Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wild Dog Conservation Initiative

The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) is one of the continent’s most threatened large predators and Namibia’s free-ranging population is consistently estimated at a critically low level of between approximately 200 and 600 animals in less than 50 breeding units which mostly occur outside of formally protected areas (R. Lines, personal communication; Stander 2003; Woodroffe et al 2004). The present surviving population of wild dogs is severely fragmented and is highly unlikely to re-colonise areas that they used to inhabit by natural migration.

With these alarming figures, the importance of the captive population may become more paramount as a genetic reservoir, for research, and for reintroductions of the species. 

The Status of Wild Dog Conservation in Namibia

The Namibian Nature Foundation, one of N/a'an ku sê's partners, funded the only wild dog conservation project in Namibia for ten years looking at key issues of population estimates, range, and human-wild dog conflict situations. Due to their involvement in wild dog conservation, they have also been involved in the IUCN/SSP National Action Plan.   

The head researcher for the Wild Dog Project has since left Namibia, leaving the future of wild dog conservation in the hands of N/a'an ku sê and its conservation partners, including Namibian Nature Foundation as well as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.  N/a'an ku sê and its partners, intend on utilizing the information generated from this project to form the baseline of future conservation efforts for the free-ranging population.

Together with Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, N/a’an ku se have successfully rehabilitated and re-introduced cheetahs, leopards and brown hyenas into different conservation areas in Namibia, over the past three years. Since 2008 we have safely re-released over 50 large predators - none of the reintroductions have led to any human-wildlife conflict and an intensive post-release monitoring scheme has been successfully implemented allowing us to gather vital data for future conservation of these species.

Building on this extensive experience and that of the capture and captive management of wild dogs, N/a’an ku sê is supporting this critically endangered predator in Namibia. We have brought together Namibia’s partners that hold wild dogs, together with the support of the MET, to work jointly towards a standardized approach for reintroduction of wild dogs currently cared for by facilities.

International Wild Dog Management Workshop – October 2011

Conflict with landowners and a host of diseases are the main reasons for the decline of wild dogs in Namibia coupled with a lack of knowledge, experience, and action.  N/a’an ku se, along with its fellow stakeholders and the MET, acknowledged that we cannot move forward in wild dog conservation without guidance from experts.

On 5th and 6th October, N/a’an ku sê hosted an International Workshop attended by wild dog experts Drs. Harriet Davies-Mostert (Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa), Weldon McNutt (Botswana Predator Conservation Trust), Gianetta Purchase (Zoological Society of London / Wildlife Conservation Society) as well as Dr Ortwin Aschenborn from the MET and representatives from Namibia Nature Foundation, Wilderness Safaris, AfriCat, Erindi and NamibRand Nature Reserve. 

Together they evaluated approaches and strategies specifically for captive held wild dogs in Namibia but also for the free-ranging animals. The workshop made it possible for those organizations that have had prior experience managing wild dogs to give an overview of the results of their activities which were openly discussed and compared with wild dog management actions in other countries, in order to assess the viability of continuing with these activities and improve on them.

The Outcome of the Workshop

The first steps to creating an effective management plan were taken during the workshop, with a full management/research manuscript now being  drafted, based on the definitions and strategic steps agreed upon by the participants. This report and its recommendations will be submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for review. 

One of the important decisions taken is that in order to successfully secure the future of wild dogs in Namibia, the focus and efforts of those entities and organizations dedicated to this cause should be predominantly on the free ranging wild dogs (studying their numbers, distribution and potential and actual conflict with landowners) and manage the few wild dogs currently cared for by humans for best chance of reintroduction. 

Public attitude continues to discriminate against wild dogs (Gusset et al 2008).  Before re-introducing wild dogs into the free-ranging population, outside protected reserves, considerable outreach and education must be implemented to ensure their safety outside protected reserves.  This outreach/research/education can be supported by eco-tourism reserves and facilities holding wild dogs, as well as keeping viable captive stock available. 

Through our work we seek to change the attitudes of local landowners towards these animals and help reduce human-wildlife conflict in the process. Already we have achieved significant progress with the farmer on whose land N/a’an ku sê’s pups lived previously. Recently, he discovered more pups in the same area but has agreed to tolerate them on his land and keep them alive. This is not only positive news for the population in the area, but a major step forward in terms of reducing human-wildlife conflict in the area and protecting the wild dog species in their natural habitat.

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