It is 5.30 in the afternoon, there is a subtle but chilly breeze in the air and the sun is quickly sinking over the horizon in the Kruger National Park.
After laying siege to a known den of a pack of the endangered African wild dog just a few kilometres from the Phabeni gate, there is a call over the radio to hurry two kilometres back to the tarred road.
Finally, 3 wild dogs have been spotted. As quickly as the 2 safari vans armed with three rangers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) the three wild dogs scurry off back to the den to feed their recently born litter.
Short as it may be, it is enough of an appetizer for spectators to catch a glimpse of the highly endangered animals that Vodacom, along with EWT, the State Vets and SanParks are trying to keep alive and see thrive in one of the biggest wildlife sanctuaries in the world.
This mission is simple, dart the dogs, take blood and other samples for ongoing research and place a radio transmitter collar so as to monitor and track the pack on their daily activities around the south end of the Kruger National Park.
The wild dog is the most endangered carnivore in southern Africa and after being wiped out from the north of the park a few years ago. The EWT along with SANParks are doing their utmost to maintain the current packs and grow them in the north where they are non-existent.
Early the following day the EWT crew begin with their search of the same pack of wild dogs that were spotted at dusk the day before.
Armed again with cutting-edge VHF technology to track the wild dogs, a juvenile elephant with a snare around its left ankle is found and the State Vets are radioed in to come to dart it, removing the snare and taking samples.
Snares are generally a problem for SanParks on the edges of the park where wildlife is a nuisance for the local communities and their livestock but in a twist of irony, the wildlife is the very life blood of their existence and economic growth.
Many of the snares are used to stop the endangered wild dogs from making a daily meal of the communities’ livestock and at the same time, the snares are a reliable trap for the small antelope that are used as a source of food by the people on the borders of the park.
“These snares though are a big problem to the smaller animals including the wild dogs with any of them being caught in them resulting in certain death. You can imagine the damage a snare can do on a wild dog’s leg. It is just not good.”
- David Marneweck manager of EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme.
State Vets have spotted the wild dogs not too far away from their den.
With precision and patience, similar to the manner in which the wild dogs hunt, the vets dart one dog and along with the EWT, crew get working on taking samples and ultimately fitting the collar.
The sun sets again over the vast, wide and mostly flat Lowveld, the wild dog with its new collar scampers back to the den to feed and care for her young in the hope that when the sun rises, the pack will continue to survive and thrive where they belong.
It’s only been two years since the collaboration of EWT, SANParks and the State Vets has been in existence and as much as the African wild dog is surviving and somewhat thriving in the southern Kruger, the challenge remains of re-introducing packs to the north of the park and growing their numbers throughout South Africa and the region.