Dogged pursuits in Kwazulu Natal – October and November news
David Marneweck from the Endangered Wildlife Trust sent us this update on the wild dogs in KwaZulu Natal
The last few weeks on the project have been filled with a number of wild dog sightings, both opportunistically and at call ups for collaring. Recently in HiP, we managed to fit new VHF collars to male yearlings from 3 of the packs and 2 VHF collars to Mkhuze pack yearlings. We attempt to be highly proactive in the monitoring and management by fitting collars to potentially dispersing yearlings so that we can track where they go throughout their dispersal event. This helps on a national level too where some dispersal groups are caught and used to be bonded to an opposite sexed group that can then be reintroduced to a new metapopulation reserve.
Firstly we did a call up of Alfie’s pack on the iMfolozi airstrip (don’t worry, no planes nor helicopters were due to land that day!) and successfully placed a collar the male yearling known as Iso. The yearlings in the pack all have a camera themed name! Call ups are also highly useful in getting a good look at the pack to see the current structure. Alfie’s pack this year did produce 8 pups but unfortunately only 3 have made it so far. What has caused the disappearances of those pups is unknown as there had been a couple of prides of lions in their area recently and the pack spent a great amount of time along the corridor road and we fear that some pups may have been hit by cars. Wild dog mortality at that age is high and we will monitor them closely to see how the pack fares into the wet season. Currently the pack numbers 10 individuals with 3 pups, 3 adults and 4 yearlings.
Secondly, after a failed call up attempt of the Sokhwezela pack in the iMfolozi, we managed to eventually place a collar on the male yearling known as Flash (photos attached). Zama Zwane is the wild dog monitor from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and with Dr. Birgit Eggers, they helped in the darting and placing a collar on the young male (see photos). We also managed to confirm that the pack currently numbers 13, with 8 adults and 5 yearlings.
We also managed to follow the pack down the road for a while and enjoyed their antics, although they battled to walk with their very full bellies (see photo)! I also managed to observe the pack utilising a latrine (photo) where the alpha pair defecated; that made me very happy as it allowed me to collect the scat samples which means more data for my study!
Thirdly, we also successfully collared a male yearling from Crossroads pack in Hluhluwe (see photos). We also managed to observe the whole pack of 18 including their 11 pups. Not only was the collaring successful, but it was amazing to watch the pups interacting with one another. This was their first ever call up and they arrived looking very curious with expressions of “this looks way too good to be true!”. I also obtained a visual of the pack the following day crossing a main road in the Mansiya valley (photo) with all 18 dogs in tow. Unfortunately, the alpha male died yesterday but the vet did a post mortem and determined that he died due to natural causes, most likely old age. Regardless, the pack is doing well and with their satellite collar, we are learning a tremendous amount of the areas that they use in the rugged areas of Hluhluwe.
I have also been involved in a couple of other research projects in collaboration with the Carnegie Institute at Standford University in the USA. We have been walking to old wild dog den sites (see photo) to accurately record their locations in an effort to understand the micro-habitat influences on wild dog den site selection. I have also been helping with lion call ups and collaring so that we can understand how lions and wild dogs interact simultaneously at the very finest scale (the first study of its kind on large carnivores); very exciting times to be a wild dog scientist! Additionally, while moving between call up sites, I have been lucky enough to observe how wild dogs are in close proximity to lion, leopard and cheetah (photos). This confirms our desire to try and understand how these carnivores interact with one another at a very fine scale.
Finally, the most exciting news comes from Mkhuze Game Reserve. This year the Mkhuze pack of wild dogs (known as Mantenga) had 3 of their females fall pregnant. The alpha and gamma females denned in close proximity to one another while the beta female moved 15kms away with a few yearling females to den. At the main den site where the alpha and gamma were denning, it was confirmed that collectively 18 pups were born and all are still surviving today. At the den site of the beta female, 9 pups were confirmed and 3 yearling females were helping the beta female. However, after 4 weeks of denning (mid-June), the beta female and a yearling female were found dead (probably due to hyenas at the den) with no sign of the remaining 2 yearlings nor the 9 pups. It was expected that the pups succumbed to the hyenas too and the possibly the 2 yearling females. About 3 weeks ago, the Ecologist at Mkhuze (Tarik Bodasing) was driving into Mkhuze in the early evening when he bumped into what he assumed was the main pack. When WildlifeACT arrived at the sighting to confirm they were in awe to find that the 10 dogs they were looking at were in fact the 2 yearlings from the beta female’s den and 8 of the 9 pups! Truly remarkable seeing as those yearlings themselves were just 12 months old when the beta female died and when they started to raise the pups. Perhaps this is one of the first recorded events of such young wild dogs raising 4 week old pups. An enormous thanks must go to WildlifeACT for closely monitoring the Mkhuze wild dogs which now number 29 in the Mantenga pack and 10 in the young breakaway group. Just another example of how amazing wild dogs are!