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Okavango-Kalahari Wild Dog Research Project

Botilo Thato Tshimologo and Kai Collins

  • One of the significant threats for wild dog packs is the potential spread of diseases such as canine distemper and rabies, often contracted by coming into contact with domestic dogs that are carrying the diseases. One of the primary focuses of this project is to determine wild dog pack movements in relation to the closest villages and human settlements and then the aim is to focus a concentrated canine disease vaccination programme on domestic dogs in these villages, in an attempt to minimise the risk of these diseases spreading into free-ranging wild dog populations.

  • 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.

    Objectives
    This project aims to build on past work done on wild dogs within the Okavango Delta as well as add to the body of knowledge currently existing, hence the selection of areas with wild dog packs that had not yet been closely studied. This study aims to compare Wild Dog packs in two locations within Okavango Delta Ramsar site to wild dog packs in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Movement and activity data from GPS collars on wild dog packs in the CKGR will be compared with data from 3 GPS collars on wild dogs in the Okavango Delta Ramsar site, as well as behavioural observations from the study packs. Due to recent advances in technology, the collars have gotten lighter than ever before (very important for such a highly mobile species) as well as being able to store GPS fixes onboard that can be downloaded remotely later on, and even from the air if necessary.

    Methodology
    The same data collection methodology and time period of data collection will be used across study sites in order to gain a better understanding of how wild dogs have adapted to survive in such different habitat types. This study forms part of an MSc research project being carried out by a student, Botilo Thato Tshimologo, who is carrying out his studies through the University of Botswana, Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre. This project is very closely linked to the Central Kalahari Wild Dog Research Project as both projects are being used as a comparative study.

    Information gained from the comparison of the species in the two different habitat types as well as movement of the species across fence lines and into communal rangeland areas can be used in proactive conservation of this endangered species.

  • Final Report – December 2013
    Informed and strategic conservation of any wide-ranging large predator requires sound comprehension of its behavioural patterns, including spatial habits. Thus, the scent-marking behaviour of most large predators has been thought to hold important clues to helping scientists understand their habitat utilisation. This study was part of a larger project which investigated the relationships and factors driving predator–prey dynamics and human-wildlife conflict in Kalahari (CKGR) ecosystems and the Okavango Delta through an observational behavioural study. However, this study focused on the Okavango Delta for comparative purposes with the former.
    The study commenced towards the end of 2010 with collection of data from three study packs ranging in and around NG15, 16 and NG22. Field data collection lasted until April 2012. Thereafter data analysis and thesis write-up commenced and was completed in August 2013.
    Several hypotheses were tested about the scent-marking behaviour of wild dogs. Scan sampling and all occurrences sampling methods were used to observe 24 adult and sub-adult African wild dogs from three packs in northern Botswana. Data collection in the CKGR has been marred with logistic and financial difficulties, and is still ongoing. 
    A summary of preliminary of findings shows that the mean scent-marking rates of individuals were compared by age, social status and sex. The results showed no significant difference in the scent-marking rates of males and females. Age also did not significantly show any association with an individual’s scent-marking rates. However, social status positively correlated with the scent-marking rates of individuals, as dominants scent-marked at higher rates than subordinates. African wild dogs’ scent-mark densities were significantly higher within their home range cores compared to the middle and edges. Impala came up as the most common prey; however, medium-sized ungulates were the most-preferred prey group and large ungulates were generally avoided. Their diet did not respond to seasonal changes. 
    The thesis was submitted to the University of Botswana, Okavango Research Institute, and Maun in September 2013 for examination and the examination process begun. Currently, two manuscripts on the scent-marking and dietary patterns of African wild dogs in northern Botswana in comparison with the CKGR populations are being written for peer review journals. In October and December 2013, I presented my research findings from my thesis at a seminar and a conference on Biodiversity of Southern Africa, at Denver Zoo in Colorado, USA, and at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Final Report – December 2013

    Informed and strategic conservation of any wide-ranging large predator requires sound comprehension of its behavioural patterns, including spatial habits. Thus, the scent-marking behaviour of most large predators has been thought to hold important clues to helping scientists understand their habitat utilisation. This study was part of a larger project which investigated the relationships and factors driving predator–prey dynamics and human-wildlife conflict in Kalahari (CKGR) ecosystems and the Okavango Delta through an observational behavioural study. However, this study focused on the Okavango Delta for comparative purposes with the former.

    The study commenced towards the end of 2010 with collection of data from three study packs ranging in and around NG15, NG16 and NG22. Field data collection lasted until April 2012. Thereafter data analysis and thesis write-up commenced and was completed in August 2013.

    Several hypotheses were tested about the scent-marking behaviour of wild dogs. Scan sampling and all occurrences sampling methods were used to observe 24 adult and sub-adult African wild dogs from three packs in northern Botswana. Data collection in the CKGR has been marred with logistic and financial difficulties, and is still ongoing.

    A summary of preliminary of findings shows that the mean scent-marking rates of individuals were compared by age, social status and sex. The results showed no significant difference in the scent-marking rates of males and females. Age also did not significantly show any association with an individual’s scent-marking rates. However, social status positively correlated with the scent-marking rates of individuals, as dominants scent-marked at higher rates than subordinates. African wild dogs’ scent-mark densities were significantly higher within their home range cores compared to the middle and edges. Impala came up as the most common prey; however, medium-sized ungulates were the most-preferred prey group and large ungulates were generally avoided. Their diet did not respond to seasonal changes.

