Visitors assist with wild dog genetic research

More than 300 calls and text messages in six months highlighted Kruger visitors' concern and commitment to helping Janet Edwards plot the location of wild dogs in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Janet, a masters' student at the University of Pretoria, thanked tourists who helped late last year in making her wild dog research project possible.

She reported on her research into wild dog genetics at SANParks' sixth annual science network meeting, held in Skukuza from April 21 to 25, 2008. The wild dog hotline was advertised through flyers handed out at park gates and on wildlife sighting boards at rest camps, asking tourists to alert Janet to wild dog sightings.

Janet responded to the numerous calls, mostly very early in the morning, to confirm the sighting. She would then call in a team from SANParks Veterinary Wildlife Services to assist her with taking tissue samples from the dogs. "There were a few well-meaning tourists who did not know the difference between a wild dog and a hyena," she admitted, "but most of the sightings were on target and made all the difference in making this research possible." They collected tissue samples from 32 wild dogs in seven different packs. The study covered the southern part of Kruger up to five kilometres north of the Tshokwane picnic area.

Wild dogs are globally classified as endangered. With fewer than 500 left in the country, they are the most endangered carnivore in South Africa. South Africa's only viable, self-sustaining population is in the Kruger National Park. While Janet's study was not intended as a census, she has found some encouraging signs that the number of wild dogs in southern Kruger has increased over the last two years. The samples will now be analysed to obtain baseline genetic data for Kruger's wild dogs. This information will be invaluable in future population management of the wild dogs in Kruger and other reserves.

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