Wild Dogs to be Released into Balule

©© Ellery Worth

Seven wild dogs are due to be released into the Balule Private Nature Reserve, adjoining the Greater Kruger National Park, in the next few weeks. The dogs will form part of a countrywide meta-population of wild dogs that is supervised by the Wild Dog Advisory Group (WAG). A meta-population consists of several small populations that are managed as a single population.

The dogs are currently being held in a one hectare boma in York Private Nature Reserve, a part of Balule Nature Reserve, so that they can bond into a pack. Five male dogs that were surplus in Marakele National Park have joined two females from Madikwe Game Reserve. The dogs have been selected from free-ranging packs that WAG monitors in order to ensure that there is n o chance of compromising their genetic fitness.

As wild dogs utilise very large tracts of land, the Kruger National Park is the only place in South Africa that can accommodate sufficient packs of dogs to be considered as a viable population.

However, some of the many fenced private nature reserves in the country provide suitable homes for one or two packs each, and WAG then keeps a record of the reserves that participate in the meta- population project. The offspring from th ese packs can then be relocated to other reserves to ensure that wild dogs do not become in- bred.

Wild dogs are one of the most endangered carnivore species in the world, and the most endangered carnivore in Southern Africa. Wild dogs are known to have occurred historically in Balule, and Andy Dott, chairman of York Private Nature Reserve, and owner of Drifters Adventours, decided last year in June to reintroduce the animals, and has since been funding the project. Ellery Worth, manager of Drifters Game Lodge, was put in charge of the reintroduction.In December last year, after finding out more about wild dog breeding and management in South Africa, Worth joined up with WAG. Having already created a management plan for the dogs, he then streamlined it to fit in with new provincial guidelines and WAG's recommendations. Permits became available to move the dogs in February, and on February 15 the dogs set foot on Balule.

The dogs have been bonding successfully, and are in the process of determining their hierarchy to determine the alpha male and female, the pairing responsible for producing pups. A male dog has been collared, and once the alpha female has been determined a second collar will be fitted. Worth said, "We are using basic telemetry collars, but would prefer to use a satellite or cellphone collar. We would be delighted if someone could sponsor a third collar." As part of the reintroduction process, Worth was required to get consent from neighbouring land owners.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response from all of them." In other parts of the country, this has been the biggest obstacle to reintroductions, but Worth was able to get permission in a week. With the help of regional wardens within Balule, including Rian Ahlers, Mario Cesare and Marius Fuls, Worth has been keeping the dogs in tip-top condition in their diamond mesh electrified boma.

The dogs have been named for their distinguishing features, and are known as Lucky (horseshoe on side), Frodo (rings on his chest), Strider (long legs), Clamp (clamp marking on left flank), Saturn (black ring on tail), Stripe-Dott (stripe and dot on left shoulder) and Nondescript.

After what he terms as a "long, hard battle", Worth is grateful to all those who have helped him along the way, including Andy Dott, Rian Ahlers, Pat Fletcher (from the Endangered Wildlife Trust), Harriet Davies- Mostert, K atherine Potgieter, Steve Dell (from Madikwe), Nik Elliot and Jadri Beyers (from Takazile) and SANParks vet Peter Buss. "Not forgetting the staff from Drifters Game Lodge, who more than once ended up work- ing on the boma at three am."

Worth is hoping to start a local newsletter about the progress of the dogs, and welcomes any enquiries or donations towards the project. "Once the dogs are released, I would be very appreciative of any informa- tion regarding their movements and whereabouts, likewise, if there are any unforeseen problems or concerns regarding the location of the dogs please contact me immediately so I can address the situation" Ellery can be contacted on 083 453 1613 (all hours) or 072 393 6327.

By Melissa Wray

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