BETTER CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: One of three female African wild dogs released at Lindani in the Waterberg, where a solitary male awaited them to form a new pack. Picture: Neil Aldridge / EWT
The fight for the survival of the African wild dog has been bolstered through the help of game farmers, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and concerned community members in Limpopo.

With only 5000 African wild dogs left in Africa and fewer than 500 in South Africa, the EWT successfully relocated three endangered female African wild dogs from an area of potentially high carnivore conflict in Limpopo to safety in the Waterberg region.

“With the increase in the price of game over the past decade, conflict between carnivores and farmers over the killing of game is a reality in the region,” explained Derek van der Merwe, conflict mitigation field officer of the EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme

“There have been many cases where endangered species such as wild dogs and cheetahs have been persecuted through the use of poisons, gin traps and organised hunts, with some even deliberately run over on our roads.

“But it is very encouraging that some landowners' attitudes are changing for the benefit of conserving endangered species and that they are aware of the legislation that protects these animals."

Van der Merwe made it clear that this change in attitude became apparent when the EWT received a report that three wild dogs were spotted on a game farm between Thabazimbi and Dwaalboom in Limpopo last month.

“Farmer Piet du Toit did not want the wild dogs on his property, but he wanted to ensure that they could be relocated to a safe environment.

“He contacted the local vet, Dr Louis Greeff, who was willing to dart the wild dogs. He in turn contacted the EWT for assistance to have the carnivores moved to a place of safety,” he said.

The EWT, which keeps a database of all wild dog sightings outside the country's game reserves, had noted that a male wild dog had been reported at Lindani near Melkrivier a few days earlier.

“The decision was taken to move the three females to Lindani in the hope that the solitary male would join up with them, giving them all a greater chance of survival.

“The owners of Lindani, Peg and Sam van Coller, were delighted to have the dogs released on their property, and the necessary permits were obtained from the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (Ledet),” he said.

But van der Merwe and the EWT team had their hands full trying to dart the three females.

Their initial attempts to dart the dogs were unsuccessful and the next sighting was just before sunset, resulting in the need for them to come up with a new plan, which involved darting the animals from a helicopter the next day.

Van der Merwe, accompanied by veterinarian Dr Suné Ferreira and farm managers Andries Hills and Wim Anholds, helped to capture the three wild dogs before they were safely transported to Lindani, where they were released on May 29 by the EWT.

“The wild dogs were spotted on Lindani the following morning, and again earlier this month," Van der Merwe said.

“They are doing well and are seeming unperturbed by the move,” he added.

With fewer than 500 wild dogs left in South Africa, the safe relocation of the three females was a significant step and gives hope, especially to the wild dog population in the Waterberg region.

“The small free-roaming population of wild dogs in the Waterberg is estimated to between only five and 15 in number, and is genetically valuable.

“This makes this group of wild dogs critically important for a species which is on the verge of extinction, and makes the introduction of these three females even more exciting,” van der Merwe emphasised.

The EWT thanked community members and all the other partners for their involvement in their efforts to protect wild dogs and offer them a chance to flourish.

The Star