SCIENCE SNIPPET: WILD DOGS – SOUTH AFRICA’S MOST ENDANGERED CARNIVORE

Samantha Nicholson, Science Officer and African Lion Database Coordinator, EWT Conservation Science Unit
SamanthaN@ewt.org.za

Across Africa, there are only an estimated 6,600 Wild Dogs that occur in the wild, making them the continent’s 2nd most Endangered carnivore behind the Ethiopian Wolf. In Africa, Wild Dogs inhabit only 14 of the 39 countries where they historically occurred, having lost approximately 93% of their historic range due to habitat loss and a rapidly expanding human population. Sadly, this species faces many other threats such as loss of prey, conflict-related killings, snaring and roadkill incidents.

In a recent published study (Nicholson, S. K., Marneweck, D. G., Lindsey, P. A., Marnewick, K. & Davies-Mostert, H. T. 2020. A 20-year review of the status and distribution of African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) in South Africa. African Journal of Wildlife Research 50: 8-19.), we completed a national assessment of the status and distribution of South Africa’s population of Wild Dogs – the country’s most Endangered carnivore. We looked at two decades of population and distribution data for the species, from 1998 to 2017, and found some interesting results.

South Africa is considered to have three subpopulations of Wild Dogs:

1) The Kruger National Park

2) A managed metapopulation that has been established through reintroductions into isolated, fenced reserves across the country

3) A free-roaming population that occurs naturally outside protected areas – predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

For the study period, the Kruger population has generally averaged 163 adults and yearlings and although the population growth has declined slightly, the population has remained stable through the years. Kruger has consistently supported the highest proportion of the national population of Wild Dogs over the last two decades.

South Africa’s managed metapopulation is made up of a series of individual reserves with intensive management among the reserves, to ensure that there is genetic flow between them. This subpopulation is managed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Wild Dog Advisory Group (WAG). The number of metapopulation reserves has increased over the years,  and the average annual population is 108 adults and yearlings. The metapopulation is the only subpopulation that has increased significantly over time and this is due to intensive conservation efforts and the reintroduction of Wild Dogs into 15 additional reserves since 1998. The contribution of the metapopulation to South Africa’s national population has increased significantly over time.

Free-roaming Wild Dogs make up the smallest subpopulation in the country with an average annual population of approximately 79 adults and yearlings. This subpopulation faces the largest number of threats as it is largely unprotected and generally outside of protected areas.

The overall South African population of Wild Dogs has remained stable for our study period and while it is a small population (< 500 individuals), the good news is that it is increasing.

Wild dog population size amongst the three sub-populations in South Africa during 1998–2017. (Note: For the Kruger population, the black squares represent the census/monitoring years while the white squares represent the periods where estimates were used).
The distribution of free-roaming wild dogs in South Africa between 2013–2017. Numbers refer to national parks, state and private game reserves, within the managed metapopulation.