Dogged pursuits in KZN – April news
An update from Dave Marneweck, KwaZulu-Natal Project Field Officer at the Endangered Wildlife Trust:
It has been a busy few weeks in KZN trying to finalise permits and organise finer details of the proposed wild dog moves. Currently we are waiting the completion of a boma at UmPhafa Game Reserve (near Ladysmith) before any of the moves can happen. This is out of our hands currently but I am assured that the final materials are on their way and the construction shouldn’t take much longer.
We have mainly been monitoring wild dogs in the iMfolozi side where I had a few excellent sightings of the Sokhwezela pack hunting. This pack was thought to comprise 16 individuals but over the three days that they were hunting in the area of the White iMfolozi, we confirmed that the alpha female (known as Neo) was missing. This was worrying for us as it has been the middle of the mating season for wild dogs and she was potentially pregnant. Very few reasons exist for a potentially pregnant alpha female to leave her pack for extended periods of time: she could be searching for a den site but that would involve the whole pack helping her or she could have died and the pack has moved on. We think that she has died as another adult female (known as Micky) was scent marking much more than usual and receiving a great deal of attention from all 7 adult males in the pack, including the alpha male. Normally this behaviour is only done during periods of change in dominance status. The photo at the top of this article shows the adult males sniffing the ground where Micky had been scent marking, something she would never have done had the alpha female been around. Since our observation, we have picked up the signal of the missing alpha female but I am sad to report that her collar is on the mortality setting thus confirming our thoughts of her death. Tomorrow we are walking into the wilderness to retrieve her collar and attempt to assess what happened to her. Our hope is that the new alpha female will be mated and hopefully this pack will produce more pups this denning season.
During the monitoring sessions we have also come across the Madlozi pack ), been feeding the dogs in the boma and even come across an adult female cheetah and her two well grown cubs . More worryingly, we have been seeing a pride of lions in the core of the Sokhwezela and Madlozi pack home ranges and the dogs have done their very best to avoid them by using less desirable areas of their ranges.
Finally, the denning season is upon us shortly and I look forward to seeing the areas that the dogs will choose to den in and what the GPS collar data will tell us.