This project continues on from the previous years' studies in looking at the conservation status of the wild dog population of Zimbabwe's south-east Lowveld, assessing the extent of connectivity between the Zimbabwean and South African portions of the wild dog population of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), assessing the impact of the multiple conservation threats facing the population and developing tools with which to improve conservation prospects.
The researchers have now spent several years in south-east Zimbabwe. Following completion of a bush-meat project, they turned once more to conservation research involving wild dogs in the Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe, particularly in light of upcoming Transfrontier Park conservation efforts. The 2008 study expanded on their previous research, looking at the conservation status and threats affecting the conservation of wild dogs in the context of the Zimbabwean portion of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.
This genetic project is a subproject of a large, holistic and multidisciplinary wild dog conservation project, for which the overall goal is:
To mitigate the major threats to wild dogs in the Zimbabwean part of the GLTFCA, whilst promoting the effectiveness of the transfrontier park for the conservation of the endangered African wild dog.
Objectives of this specific project are:
1) Collection of genetic material from Gonarezhou wild dogs
- To locate wild dog dens during the denning season
- To monitor the Gonarezhou wild dog population
- To collect wild dog scat samples from around den sites and opportunistically from trails or pack resting sites
2) Analysis and interpretation of genetic samples in collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
- To analyse mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites to investigate the levels of genetic diversity within the population, as well as how the wild dog populations are connected by migration (Girman et al. 2001).
- To conduct additional tests on the genes of the major histocompatibility complex [MHC] to give a general indication of the genetic health of the population (DNA extraction and analysis to be done at the University of Johannesburg under supervision of Professor Bettine van Vuuren, in association with Dr Cindy Harper at Onderstepoort Veterinary Laboratory, Pretoria)
1) Trained and experienced local trackers will work with the project PI to locate wild dog dens and (at other times of year) pack resting places. Scat samples will be collected from these sites, labelled and frozen. Tracking will include a combination of spoor tracking and radio telemetry of collared packs, and camera traps at den sites will assist with population monitoring. If any dogs are immobilised for collaring or snare removal during the course of the study, or if carcasses are found, blood and/or tissue samples will be taken.
2) Genetic samples will be exported to South Africa with the necessary permits and DNA extraction and analysis will be done by Zimbabwean student Moreangels Mbizah at the University of Johannesburg. EWT’s Kruger samples are stored at Onderstepoort and we will have access to these (under a formal data sharing agreement) for analysis. Genotyping will be conducted using 19 microsatellite loci selected from the 2006 ISAG (International Society for Animal Genetics) domestic dog (Canis familiaris) panel that are consistent with those used in other wild dog genetic studies in southern Africa. For all loci, faecal samples will be genotyped at least three times for heterozygotes and five times for homozygotes (Spiering et al. 2009). (More details on the genetic methods available on request).
It has been an exciting quarter, with 2012 continuing to be a decisive year for the African Wildlife Conservation Fund (AWCF). We have been moving from strength to strength and have made great strides towards achieving our goals for 2012.
This time of year is always a busy one for us - with the denning season in full swing, we are often left trying to burn the candle at both ends with education and outreach work, field work and the dreaded administration work.
This quarter in 2012 has been particularly busy with us having initiated a new field project in a previously unstudied area of the Greater Limpopo Trans frontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA). We continue to redouble our efforts on the outreach and education front and maintain our focus on the GLTFCA for our conservation work. This quarter we have seen especially encouraging results from our work in the Gonarezhou National Park.
Click here for the full report.
To date we have located eight different wild dog packs in Gonarezhou; six in the Chipinda sub region and two in the Mabalauta sub region. Four of the packs are fitted with collars, and photographic identikits are available for seven of the packs. In total, there are at least 47 adults and 49 pups in the eight known packs (a minimum of 96 dogs overall including pups).
Four of the dogs currently living near Mabalauta originated from Savé Valley Conservancy (confirmed from photographic records) confirming the connectivity between these two important populations.
Click here for the full report.
We have just spent a very successful three weeks in Gonarezhou. We found a large pack of wild dog (15 individuals) that had just finished denning. We also found the den sites of two other packs. At both of these sites, the pups are still very small and are in the range of four months of age. This is great news as it gives us time to try and get collars on them, and of course to collect sufficient fresh scat to build up a good collection of genetic samples.
At the first den we found, we were treated to an amazing sight of all the pups curled up in the entrance to the den. All in all, this provides very exciting evidence of a good breeding population of wild dogs in Gonarezhou.
The Wilderness Wildlife Trust has provided funding to aid with the monitoring of various wild dog pack and the collection and analysis of genetic samples.
The project went very well, and a good background understanding of the status and distribution of wild dog in the Gonarezhou National Park has been established. There are plans for continuation and expansion of the project, including more of a focus on genetic connectivity with Kruger and the possibility of trans-boundary movements.
The aim of the project was to investigate the status of the wild dog population in the park, as part of a larger study on wild dog throughout the Zimbabwean part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA). Specific project objectives were
a) To estimate the number of lion, hyaena, leopard, cheetah and wild dog using Gonarezhou
b) To investigate the abundance and distribution of wild dog in Gonarezhou
c) To investigate the movement patterns of wild dog, especially cross-border movements.
The results of the spoor survey produced an estimate of 23 lion, 310 spotted hyaena, 194 leopard and 23 wild dog in the 3786km2 area south of the Runde River . The results illustrate there is a very low density of lion and wild dog in the park. It is likely that any relatively large wild dog pack will have a large home range (>1500km2), and thus the park probably only supports 2-3 packs.
Given how little was previously known about the status of large carnivores in the park, how little studied the park has been in general and how remote and inaccessible much of it is, excellent progress has been made. Continuing investigations on the wild dog population must be made, and locating the dens of the two main packs should be a priority. Once individuals have been collared, detailed information on their movement patterns can be obtained, and population dynamics, litter sizes, pup survival, diet choice etc can be investigated. A separate project to investigate the causes of the very low lion densities in the park will also be initiated.
The wild dog team has had a busy few months over the 2009 denning season. Not only are they working flat out to protect the wild dogs in the Savé Valley Conservancy, but they have recently expanded their efforts to include conservation of lion and wild dog in Gonarezhou National Park as well - 5000 square km of unexplored wilderness.
In Gonarezhou, there is proper evidence (including a visual sighting) of two large packs of wild dog, both with pups, showing the dogs are breeding successfully in the area.
One particular success story relates to a male dog, affectionately called 'Willy Wonka' who had had a snare around his waist last year which cut off his penile sheath in addition to other horrific injuries. The team managed to save him, but didn't think he would ever breed again. Incredibly, he has proved everyone wrong and fathered a litter of four pups this year, boosting the depleted population in the south of the Conservancy quite considerably!
In the last few months the team has started a project to investigate the cause of the extremely low lion population densities in Gonarezhou National Park. Very preliminary findings suggest there are between only 30 and 50 lion in the park, a small number given the size of the area, and historic population sizes within it.
Gonarezhou comprises a key part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, and has the potential to provide a key stronghold for large carnivore populations. However, low lion numbers are of concern and reasons for this need to be investigated in order to mitigate threats and implement appropriate interventions where necessary.