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Central Kalahari Wild Dog Research

Glyn Maude

  • This project looks at a critically endangered species that at present there is little knowledge of in the CKGR region and wider Botswana Kalahari populations. It is believed that the wider Kalahari region barely supports wild dogs and only a small population occurs there. However wild dog packs are reasonably often sighted in the CKGR, in particular during the wet season and due to its large size (52 500km2) the area is likely to sustain a significant number of wild dog packs. At present home range sizes for Kalahari wild dogs can only be guessed using home range size information on other carnivore species studied that live in the Kalahari.

    The present approximate estimate for total wild dog numbers in the world is between 3 000 and 5 500 individuals (IUCN 2004). Botswana has a total estimated population of 800 wild dogs, most of which are believed to occur in northern Botswana (Okavango Delta, Chobe, Linyanti and Nxai Pan) with a minimum of 42 packs representing 450-500 individuals. The wider CKGR population is likely to be a significant proportion of the total population of wild dogs found throughout its range.

  • Objectives
    The aim of the project is to determine an accurate estimate of the wild dog population in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) - the numbers, densities and pack structures, the surrounding area, and the factors that influence their population dynamics and spatial ecology and bring them into conflict with humans.

    The primary research objectives aim to provide reliable wild dog estimates for the region, information on their spatial requirements and the factors that may push them into conflict with people. Other information to be gleaned include details of their diet in the region, pack sizes and age and sex structures relative to wild dog packs in northern Botswana. One of the conservation priorities outlined in the IUCN Canid Action Plan is to 'maintain connectivity of habitat available to wild dogs, particularly in Northern Botswana'   and to 'carry out surveys of other potentially important populations'. The wild dog work in the CKGR will produce information that will be in line with the above statements. 

    This project is part of the broader CKGR research programme which is set out as 'a holistic research programme… that aims to examine key conservation and management issues within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and surrounding regions. The study will have a broad focus, incorporating a collection of baseline ecological data, a detailed predator guild and herbivore survey and an analysis of predator-prey relationships within the region. The study hopes to improve our understanding of the region's underlying system dynamics, the influence of artificial water provision on the environment, while examining regulatory factors and population dynamics of wildlife species living in the study area and the interface between wildlife and resident human populations.

    Two adult members from each of five packs will be collared (one with a GPS remote download unit, 320g, and one with a VHF unit, 350g) in order to be able to locate them for direct observations and to determine spatial requirements.

    Blood, tissue and hair samples will be gathered for purposes of disease testing and population genetics. Both of these are key issues within the species in regard to genetic bottle necks and fatal diseases such as rabies and distemper.

    The collared wild dogs will be tracked and downloaded from the ground and by plane. Through research done by the wider CKGR programme on seasonal prey abundance and movement the factors that influence wild dog ecology can be examined. Habitat preferences can also be determined.

    Results to be determined
    1) An accurate estimate for the CKGR wild dog population through knowledge of home range sizes and pack numbers.
    2) Knowledge of population dynamics for the species living in an arid environment.
    3) An understanding of the seasonal and spatial and resource requirement of the CKGR wild dog population in order to determine the factors that push wild dogs out of the reserve boundaries and into conflict with humans.
    4) An increase in our overall knowledge of a highly endangered species living in an environment within which little is known of the species ecology.
    5) A greater understanding of the CKGR system through the above information to be integrated into the broader finding of the programme.

  • March 2012
    This project update describes our findings so far from the recent massive spoor survey completed in the CKGR and Khutse in collaboration with the DWNP. On the 23rd of March 2012, 12 vehicles met in three areas with the mission to conduct an unprecedented carnivore spoor survey in the Central Kalahari and Khutse Game Reserve. A 13th Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) vehicle provided valuable logistical support and DWNP officials were integrated into two of the survey teams. Two cars met at the northwest entry gate to the CKGR at Tsau Gate, five cars met in Deception Valley and five cars in Khutse. The aim was to record carnivore spoor that was under 24 hours old on the vast majority of the CKGR/Khutse roads and boundary roads over six days seven nights and to meet for the final night at Molopo a San settlement in the central CKGR on the 29th of March. All wild dog spoor was to be recorded even old spoor. Each team had its own route to survey, two experienced San trackers on board and a data sheet to fill in with details of what and how to record. Due to the remote areas they would be surveying each team had not only adequate camping equipment, but lots of food and water, a GPS as well as a satellite phone. If a track was disturbed by traffic, teams stopped the survey until the next day to ensure the data collected was comparable across the CKGR and Khutse region.

