In September 2009 a group of eight male Wild Dogs slipped under the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park boundary fence and started a quest for females with which to start a new pack. The expedition covered several hundred kilometers of thorny bush, rolling hills, rugged terrain, misty forestry plantations, community lands, game farms, cattle farms and even pineapple farms.
More than 10 000 kilometers were driven in the Land Rover Defender (aka the mobile home/office/kitchen) to mitigate farmer’s concerns, deal with the rare days of serious conflict and try to find the dogs again as they frustratingly ignored the perfectly adequate but rare district roads we were limited too.
Days morphed into weeks as we searched hundreds of square kilometers for the proverbial needle in a haystack; the hallowed beep of a radio collar. Even when they were found, or we were able to follow the dogs for consecutive days, they frustratingly eluded capture or frolicked happily beyond the range of a dart gun. After two months, six of the dogs that had survived the journey, were finally captured and secured in a boma to await our next move.
So the work began to source the females we had promised the males in moments of sheer frustration and exhaustion in the hope that they’d come closer to the dart gun. The pack we intend to create will be the start of a new introduction into Mkhuze Game Reserve of Isimangaliso Wetland Park.
Available female Wild Dogs are currently scarcer than Bafana Bafana goals; and we hold thumbs that both these droughts will soon be alleviated. Fortunately, De Wildlt-Shingwedzi, approximately 60 kilometers from Bela Bela, had a large enough group of captive-reared female Wild Dogs and they allowed us to take three of their endangered stock.
As a chilled dawn eased into a quickly warming morning the three filled crates were loaded and strapped down for the long journey to Mkhuze. After a stressful first hour the dogs soon settled into the rhythm of the drive. Shortly after nightfall, thanks to the many stop-and-go road works encountered en-route, the dogs finally had the pleasure of being released into a boma adjoining that of the excited males.
The following morning the males made excited, bounding, “chittering” forays up to the partition fence. Although the females initially appeared rather daunted and nervous by the sudden change in environment, they too made occasional runs past the gawking six, stopping at times for a quick whine and stare. We hope that in time, through carefully monitored bonding of the two groups by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife officials and researchers over the coming months, this pack will be cohesive enough to be released to form the core of the reserve’s Wild Dog revival.
The project to expand and understand the current range of Wild Dogs through the diverse landscape of northern KwaZulu-Natal is carried out through a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trusts’ Carnivore Conservation Programme, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the KZN Wild Dog Management Group; supported by Wildlands Conservation Trust and Land Rover South Africa.