wild dog, painted dog collaring south africa
Somkhanda Community Game Reserve wild painted dog. Photo Casey Pratt

Three African Painted Dogs in KwaZulu-Natal have been successfully collared to assist with their conservation. Monitoring the endangered species is essential – with only about 550 African Painted Dogs left in South Africa, every individual counts, writes Janelle Barnard

wild dog collaring south africa
L-R: VHF Anti Snare Collar, VHF Anti Snare and VHF Satellite Collar. All photos by Casey Pratt

An afternoon of darting and collaring African Painted Dogs on Somkhanda Community Game Reserve almost became a failed mission when bad weather started rolling in and the sun began to set… until it didn’t.

In the most incredible turn of events, the skies cleared, the wind died down and the pack of 13 Painted Dogs couldn’t have been in a better location. “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,” says Pippa Orpen, Wildlife ACT’s Specialised Monitor and Node Manager, based at Somkhanda.

painted wild dog collaring south africa
Pippa Orpen collaring a wild dog.

This is a glimpse into an aspect of Wildlife ACT’s work to save this iconic species. Wildlife ACT is a registered NPO, driven by a team of passionate individuals who work tirelessly on the frontline, dedicating their lives to endangered species conservation. The African Painted Dog is one of the priority species which the organisation monitors across multiple protected areas, including Somkhanda Community Game Reserve in Northern KZN.

“With approximately 550 Painted Dogs left in South Africa, the next generation of pups are extremely important to the survival of this endangered species,” says Pippa. “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 Dog provides attraction for local and international tourists

Somkhanda, owned by the Emvokweni Community Trust on behalf of the Gumbi Traditional Authority, and managed in partnership with WILDLANDS, a programme of the WILDTRUST, has a core focus on generating economic activity for the Gumbi community, primarily anchored by tourism and the wildlife economy. A species such as the African Painted Dog provides a significant attraction for local and international tourists and, as such, is crucial for the long term success of the reserve.

wild dog collaring south africa

Daily monitoring of priority species allows Wildlife ACT to keep an eye on population dynamics, movements, ecological influences, disease, snaring incidents and any human-wildlife conflict issues. The information gathered allows for informed decision making – both at the reserve and the species level. If the reasons for previous population declines are understood, management practices can be effectively adjusted, and in doing so, help to restore the population numbers.

In addition, because Painted Dogs are top predators, their impact on the reserve needs to be well understood so that management can respond effectively.

The African Painted Dogs from the Somkhanda pack 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 then fed to reserve management to inform decision making on the reserve. Depending on the species of animal, the collars can be customized with sensors to recognise different movement activity, temperature and even mortality.  All this data collected, assist the reserve management’s decision-making processes to effectively monitor and secure this population.

The fragmented landscape of KZN, with protected areas being interspersed between agricultural and residential areas, makes monitoring of populations of endangered species crucial to their long term success. “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,” adds Chris Kelly, Wildlife ACT’s Co-Founder and Director of Species Conservation.

In KZN, every African Painted Dog pack 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 due to illegal snaring (as a by-catch), especially in more remote areas where law enforcement and monitoring is difficult.

wild dog collaring south africa

KZN Successes with Monitoring African Painted Dogs:

  • Purely from this level of intensive monitoring, 29 of 43 African Painted Dogs were saved from the poachers’ snares, and potentially many more prevented from being caught in snares as by-catch.
  • Some individuals have had limbs amputated due to the snare damage. Four of the five African Painted Dogs that have lost legs to snaring have had a chance to continue their lives running wild again. And, although at a slight disadvantage, they seem to cope very well on just 3 legs.
  • Two of these amputees were females who have both managed to give birth to and raise two litters of pups each.

“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 that there is successful monitoring and conservation of the Wild Dog population,” adds Meiring Prinsloo, Somkhanda Game Reserve Manager.

WATCH VIDEO: African Painted Dog collaring with Wildlife ACT 2020

This would not have been possible without the support of their partners, The Emvokweni Community Trust, WILDLANDS, a programme of the WILDTRUST, and Wild Connection and donors such as the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Wedgewood Nougat and Tim Suttorp.

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 over 385 individuals, treat over 144 African Painted Dogs from snaring and other injuries, and collared over 289 individuals.

If you’d like to help Wildlife ACT collar more Painted Dogs in Zululand, visit: givengain.com/cc/wilddogcollars/