AFRICA’S PAINTED WOLVES
Protecting Wild Dogs
“Suddenly they were there, lean, ghost-like shapes in the moonlight with Mickey Mouse ears; wearing their dappled coats of black, tan and gold, like ink spots on blotting paper.”
– AN EXTRACT FROM ‘SHADOWS IN THE FOREST’ BY CD MCCLELLAND –
African Wild Dogs are one of the continent’s more enigmatic species in comparison to the iconic species, like the Big Five, giraffe and zebra. However, they are one of the most endangered of Africa’s species. In fact, they are one of the most endangered mammal species on the planet.
They once roamed Africa in numbers of nearly half a million, but today, there are only around 3,000 left, 39 distinct populations on the whole continent. These surviving packs live in woodlands and savannah in southern and eastern Africa –you can spot them in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana –if you’re lucky.
Anyone who has been privileged enough to see these wonderful creatures on a safari is likely to consider it one of their most special and memorable sightings.
Despite their critical endangered status, there comes hope in the form of the organisations, individuals and communities that have committed themselves to the conservation of the painted wolves.
WHY PAINTED WOLVES?
The Latin name of the African Wild Dog is Lycaon pictus. This directly translates to ‘painted wolf’ which refers to their unique coats of mottled black, white, brown and yellow fur. Each dog’s colouring is unique, like the stripes of a zebra or the fingerprints of a human.
WHAT MAKES THEM SO FASCINATING?
WHAT CHALLENGES DO THEY CURRENTLY FACE?
African Wild Dogs need extremely large geographical areas to sustain their populations and genetic diversity. They are constantly moving and can roam extremely far distances. It is this need for roaming space that is contributing to the decline in their population numbers
Unfortunately, it is a sad truth that many wild animals suffer due to conflict with humans and this occurs with wild dogs too. Wild dogs have been shot or poised by farmers who blame them for deaths of livestock killed by other predators, such as leopards.
LOSS OF HABITAT
Habitat loss is currently the principal threat to African Wild Dog populations. Habitat fragmentation increases human-wildlife conflict as well as localised, small population extinction caused by epidemic disease. As human populations continue to expand and farms, roads and settlements increase, the spaces that wild dogs once used to roam freely are disappearing.
WHAT IS CURRENTY BEING DONE TO PROTECT THEM?
African Wild Dogs need expansive territories to survive and their survival depends on the protection of these areas. One of these protected areas is the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, KAZA. KAZA was launched in 2012 and spans political boundaries to connect critical wildlife habitat in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. KAZA includes some of Africa’s greatest natural treasures, such as Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta, and is home to nearly half of Africa’s elephants. It is also one of the last spaces where African Wild Dogs can freely live and roam.
There is currently a strategy for protecting Wild Dogs in KAZA which suggests that they become a flagship species for KAZA.
PREVENTING CONFLICT& ENGAGING COMMUNITIES
There are also initiatives in place which aim at reducing human-wildlife conflict by helping local communities to build livestock enclosures that protect livestock from predators and prevents wild dogs being killed in retaliation to livestock being killed.
Wild Dog conservation foundations are also engaging with community members –educating them on how to protect their local wildlife and equipping them to do so. Community members are incentivised to protect the wild dogs. Scouts from local communities are employed to monitor wild dogs, learn their movements and alert herders when wild dogs are present. Through this job creation, conservation and economic opportunity are woven together and wild dogs are protected.
The movements of African Wild Dogs are also monitored to help gauge population size and ensure protection measures are working. Monitoring the wild dogs also helps anticipate and prevent potential conflict with humans.
HOW CAN I CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR CONSERVATION?
There are a number of conservation organisations with programmes and projects in place that offer volunteer or donation opportunities. You can even ‘adopt’ a wild dog.
Contact us to find out more about getting involved.
- African Wild Dogs can run up to 60km per hour and maintain this speed over distances of up to 4km.
- A pack of Wild Dog can roam over an area of 3000km2! Average home ranges tend to be in the region of 300 –800km2.
- A female gives birth, on average, to 10 to 11 pups per litter. The pups become fully-fledged hunters at only 12 months old.
- Unlike other members of the canine family, African Wild Dogs only have four toes, instead of five.
- There are only five subspecies of African Wild Dog left –the Cape Wild Dog, the East African Wild Dog, the West African Wild Dog, the Chadian Wild Dog, and the Somali Wild Dog. Despite sharing a common wolf ancestor, their DNA is incompatible –it is impossible to crossbreed the different Wild Dog subspecies!