It’s Monday 6th April 2009 and the wild dogs

The last two weeks here at RPS have been filled with Wild Dog Weeks – where African Wild Dog Conservation (AWDC) staff hosted activities in conjunction with RPS as part of raising awareness about wild dogs and helping to support the project. AWDC commenced conservation research in 1999 in the Lower Zambezi National Park, recognising the need to understand the plight of the African Wild Dog to ensure its survival and ultimately to conserve vital habitat for this and other species in the region. In 2006, AWDC expanded its study area from the Lower Zambezi National Park, through connecting Game Management Areas into the South Luangwa National Park. Work is now centred on establishing a large population of wild dogs in Eastern Zambia throughout this protected area network, in partnership with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).

Wild DogWild dog greeting

While the wild dogs performed perfectly the first week, where the participants had splendid views of the animals on a kill during their first evening drive, the second week was a lot different.

Wild dogs roam over large areas yet are typically quite visible at this time of year, or so we kept saying. Not long into the first week the local collared pack moved south into a vast sea of Mopani woodland that’s inaccessible this time of year, particularly with the abundance of late rains we’ve had. But the emerald season is a good time of year to see wild dogs. While we are still investigating why, it may be because they use the drier areas which coincide with the accessible safari areas at this time of the year. Typically, with the large distances they can move, they don’t stay long in any one area. Until now… With guests desperate to see these beautiful endangered animals, for well over a week they roamed the inhospitable Mopani hills – and all we could do was wait… listening to the signal bleeps in the distance, but  unable to  go further!

Searching by radiolooking for tracks

On daily game drives the AWDC staff joined the Wild Dog Week participants and explained what we do in the field – we demonstrated radio tracking, explained the signs we look for when tracking uncollared dogs, what data we collect, and how this contributes to our knowledge of wild dog dynamics. During the evenings, talks were given by Project Manager, Dr Matthew Becker, about wild dog ecology, and the past, present and future work of the project. All with high hopes viewing some wild dogs at some point!

Five days passed with no sightings… but on the drives plenty of other wildlife was to be seen, including big clans of hyena, leopards on 7 different occasions (a total of 9 in one week – amazing!), and a pride of 13 lions (new to the AWDC lion database which already contains over 115 different lions from South Luangwa). Wow!!

zebraleopard

On Wednesday morning, however, things changed dramatically just when most participants had already resigned themselves to not seeing dogs. Instead of only picking up a faint and distant signal, this time the signal was loud and strong…they had finally moved out of the Mopani woodland!

Lionsuccess with the dogs

We drove around the area to check the signal from various places to pinpoint their location and soon we could say: “Keep an eye on those plains on the right of us, they might pop out”. While some participants thought it was a long shot after days of no success, the wild dogs actually appeared right at that point, as if on cue!

The pups were really curious about the car, approaching it to within one metre! No one thought it could get any better! The pack was still on the hunt and soon disappeared into the bushes. To follow them, however, proved more difficult… There was a very muddy and treacherous gully to cross with a steep and slippery embankment on the other side, which had been made much worse from overnight rain. After several slippery attempts and some amazing driving from Braston, the vehicle and everyone was safely on the other side. Phew!

dog checks out the carbig group of dogs

It wasn’t long until the dogs were seen again, ever so briefly, as they appeared to cross an open plain, only to disappear on the other side. We could hear the signal from the collared dog, and knew they weren’t far off the road. So we all sat and waited… and waited. Half an hour later they came out with full bellies, having made a kill less than 200 metres from our vehicles, hidden by dense thickets.

Thanks to some cloud cover and cool conditions, the pups were playing and we watched them for what seemed like a few minutes, but what was in reality several hours. Many times the pups wandered close to the vehicles out of curiosity, and it makes you wonder – who was watching who?

The AWDC Team (Matt, Claire and Egil) thank everyone who attended Wild Dog Weeks 2009 and helped make a huge success and bring much needed funds to our project! An AWDC website update and newsletter will be posted shortly, or contact us for newsletters and exciting developments!

Cheers
The Wild Dog Team

about the 2010 Wild Dog week

luangwa sunset

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