Africa’s Wild Dogs, A Survival Story
My love of photographing wildlife has awakened in me a deep respect for the animals of our planet. Over the years I have learned to read their ways, observe their behaviours, and accept their table manners. I hope that through this book I can share my passion and knowledge of the wild dogs’ story with animal lovers worldwide. Animals everywhere, I believe, deserve a deeper and greater respect than they currently receive.
The African wild dog is an animal that goes by many names – African painted dogs, painted wolves, African hunting dogs, Cape hunting dogs and more. They are kept at zoos and wildlife parks in many countries and remain a key attraction for visitors who can immediately connect with their inquisitive nature and sociability.
As the body of research into the wild dog grows, we are constantly learning just what remarkable, non-confrontational and self-determined predators they are. Their complex social structure bonds members of their family, helping to ensure their survival and their dynasty.
However, the dogs are in trouble, having once ranged widely in large packs throughout sub-Saharan Africa, they now are restricted to small populations in a few countries in southern Africa, some of which are declining rapidly. Lycaon pictus was classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2016. Today there are around 6,600 dogs left in the wild, and despite declarations of legal protection, the dogs still face a multitude of threats.
The dogs are starting to receive increased protection, public approval and interest; however, new research also reveals the extent of the additional threats that they face. Human pressures are numerable, they range from fragmenting the dog’s habitat, to setting traps and snares for other animals which injure the dogs. Then there is the growing issue of disease from contact with domestic dogs, to which they have no natural immunity. Endemic diseases such as canine distemper and rabies can rapidly spread amongst wild dogs due to their constant close contact. Top this off with the impact of climate change altering wild dog habitat and entire ecosystems. Any one of these issues would be damaging to populations which are still diminished from historic persecution, but together they form a cumulative cocktail which threatens their very existence.
African wild dogs have evolved to live in a hot climate and are well adapted to high temperatures. When we consider the impact of climate change our focus is often on polar bears and melting ice caps than a species at home in the searing summer temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa. However, recent research has shown that rising temperatures have a direct impact on wild dog survival rates. The research was led by the Zoological Society of London, working with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust and the African Wildlife Conservation Fund. It draws on long-term studies monitoring wild dog packs in Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe. It examined the associations between weather conditions and reproductive success, and tracked dogs using GPS collars to assess their activity through different temperatures. Wild dogs like to hunt at dawn and dusk when the temperatures are cooler, sleeping in the shade during the heat of the day. On hotter days there is less time to be active and out hunting, especially when they are raising pups. This impacts on the survival rate of the pups – likely due to a reduction in food from the adults. The study found that as the weather got hotter, fewer pups survived. Some packs also had longer periods between litters of pups. The studies show that this already endangered species is highly vulnerable to climate change, and that further research is needed on how the impact might be mitigated as temperatures are set to rise across the African continent.
Despite this, there remains hope, with dedicated teams working against the odds to ensure the dogs survive. Translocation programmes are working in countries such as Mozambique, Malawi, and Gabon to re-establish populations in former habitats.
Zoo’s and wildlife parks have an important role to play in wild dogs’ conservation too. Crucially they help to raise awareness and respect for the dogs from members of the public. Some zoos and organisations also provide important funding for in-situ conservation efforts supporting vital conservation and breeding programmes. Through collaboration with national parks and NGOs they can also provide funding for vaccines for the dogs to reduce disease. Most importantly, they instil in us an appreciation for the wildlife that surrounds us. They sound a call for action now, before it is too late to save iconic species like the African Wild Dog.
Africa’s Wild Dogs by Jocelin Kagan: All royalties go to Africa’s Wild Dog Survival Fund, and the book is available to buy from your neighbourhood bookshop, and via Merlin Unwin Books, and via Penguin Random House in South Africa.
Tweets from https://twitter.com/zoos_aquariums/lists/zoo-and-aquarium-news