African Wild Dog populations have dwindled rapidly in recent times due to habitat loss, disease and poaching activities, leaving only 3000-5000 remaining in the wild. This is a scary statistic!
So when our Taronga Training Institute trainer Brendan spoke of a fundraiser he was organising, our class was keen to get behind it. The generated funds were to help a group called Wildlife ACT with their conservation work.
Although called African Wild Dogs, they are really not your typical dog. They look different – they have round, bat-like ears, a speckled coat, and very distinct vocalisations. Unlike other dogs, they’re not scavengers. Wild dogs are incredibly effective hunters, reaching speeds in excess of 50km/h over long distances, and can overpower prey many times their size with persistence and stamina.
The story behind this campaign is truly heartbreaking, and it's devastating for the remaining populations of African Wild Dogs. Until late last year, there were two packs on the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, which sits on the north-east coast of South Africa. One of the wild dogs on this reserve contracted canine distemper virus, which resulted in their entire pack dying. With only 550 left in South Africa, that’s a huge loss.
The plan was to inoculate the remaining pack of six. Locating wild dogs can be tricky without the appropriate equipment and skills, as these animals can cover huge distances in a day, making them difficult to track and monitor.
Wildlife ACT had fitted one of these dogs with a telemetry collar, which sends out an emergency signal if an animal is stationary for too long (indicating that it may be in trouble, like getting caught in a poacher’s snare). Unfortunately the collar had stopped working, and so needed to be replaced.
That’s where we came in! By coaxing friends, colleagues and family into buying chocolates (unsurprisingly they needed little persuasion), together we managed to raise $1,250 to enable Wildlife ACT to buy a new tracking collar. This is awesome, as daily monitoring and tracking is crucial to the sustainability of endangered populations. Not only could it help save a life in an emergency, but it provides data on movement patterns, habitat utilisation and population demographics.
It might not seem ideal to collar a wild animal, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This is a critical time for the last pack on Hluhluwe, and for the species. I'm grateful people like Brendan care enough to spread the word and make a difference, and that groups like Wildlife ACT donate their time and expertise to help our dwindling wildlife. I'm glad that we could play a small part in the effort to save the African Wild Dog.
By Klay Cameron