The Big Release

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After over a year of managing the Venetia Limpopo wild dog population for in breeding we finally have a functioning pack on the reserve! You may recall from previous reports that the researchers and management at the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve recently brought new females into the reserve to bond them with the males to ensure that genetic integrity is maintained within the pack.

After a number of attempts three of the males, Budzatje, Dalerwa and Carat finally bonded with three females, Stellar, Fender and Rogue, all from different reserves within the wild dog metapopulation.
The small group bonded well in the reserve’s holding boma and before long Budzatje emerged as alpha male and Stellar as alpha female. Although we observed many mating events during our hours of observation at the boma it was a long time before we could be sure if one of the females is pregnant. This, and the fact that the subordinate female, Rogue, was injured in a skirmish over dominance, did little to reduce our stress levels and this raised concerns about the timing to release the new pack. Eventually, after Rogue had received some veterinary attention, we decided to release the dogs on the 21st May 2007.

The day of the release started early and we were prepared to spend the whole day at the boma waiting for the dogs to venture out. As it turned out, they were as excited about getting out of the boma as we were! All six dogs ran out of the gates within ten minutes of them being opened and moved a kilometre from the boma where they eventually settled for the day. It was a moving moment, and one that has been a year in the making. Despite my ‘hardened scientist’ role, I felt a lump in my throat and joy in my heart to see the wild dogs we have spent hours and hours observing finally running free on the reserve.

Since their release, we have been closely monitoring the dogs to ensure that they are hunting successfully and exploring the reserve to its full potential. It took a week for the pack to find its hunting stride. Months in the boma probably sapped their confidence and they had to learn that Dozer, the project’s Land Rover Defender, no longer represented their own personal food delivery van! Since making their first substantial kill, they have been working together as a team and now look as though they have been hunting together for years!

The exciting news is that one of the females, Fender, is definitely pregnant! However, she is not the alpha female and this raises some concern as to whether the rest of the pack will accept her pups and help to rear them. We do however, have our suspicions that Stellar, the alpha female, may ALSO be pregnant! You know the saying, ‘when it rains it pours’, and here in Venetia the ‘wild dog drought’ seems to finally have broken.