Due to a massive restoration effort, funded by entrepreneur and philanthropist, Gregg Carr, Gorongosa National Park is now ‘an extensive protected area with an abundance of game’. A huge, combined effort of the Mozambican government, the recruitment of more than 270 field rangers, and a lengthy recovery period for the Park’s fauna and flora have seen this park flourish. This restoration effort came about after a lengthy civil war in Mozambique, which resulted in decimation of that country’s wildlife.
Bringing back the area’s apex predators, including African Wild Dogs, however, has been no easy task. In 2018, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) teamed up with EKZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT, to relocate a pack of 14 African Wild Dogs from Zululand to Gorongosa National Park.
According to the EWT, following a successful bonding between the male and female dogs of the newly formed pack, they were released into the reserve. Amazingly, they thrived from the outset, with both the alpha and the beta females falling pregnant and giving birth to a total of 18 pups. In addition, a third female, together with three males, split from the pack and produced an additional 10 pups. All 28 pups survived the six-month mark and the population tripled in the space of a year.
The EWT emphasises though, that this large reserve ‘requires more than one African Wild Dog pack to recreate a resilient and viable population, and to consider their restoration into the area a success’. And so, working with their conservation partners – including the Carr Foundation and the Bateleurs, a second pack of 15 Wild Dogs was sourced from the Kalahari Desert in South Africa , with most importantly, unique genetics.
“On 29 October 2019, the vision of a more resilient population became a reality as our team assembled just before sunrise at a boma in the Khamab Kalahari Game Reserve to sedate a second pack and airlift them to Mozambique. The difficulty of capturing 15 African Wild Dogs cannot be underestimated. Fortunately, the EWT’s team included Dr Rowan Leeming – a veterinarian renowned for his African Wild Dog knowledge and experience – who was able to safely and quickly immobilise all the individuals. Taking off safely from the Kalahari, the flight stopped to clear South African customs at Polokwane, before the two-and-a-half hour flight to Gorongosa. Fortunately, customs officials met the flight as it landed at the dusty Gorongosa airstrip – expediting the import process – before rushing the Wild Dogs into their new holding boma with the help of Gorongosa’s rangers, and they could be woken from their 10-hour journey. In a matter of minutes, the pack were on their feet and greeting one another in their new home.”
“It was then that the realization of this momentous occasion sank in,” says the EWT’s Wild Dog expert, Cole du Plessis. “These African Wild Dogs are the pioneers that will restore Gorongosa’s Wild Dog population and set a blueprint for future restoration projects.” He adds, “this species is still considered Endangered, but success stories such as this bring hope for their preservation.”
Wild Dog Numbers And Habitat: Some Good News
Successful African Wild Dog coordination and management in South Africa has resulted in an increasing population in the country over the past 20 years. Due to their increasing numbers, this allows the prospect of introducing them into areas of southern Africa, where over decades the species has been extirpated. Gorongosa National Park has been identified as a keystone area for their reintroduction. This rare conservation opportunity prompted the formation of a partnership between the Gorongosa Project and the EWT and led to the largest reintroduction ever executed.
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In 2017 there were no African Wild Dogs in Gorongosa National Park. Then in 2018, 14 were reintroduced, and this group has grown to 42 individuals. A second pack of 15 has now been reintroduced. This population now numbers 57, two years after the first reintroductions were made.
The EWT’s partners who have assisted in these reintroductions includr Khamab Kalahari Game Reserve, Gorongosa National Park, WAG-SA, the Bateleurs, Wildlife ACT, EKZN Wildlife and North-West Parks and Tourism.
Did You Know
In 2016, the African Wild Dog was considered ‘extirpated’ in 25 of the 39 countries in which they once roamed. In Mozambique, much of the territory was considered ‘unknown’ or ‘extirpated’ (completely eradicated or destroyed).
Source and photographs: EWT, Bateleurs