    The mission was accomplished with great success as 88 transects were conducted with the mean length being 27.4 km per transect. A total of 2412.6 km of road was rigorously surveyed (with a few key roads surveyed twice) for large carnivores and 1612 km for small carnivores.

    For the full report, click here.

    Annual Report 2011
    The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) wild dog research project made some important strides over 2010 and now has continuous spatial data for the past 22 months of the main pack of wild dog in the CKGR. This pack went from six members to four in the last year; its long-term viability is thus in question. The pack continues to move over a massive area in the northern CKGR expanding its range from 3100km2 (2009) to approximately 4500 km2 in the last five months.

    The project is also monitoring a wild dog captured in a farming area north-east of Makopong, collared and released into the northern CKGR in August along with three captive-bred dogs and their three pups from Grasslands. In September the female of this pack was found dead approximately 20km from the release site. We were able to locate the male on October 12th from the air, 5km outside the CKGR to the east. The search will continue in the hope that he and the females and pups are alive and well.

    The project has been looking for wild dogs that live adjacent to the CKGR pack to add to the study and after much effort finally located and collared two wild dogs from a pack of six on Bokomoso, a 600km2 game farm to the east of the CKGR. It will be fascinating to see the range they have.
    The CKGR wild dog research project is collaborating with the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Project (WKCP) in a study in the southern part of the Kalahari. Two months ago, the first collar went onto a wild dog that located in the Khutse Game Reserve.

    November 2011
    The last report we received from the researcher ended with the following quote:
    "It will be very crucial to see how the Tsau hills wild dog pack goes in the future as their fate may represent the destiny of other Kalahari wild dogs pack in the region. It will give us some clue as to the future presence of these wild dog populations in the Kalahari regions and the factors that come in to play in determining the fate of these Kalahari wild dogs. "
    For the full details, please click here.

    July 2011
    The CKGR wild dog research project has finally managed to get a satellite collar onto the study pack living in the CKGR. The collar was deployed in mid-May onto an adult female who had been previously been wearing a VHF collar. It is our first time to use an ‘Argos’ satellite collar as other larger satellite collars are based on ‘iridium’ satellites which work differently and we have previously only used them on lions and wildebeest. This wild dog argos collar stores six locations a day and is set up to maximise the chances of it giving us a 9am or 10 am location every day so we can drive and find them before they move again.
    Please click here for the full report.

    March 2010
    Several key objectives have been achieved by the research on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) wild dogs in the last 12 months. In February 2009 the first wild dog in a pack within the CKGR was located and GPS-collared. She is the alpha female of what was then a pack of ten. In March a VHF collar was placed on a second female in the same pack which was down to nine members. The alpha female had pups on 12 June and denned until the end of August. As of 12 December 2009 the pack consisted of four adults and two sevenmonth-old pups.

    The GPS collar worked as programmed and has taken 4 fixes a day for the last 11 months. The home range calculated is in excess of 3 000km2 which is one of the largest recorded for the species. In the dry season, the home range was similar to that of the wet season. Further analysis of movement data will be conducted to determine how their space use varies through time and alongside other variables. The pack was observed hunting gemsbok, springbok, steenbok, duiker and kudu with hunts often taking place on moonless nights. The lower lion density in the Kalahari area relative to other environments in which wild dogs live, as well as the absence of spotted hyaena, may give the pack more freedom to operate at night. At present the estimate is approximately one lion per 100km2. Data collated up until now indicates that there are an estimated 16 wild dog packs in the CKGR and Khutse Game Reserve with a population of approximately 155 wild dogs.

    In order to achieve the research objectives further work is planned, including spending more time with the existing study pack and locating and collaring individuals from other neighbouring packs.