The Endangered Wildlife Trust are able to save many African Wild Dogs' lives.
While Latest Sightings creates awareness with their YouTube footage, making it easy to share and adding global reach, the Endangered Wildlife Trust conducts long-term research and has a monitoring programme on Wild Dogs in the Kruger.
While all the odds may be against the Wild Dogs, there are still many people dedicated to the conservation of SA’s natural heritage, in whichever way possible.
You too can get involved, if not directly or physically, money donated towards dedicated programmes can help professionals save the African Wild Dogs through veterinary equipment, education and gaining space for the Wild Dogs to be safe in.
Because essentially, Dr Marnewick says “there is a lack of safe habitat for wild dogs”, and a key challenge in saving the species is securing “space that is wild dog friendly”.
These are the ways you can help save the African Wild Dog:
If you see, or think you’re seeing a Wild Dog, try get a photo and report the sighting with date and location via EMAIL to Endangered Wildlife Trust.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you can take part in a ride, run or swim in support of African Wild Dogs. SEE MORE HERE
As a wearable token of your support for the African Wild Dog, you can buy a Wild Dog Relate bracelet.
You can also support the Wild Dog conservation work of the Endangered Wildlife Trust by making a much-needed DONATION.