It’s a dog life for a pack of rare wild dogs at Tembe Elephant Park. But a court ruling will determine whether they continue living there or are relocated to Malawi. They are presently being held in a boma at the northern KZN game park.Pictures: Anita de Villiers

DURBAN - The fate of Tembe Elephant Park’s African wild dog population rests in the hands of the Durban High Court

The dogs will continue roaming in Tembe, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, or be relocated to Malawi.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife advocated for relocation due to park fence destruction and livestock predation.

The organisation claims the 14 dogs are more trouble than they are worth, leaving the organisation with an increase in com- pensation claims from livestock owners.

But Ernest Robbertse, a director and part owner of Tembe Safari Lodge, is challenging this planned move, saying Ezemvelo had made its decision “without any reference or consultation” with the park.

There are many points of contention between the two parties.

It’s a dog life for a pack of rare wild dogs at Tembe Elephant Park. But a court ruling will determine whether they continue living there or are relocated to Malawi. They are presently being held in a boma at the northern KZN game park.Pictures: Anita de Villiers

Bheki Khoza, Ezemvelo’s acting chief executive, said Ezemvelo had no obligation to consult Tembe Safaris or the community when making conservation decisions. He said Tembe was “too small” for the wild dog population.

He also claimed the community supported the relocation of the wild dogs due to community “demonstrations at the park’s main gate, where a formal demand for their removal was made”.

He said there was no evidence to show “the presence of wild dogs by itself would make the slightest difference to visitor numbers at the park”.

On the other hand, Robertse claims that when the wild dogs were brought to Tembe in 2011, they “had the blessing of the Tembe community” and that he had written confirmation of their approval.

He also issued a court statement that the dogs in the park were, in fact, a big tourist attraction.

He said Ezemvelo had made similarly unfounded claims in the past and had intervened in animal population dynamics in the park without notifying the park of these interferences.

“Ezemvelo totally disregards the effects such decisions will have on the park, our business operations and employment.

“We are entitled to be given adequate notice on any proposed administrative action so that we can make representations in accordance with the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act,” said Robbertse.

He said when Ezemvelo previously needed to cull lions at the park, it was also done without consultation.

“The lions were culled near my lodge and at a near- by waterhole, instead of in remote parts of the park,” said Robbertse.

It’s a dog life for a pack of rare wild dogs at Tembe Elephant Park. But a court ruling will determine whether they continue living there or are relocated to Malawi. They are presently being held in a boma at the northern KZN game park.Pictures: Anita de Villiers

He said that he was not aware of Ezemvelo doing any “proper study” to justify its decision and he disputed its claim that the park was too small for wild dogs.

“I dispute that the dogs have escaped repeatedly. Besides, it’s Ezemvelo’s duty to ensure the integrity of the park’s fences.”

Robbertse also disputed that the Tembe community supported the removal of the dogs.

He said Ezemvelo was in breach of the Tourism Act, which required it to promote tourism which created employment opportunities.

“One of the great attractions at Tembe is the possibility of sighting rare wild dogs.”

Robbertse said that in arriving at its decision, the matter had been “grossly mismanaged” by Ezemvelo’s board.

He suggested Ezemvelo board members be held personally accountable for public funds that would be wasted through unnecessary litigation.

“I fear that if the dogs are removed, there is scant chance they would ever be reintroduced.”

Khoza argued that Tembe Safaris’s claim that the community was in support of the dogs was without foundation.

In an affidavit supporting arguments presented by Tembe Elephant Park, Yolan Friedmann, chief executive of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), said wild dogs were the second most-threatened carnivore in Africa and the KwaZulu-Natal conditions best suited for them.

She said Ezemvelo’s plans to move the dogs elsewhere because the community was complaining was a ruse.

“Caring for carnivores requires constant effort, money, communicating with communities and ensuring fences are well managed. If they are not well managed, they end up in camps, becoming endangered.

“Ezemvelo is not prepared to care for the dogs that are a tourist attraction. Therefore, they are making excuses.”

The organisation has assisted and supported Ezemvelo in caring for the wild dogs, including the remaining pack known as “Albie’s pack”.

The EWT questioned Ezemvelo’s May 2017 decision to remove all wild dogs from the park, including Albie’s pack, because that pack had never broken out of the park.

“This has been verified by satellite collar data and the monitoring team on the ground,” said Friedmann.

She said the EWT had followed up with various calls, messages and e-mails requesting an explanation from Ezemvelo. It had also attempted to meet Khoza, but got no joy, she said.

Friedmann said her organisation had conducted a suitability report on wild dogs at Tembe last month in light of the legal proceedings.

She said some of their findings included that Tembe was suitable, was spacious enough, and there was enough prey to support Albie’s pack.

“It is not in the best interests of the pack to be kept in a boma because their ability to hunt and integrate with wild conditions steadily decreased,” said Friedmanm.

She said relocation was also not in the best interests of the animals.

“There is no other suitable home for them in the whole of South Africa.”

Lex Hes, conservationist and wildlife photographer concurred.

“From an endangered species perspective it is important to have wild dogs roaming freely there.

“It is certainly an attraction and lends itself to eco-tourism.

“Ezemvelo must ensure the dogs remain there and not take the easy way out. Their mandate is to ensure the conservation of wildlife.”

SUNDAY TRIBUNE