Mike Staegemann, The Witness | April 17, 2021
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, with support from Wildlife ACT, has released a new pack of Endangered African Painted Dogs into the reserve.
This is an important milestone in the conservation of this species.They are the most endangered carnivore in Southern Africa, with an estimated 3000-5000 individuals left in the wild, of which only 550 individuals are found in South Africa.
The new pack, named the “Mbulunga Pack” after the area where they were held in a boma to acclimatise to their new home before release, is composed of nine individuals; five males from Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, and four females from the Maphumulo Pack in the Hluhluwe section of the Park.
Wildlife ACT species monitor, Jarryd Foster, led the release of the pack with minimal stress.
“Ezemvelo’s dedication to the protection of these species has not only played a critical role in their conservation KZN, but has also boosted their conservation in countless other protected areas through translocations and the sharing of expertise. The release of this new pack is yet another success story of Ezemvelo’s continued commitment to the protection of the African Wild Dog, and all other endangered species,” said Amos Tembe, Law Enforcement Manager, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
All nine members of the pack were fitted with tracking collars to enable daily monitoring of their movements, population and behavioural dynamics, ecological influences, disease, snaring incidents and any other human-wildlife conflict issues.
Established in 1895, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa and remains one of KwaZulu-Natal’s flagship reserves. It is steeped in conservation history, most famously known for helping to save the White Rhino from extinction in the early 1920s. However, a lesser known accomplishment is the integral role the Park has played in saving the African Wild Dog.
During the Population and Habitat Viability Assessment workshop held in 1997, the plight of the African Wild Dog was laid bare. At the time, the only functional packs were thought to be in the Kruger National Park.
The main objective of the workshop was to help boost their numbers through the “Managed Metapopulation and Range Expansion Project” and in doing so, create a second viable population outside of Kruger.
The project works to capture and transfer individuals between reserves to mimic natural dispersal and colonisation events. These transfers are fundamental in ensuring good genetic flow in the metapopulation, reducing inbreeding and safeguarding individuals from disease outbreaks and persecution while searching for new mates.
Due to its large size (90 000 hectares at the time) and numerous conservation successes, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park was chosen as the first reserve to reintroduce African Painted Dogs back into KZN. The Park received its first pack in 1980, consisting of 9 members. Since then, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has seen great success in boosting their numbers.
“Protected areas are a critical conservation management tool to maintain a viable future for our endangered wildlife. This protected space is something HiP strives to provide for the African Wild Dog, and several other endangered species. Furthermore, HiP remains an ideal setting for ecological research and information gathering on these endangered species, and so contributes to their effective management and overall conservation strategy,” said Dave Druce, Park Ecologist – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, with the assistance of Wildlife ACT as an advisory conservation partner and monitoring service, are committed to managing and maintaining the African Wild Dog population in the Park. The recent introduction of this new pack lays the groundwork to further stabilising the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park population.
“Ezemvelo KZN Wildife’s track record in conservation over the years speaks for itself. Over the past 12 years it has been a privilege to be associated and assist with the immense work that their staff do for conservation not only in the province but nationally as well. We look forward to continuing this joint partnership into the future,” said Chris Kelly – Director of Species Conservation, Wildlife ACT.
Following their release, the Mbulunga Pack has moved north into the Hluhluwe Section of the Park, into the natal range of the pack’s females. Wildlife ACT’s monitoring teams based in the Hluhluwe and iMfolozi sections will continue to work closely alongside Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Management to monitor the progress of the pack.