Hope for the Waterberg’s free roaming wild dogs


As ferocious predators and successful hunters it is not surprising that the last remaining free-roaming pack of African wild dogs in South Africa’s Waterberg region has been persecuted over the years. And with an increase in human population, the size of their open, natural spaces has decreased too.

Despite calling the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve home, threats have caused this wild dog population to shrink significantly. But with a litter of pups born in July and conservationists eager to save this bloodline, there is new hope.

In the past. wild dogs thrived in the rich biodiversity South Africa had to offer. “Threats such as hunting, poisoning, road collisions. snaring and habitat loss have reduced the population to near extinction,” says Derek van der Merwe, Limpopo regional coordinator of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Carnivore Conservation Programme.

wild dog

Photo: Derek van der Merwe

The 400 000-hectare Waterberg Biosphere Reserve includes formally protected reserves. buffer zones. corridor zones. commercial hunting and private farms. There are also game breeders focusing on high­value game. This is where the EWT plays a pivotal role.

Photo: Derek van der Merwe

Van der Merwe says their goal is to promote co-existence between landowners and the wild dogs to safeguard the last pack of free­roaming wild dogs in South Africa. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to ensure farmers· livelihoods are less affected by the wild dogs. “Forms of co­existence include measures such as establishing early warning systems. building corrals. livestock-guarding animals. anti-predator deterrents and constant liaison with the landowners.” he says. “We have mapped potential hotspots of conflict after fitting collars to the pack.” This way, warnings a resent if wild dogs approach these hotspots.

Through the work of the EWT, landowners are slowly becoming more accepting of the dogs, but a lot of hard work lies ahead. Local farmer Pieter van der Merwe, whose property became the denning site for the dogs, says he was extremely worried when he received the news. He owns several high-value game species. “If you listen to people’s stories. the wild dogs will bankrupt you quickly as they are very successful predators,” he says.

The goaI is to safeguard the last free-roaming pack of wild dogs in South Africa

The resident klipspringer antelope in his garden is long gone, but after taking the time to observe and follow the dogs, his perceptions changed. “It is a blessing to witness their behaviour. Many people who work in nature conservation don’t even have this unique opportunity. We interfered with nature by fencing everything, so it is our responsibility to help,” he says. A sponsor will also assist Pieter with new impala to restock some of the game he has lost as a result of allowing the dogs onto his property.

wild dog pack

Photo: Derek van der Merwe

Another method is to protect the dogs through tourism. “This area has incredible eco-tourism potential. as it is located close to the urban hub of Johannesburg,” says van der Merwe. As a result. visitors can now go on a unique tracking experience to see these wild dogs.

All funds raised through these experiences are distributed back to the landowners for providing safe passage. “We determine the amount according to the time dogs are spending on each property.” says van der Merwe.

Free-roaming wild dog facts

  • 400 000 hectares: The size of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve.
  •  Special genes: The Waterberg wild dogs have a completely unique string of DNA and bloodline.
  • 520: The number of wild dogs left in South Africa. This makes them the most endangered carnivore in South Africa.
  •  5: The number of dogs that were left in the free-roaming population in 2017 before the new pups were born. In 1998, there were 120 animals.
  • Painted wolves: Another name for these beautiful dogs due to their coat patterns

 Written by René de Klerk

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