The reintroduction of Wild Dogs to Tembe Elephant Park (TEP) on Tuesday was music to the ears of conservationists as 14 of the animals ran out of the holding boma to their new home. Described as vital to the survival of South Africa’s managed Wild Dog metapopulation, the events leading up to the release were carefully planned with many roleplayers and skills involved.
The partnership included Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW), the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), the Tembe Tribal Authority, WildlifeACT and the Wildlands Conservation Trust (WCT). The project was initiated in 2009 by the KZN Wild Dog Management Group who were assisted by the Wild Dog Advisory Group. In December that year four male Wild Dogs from the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre were brought to Tembe and they were joined by three females from the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
The liaison initiatives informing the surrounding community of the Wild Dogs were led by Thulani Thusi from WildlifeACT with support from the EWT and WCT. While still in the boma at Tembe the Wild Dogs produced a litter of pups increasing their number to 14. This delayed the release of the dogs as did a controversy surrounding the safety of the endangered Suni and Red Duiker. According to EKZNW ecologist Wayne Matthews, this has been taken into account and it is expected the behaviour of the Wild Dogs will be closely monitored.
The Wild Dogs will be managed according to the Biodiversity Management Plan drawn up by Matthews and Brendan Whittington-Jones. It is believed that the high population of Nyala and Impala will be the preferred prey and this will reduce the effect of the Nyala on the sensitive habitat of the Suni and Red Duiker, which will in the longer term, benefit the species. Any indications that Wild Dog are targeting Suni will be addressed as a priority as it impacts on one of TEP main Biodiversity objectives. The same concerns were raised when lion were introduced into the park in 2002. The lions, which now number between 36 and 40, have not posed a problem and are also being monitored. Acting EKZNW CEO, Cedric Coetzee thanked all the agencies including the Tembe Tribal Authority for their contribution to this historic occasion.
Tembe Elephant Lodge, Jaguar/Land Rover and Dr Mike Toft also contributed greatly to the success of the initiative. Before this introduction the KZN population of Wild Dogs stood at 119 including 41 pups, as of January 2010.