The fifth wild dog and third cheetah photographic census in and around the Kruger National Park is underway.
The census, conducted by the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group (EWT-CCG) and South African National Parks (SANParks) will run from August 2008 to April 2009.
Members of the public can provide valuable assistance to this project and stand a chance to win great prizes, by submitting photographs of any wild dogs or cheetahs seen during their visit to the region.
The Kruger National Park is home to one of the only viable wild dog (Lycaon pictus) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) populations in South Africa. An understanding of population dynamics in the park is essential for developing national strategies to improve the conservation status of these species.
They are the rarest of the park's large carnivores and their low densities and wide-ranging behaviour make them particularly difficult to count. Fortunately, researchers are able to recognise individuals of both species by their unique coat patterns, thus enabling an estimation of minimum population size.
The first Kruger National Park wild dog photographic census was completed in 1989 and since then surveys have been conducted roughly every five years in 1995, 2000 and 2005. Wild dog numbers have fluctuated between a peak of 434 (1995) and a low of 120 (2005). Cheetahs were added to the census in 2005, at which time 103 individuals were identified.
The 2010 census has been pulled forward by one year, as previous intensive studies in the southern Kruger National Park came to a halt in 2005, and it has been some time since any detailed information was gathered on these populations. "Updated population data for wild dogs and cheetahs in the Kruger National Park will facilitate the development of sound conservation strategies for these species, both nationally and regionally", states Harriet Davies-Mostert, manager of EWT-CCG.
Members of the public are encouraged to submit photographs of these animals seen during their visit to the region, and report all sightings to a census hotline, manned by EWT's field researcher Mariana Venter, on 076 725 5242 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should also include details of the location, time and number of wild dogs or cheetahs seen.
All photographs will be entered into a competition, with great prizes up for grabs. The project spans the length and breadth of the Kruger National Park, as well as the private nature reserves on the park's western border, and Limpopo National Park to the east.
Participants stand a chance to win two nights at Tinga Private Game Lodge, and will also be contributing to the long-term conservation of these animals. Entry forms are available at all gates and rest camps in the park, and sightings can also be reported to the Census Hotline Number (076 725 5242) or email@example.com . Please visit www.ewt.org.za for more information.
This project is funded by the Howard G Buffett Foundation's African Cheetah Initiative, with vehicle support from Land Rover South Africa. Tinga Lodge has provided competition prizes, and Esor has covered the printing of posters and brochures.