I realise I haven’t actually posted much about wild dogs recently. This is by no means because there is nothing to report – I’ve just chosen to tell you about a few other things we’ve been up to recently instead. (When you work in conservation in a place with such critical conservation needs as Zimbabwe and with so few people on the ground, you are bound to get involved in other conservation efforts from time to time).
Anyway, I just wanted to give you an update on the state of the wild dog population here in Zimbabwe’s lowveld. Excitingly, evidence we found during the recent field trip to Gonarezhou National Park suggests there are more wild dogs there than previously thought, and the packs seem to be breeding well. On one occasion we actually saw at least 10 pups, and in another area we saw tracks of a large pack with numerous adults and pups.
The wild dog population in the Save Valley Conservancy remains strong, and all packs are doing well. Both the Teddy Pack and the new Raf pack lost their litter of pups to lions this year, but the survival of other litters has been good. The Star Pack are all still present and correct – 6 adults and 8 pups, as is the Maera pack – 8 adults and 3 pups. Our super-pack, the Bedford pack, numbers 42 individuals now – 24 adults and 18 pups! The last sighting of the Mapari pack was only of 18 dogs – there should be 20 if all have survived – but there may have been more in the bushes!
Some individuals of the Maera pack, including the 3 pups
As for the south of the conservancy, there is certainly a lot more wild dog activity down there than we have seen for the past couple of years, which is extremely encouraging. The new pack of three dogs I wrote about in an earlier post is by all accounts doing well – Rueben has named them the Delta Pack. And our de-snared male Willy Wonka and his Mrs (Mavericks pack) have now got three pups, which is excellent news. There was no breeding in the south of the conservancy last year, which was a big concern, so even a small litter is a positive sign of population recovery. It is possible there is another pack of five dogs in the south as well – maybe a pack we know as the Impala pack, but we aren’t yet sure about that.
So, minimum (known) number of wild dogs in the conservancy now totals 105 individuals (64 adults and 41 pups), in eight different packs. We do suspect there are maybe one or two additional packs as well.
In Gonarezhou National Park, there are at least 36 individuals in at least 2 separate packs, but I would not be surprised if there were 50 or more – we just need to do some more work in the area to confirm.
Malilangwe Trust, a private wildlife area situated between the Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou National Park, also has wild dogs. They currently have only one pack which numbers about 19 individuals. They used to have over 40 dogs in three packs, but these were unfortunately wiped out by rabies in 2007…
Unfortunately, most other areas in the south-east lowveld of Zimbabwe that used to support wild dogs no longer do, after having been re-settled during Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform program. One exception is Bubye River Conservancy which apparently hosts between 20 and 40 dogs. Occasionally, there are (reliable) reports of wild dogs seen outside of any protected area, which is encouraging for dispersal and increasing genetic variation within the overall population.
Anyway, I just wanted to give you a summary of the situation here in terms of wild dog numbers. Key protected areas are still supporting reasonable populations, but the story in much of the remaining landscape is bleak. Snaring remains a constant threat to the dogs, both within and outside protected areas, as does rabies and other diseases which can be spread from domestic dogs. However, increased anti poaching efforts in SVC and Gonarezhou should start to make a noticeable difference and efforts are being made by the Tikki Hywood Trust and AWARE Trust to vaccinate domestic dogs for rabies, which will also help to reduce that threat.
Anyhow, I will be taking some time off from tomorrow until the 13th November, so this blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately I don’t have anyone who can keep it updated while I am away, but I promise I’ll get back to you all as soon as I get back.