One of Africa’s most precious gems, with its big ears and splotchy fur, and also one of its most endangered species. It is none other than the African wild-dog. The data suggests that there are no more than 5500 dogs left in the wild, mostly found in southern Africa and southern East Africa, but there are signs of hope …
At the end of 2011, Africa Geographic’s founder, Peter Borchert , took a trip to the Limpopo-Lipadi conservation area in Botswana to get a look in at the wild-dog re-introduction programme they have going there.
It all started in 2008 when a fellow NGO approached the reserve about 9 orphaned pups. The options were to take on the pups, or let them die. Given their endangered status, the latter was not really an option at all. Within a few months, the pups were growing well and the time came to move them to a larger enclosure. The Lipadi team even designed a pulley system in order to feed them remotely (from behind a corrugated iron screen) and thus prevent the habituation to humans.
The next step was teaching them to hunt. According to Jaqui Symons, they began this process by putting live doves (minus their feathers) into the enclosure. The pups, believe it or not, were scared at first, but soon instinct took over and they completed their first successful hunt.
In May 2009 the programme suffered its first set-back. The then almost-adult, dominant female, Black-Belly died during a routine vaccination caused by an underlying infection. Soon her sister, Two Spots , took over to become the new boss.
After much deliberation, it was decided to swap two of the Lipadi males for two strong young males from Mashatu Reserve, in order to increase the genetic diversity of the pack. Lekoma and Mathebole arrived safely and Lekoma emerged as the dominant male. He wasted little time in mating with a subdominant female, Backhook.
In May 2010 the wild-dogs were released into the wild for the first time and a few months later Backhook gave birth. The litter was accepted by Two Spots and the team breathed a sigh of relief!
Later on in the year 2 new males were spotted on the reserve. They chased off Lekoma and Mathebole, who retreated to a different part of the reserve with one of the pups, while Two Spots formed an alliance with the new guys. Since then, the wheel of life has just kept turning…
February 2011 - The search is on for a new home for the ousted Lekoma, Mathebole and the pup. There is no female with these males, so at some stage they will leave the reserve in search of a female.
May 2011 – Two Spots has had her first litter. The five males, especially the alpha male are very protective over the den site. Warning growls can be heard whenever humans approach.
June 2011 – The two males and pup (also male) have found their own way off the reserve. Amazingly they have met up with a female from their original pack who happens to be pregnant. She has denned on a property and hopefully this will start a new chapter in their story!
August 2011 – There are seven healthy pups from Two Spot’s first litter and the pack has left the den and is moving across the reserve and hunting successfully.
October 2012 – The pack are roaming across the whole reserve really making use of the space available to them. Like a number of predators they have worked out that they can use man-made objects, such as fences, to help them hunt – they actively chase prey towards a fence to enable them to catch it more easily. The pack have certainly moved on to larger prey items – graduating from impala to kudu and waterbuck, which they seem to take regularly now, despite not liking it much as pups. An acquired taste perhaps?