    The thesis was submitted to the University of Botswana, Okavango Research Institute, and Maun in September 2013 for examination and the examination process begun. Currently, two manuscripts on the scent-marking and dietary patterns of African wild dogs in northern Botswana in comparison with the CKGR populations are being written for peer review journals. In October and December 2013, I presented my research findings from my thesis at a seminar and a conference on Biodiversity of Southern Africa, at Denver Zoo in Colorado, USA, and at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Annual Report 2011
    This study compares wild dog packs in two locations within the Okavango Delta Ramsar site with wild dog packs in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Movement and activity data from GPS collars, as well as behavioural observations of wild dog packs in the CKGR are compared with that of wild dogs in the Delta. Due to recent advances in technology, the collars are lighter than before which is vital for such a highly mobile species. This study forms part of an MPhil research project being carried out by Botilo Thato Tshimologo, studying through the University of Botswana's Okavango Research Institute, and is linked to the Central Kalahari Wild Dog Research Project as both studies compare data.

    The same data collection methodology and time period is being used across study sites in order to gain a better understanding of how wild dog have adapted to survive in such different habitat types, build on past research and add to the body of knowledge particularly in areas where wild dog packs have not been closely studied.

    There is movement between packs in the northern Okavango and Linyanti region with both areas close to villages and communal rangeland areas. This is a major cause for concern as rabies can easily spread from domestic dog populations into free-ranging wild dog populations, a significant threat to the species. Preliminary results have showed some surprising and alarming findings with packs moving very close to villages where domestic dogs occur, potentially bringing them into close contact with domestic dogs that might have diseases such as rabies or canine distemper.

    Efforts are now being put in place to arrange a domestic dog vaccination programme in those specific villages initially. The focus now is to raise funds for rabies vaccinations for dogs in villages adjacent to wildlife areas so that the risk of disease spread to free-ranging wild dog populations can be minimised. An initial trip has been undertaken to vaccinate several hundred dogs in the affected areas and additional trips will be planned as funding allows.

    December 2010
    CKGR Pack
    The 'main study pack' or CKGR pack of wild dogs living has gone from 6 members (4 adults and 2 young ones) to only 4 (3 adults and 1 young one) members. They have not bred in the last year.

    We were able to locate and download the GPS-collared alpha female on 4 December and the collar is working well. They were located 22km north of the road going through Passarge Valley when we found them from the air. The pack continues to move over a massive area in the northern part of the CKGR. Since 2009 their movement has gone from approximately 3100 km to 4500 km2. Their range now includes the far north of their previous territory. Considering the large size of their previous territory the reason for this expansion is difficult to interpret. Several factors can be considered that may significantly influence the wild dogs' space use patterns.

    Any one or more of the following factors may have applied:

    • Fires burnt through the northern CKGR region on two separate occasions in September and October influencing herbivore movement patterns.

    • Proper rain did not arrive into the area until late November, whereas last year the rains arrived in September. This meant that wild dog and their prey will have moved into areas where they could find water.

    The presence or absence of other wild dog packs around the CKGR pack will also influence their movements.

    • The recent forays to the far north of the CKGR may be stimulated by a decline in a previously resident pack there or be caused by the alpha female looking for mate to breed with, as at present the male in the pack does not seem to be of breeding age and not an Alpha.

    It has been difficult to interpret the spatial data for the CKGR pack without understanding the movement of other wild dog packs in the region. However, we finally have some other dogs to study in the region.

    The released male from Makopong
    We have been responsible for monitoring a wild dog captured in a farming area north east of Makopong in southern Botswana collared and released into the Northern CKGR in August. The male was released with three captive-bred wild dogs from Grasslands along with three pups. In September we were able to locate the grassland female who had unfortunately died 20km east of Deception Valley, also approximately 20km from the release site. From the air we were able to locate the male in October 5km east of CKGR. Until we locate him, we will not know if he is still with the other two Grassland female wild dogs and if any pups have survived.

    While the CKGR packs boundaries entail the central and northern parts of the CKGR, the Makopong male was monitored until October to stick to the east side of the park and slightly beyond.

    The Bokomoso Pack
    The project had been looking for wild dogs to study that live adjacent to the CKGR pack and after much effort were finally able to locate and collar two wild dogs from a pack of six (one female and five males). Collared in November at Bokomoso, a 600km2 game farm to the immediate east of the CKGR, we were able to download the collar ten days after the collaring and make observations from the ground. Interestingly on our first observation a male and the one adult female mated seven times over a 45-minute period which in November is unusual as wild dogs typically den between May to July and a successful November mating would mean pups in February. It will be fascinating to see their movements and territory. If they move to the west or north they will be in a high density commercial cattle area, to the south a bushman tribal low density livestock area that also has wild game and to the east the protected CKGR. They have not been seen in Bokomoso for the last four weeks and we need to fly to locate them and learn about their range.

    The Khutse Pack
    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. The first collar was placed in October. Before the collaring the wild dog individual had been with a pack of six dogs, however four of its members have since died after having been observed weak and in bad condition. The cause is yet unknown. The wild dog has since been seen by herself in the centre of Khutse and we assume the second female (not collared) may have also died. There have been sightings of other wild dogs in Khutse so it will be interesting to see if the collared female joins up with others. As yet we have been unable to download the collar and plan to fly early in the New Year to locate her and hope she is still alive. It will be fascinating to see what her range is as she may move north into the CKGR or spend the bulk of her time in Khutse, or indeed out to the south in cattle farming areas.

    The next few months
    Along with locating all the wild dogs that we have currently have collared, we will also continue to look for other wild dog packs both in and outside the CKGR to study. We will also be starting community work with game and livestock farmers who have problems with passing wild dog which typically leads to wild dog mortality. Our collaboration with the WKCP will be ongoing and overall we anticipate a busy start to 2011.