At the end of July we were proud, excited and relieved to hear that 14 intrepid Painted Wolves (African wild dogs) had been successfully transferred from South Africa and Mozambique to Malawi, through a collaboration between the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and African Parks. Proud because we had been able to make a significant financial contribution to the project,* both by funding preliminary relocations to prepare the dogs for this journey and purchasing 12 purpose-built crates, essential for transporting the animals safely. Excited because this translocation marked a significant step in the ongoing work to move African wild dogs to safe spaces in which they stand a better chance of survival. Relieved because there are so many moving parts and potential pitfalls in the relocation of these animals, and this particular operation had certainly not been without its challenges.
It has been 70 years since the last wild dog was recorded in Malawi, in 1951 at Phwadzi Spring in Majete Wildlife Reserve. The EWT’s Wild Dog Range Expansion Project only reintroduces wild dogs to places where they have previously thrived, so returning the animals to this area was a great achievement. A pack of six dogs has a new home in Majete, while the second pack of eight dogs travelled to Liwonde National Park. And what a journey they had! It was in fact the third attempt to complete this relocation, the first being thwarted by Covid-related border closures at the eleventh hour, and the second by looters, fire barricades and a truck on fire during the unrest in South Africa in July. At that point the team actually already had eight dogs in crates ready to move, and had to backtrack and release the animals again until things settled down.
But the old adage third time lucky proved to be true, and the pieces of the complex logistical puzzle finally fell into place. The fourteen dogs were collected from Ladysmith in South Africa and Massingir in Mozambique, and 27 hours later, via six stops, four border clearances and journeys by land and air, they all reached their new homes safely. The EWT’s Cole du Plessis recounted for us what it is like for those accompanying the animals, and the flight is certainly not a time to sit back, put your feet up and admire the view. All the while they are busy monitoring the sedated dogs, checking their breathing, administering vaccines, fitting tracking collars and hoping for no more bumps in the road. Not for the faint-hearted!
Our Top Dog Jeremy had this to say. “We were all following the buildup to this relocation very closely, with regular updates from the EWT team as it all came together, and we were thrilled to hear the news of the wild dogs’ safe arrival in Malawi. Making wine and using it to raise funds for the conservation of these remarkable animals – what more could we ask for? Every bottle we sell raises a little more money for this cause, so we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our loyal customers who are our partners in our conservation mission. Success stories like this show that we can really help to make a difference in securing a better future for the African wild dog.”
The two packs will spend several weeks in secure bomas so that they can settle into their new surroundings before being released into larger areas. Researchers will use satellite or radio collars to gather information about their behaviour and ensure their protection. It is hoped that as well as playing a critical part in securing the survival of the species, their reintroduction to Malawi will have a positive impact on both tourism and existing ecosystems.
* Our regular donations to the EWT are ringfenced for the Wild Dog Range Expansion Project and we have donated R274,000 since October 2020.
Photo credits: Matt Moon