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Northern Tuli Wild Dogs Release

News update on the NTGR release of Wild Dogs from Craig Jackson*

On Saturday 5 April the Northern Tuli wild dogs were finally set free! Approximately 50 people attended to observe the event and the release went smoothly. The pack of 18 wild dogs including last year’s 9 pups (now yearlings) was coaxed out of the gates of the enclosure they had been living in since October of last year, using a freshly killed impala carcass, their natural staple diet. After eating the impala the dogs trotted about 300m down the road to a large and shady Mashatu tree. It looked as though they might rest there during the heat of the day, but it soon became apparent they had other ideas.

Exactly two hours and twenty minutes after gaining their freedom, the entire pack was stretched out halfway through the Limpopo River, apparently attempting to cross back into South Africa. At this point it appeared as though this was going to be an extremely short experiment.

However, the Limpopo being in full flood and flowing steadily seemed to discourage them from attempting to complete the crossing. Instead they frolicked around in the shallows for an hour and a half, and then retreated back to the Botswana side and back into the Northern Tuli Game Reserve.

Then the pack gradually worked their way along the banks of the Limpopo in a southwesterly direction. Early the next morning they were located almost 10km further west, on a main road just west of Tuli Safari Lodge - but minus the three 2 year old males. We predicted prior to their release that these males would leave the rest of the pack due to their age and kinship (unrelated to the dominant male), but we had no way of knowing it would be so soon. Anyway, later that evening the dispersing three were located resting under a tree several kilometers further west than the rest of the pack - but within 100m of one of our BioBoundary scent marks. Since then they have been located infrequently.

However, and notably, they have been sighted north and west near Nitani Lodge, and later, further east in Jwala, and most interestingly, appear to be very closely tracking the BioBoundary perimeter. The main pack returned over the next couple days to the place of their release, and appeared to be waiting for someone to bring them some food. On the afternoon of the 8th of April, the pack was passing through a pan called “Pete’s Pond” in Mashatu, the largest of the NTGR landholders. Here they disturbed a breeding herd of elephants that had probably not seen wild dogs in many years resulting in a serious charge by the elephants that was captured on video camera. They were no doubt getting pretty hungry by this time.Over the first few days, they were observed making feeble attempts at hunting impala with no success. However, after capturing a young warthog and then a few rabbits, they seemed to start to get back into the routine of capturing their own meals. By Friday they were observed killing an impala. They have since made several impala kills and are feeding themselves as few other large carnivores can, with great efficiency.

Map showing the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in easternmost Botswana. The border with Zimbabwe is along the Northeast. The Limpopo River, the boundary between Botswana and South Africa, is the southern boundary. As the enclosure was situated next to the Limpopo River and because the river was in flood, the southern boundary of the NTGR was not included in the layout of the scent marked BioBoundary (green dots). The area enclosed by the scent marks is approximately 360km2.

A summary of the important observations from the first week following the release of the Northern Tuli wild dog pack into the BioFenced NTGR are as follows:

  1. Firstly, there is little doubt that the released wild dogs are aware of our translocated scent marks.
    - Their tendency to stop and rest several times exactly along the BioBoundary is surprising even for us.
    - The behavior of the dispersing subgroup of three males effectively traversing the BioBoundary to the north and east also strongly suggests a ranging pattern in response to the perception of a neighboring pack territory boundary.
    - The dominant pair were observed scent marking (urine) several times within a few hundred meters of the exact locations where we placed scent marks along the BioBoundary.
  2. Secondly, the main pack (now 15 wild dogs) appears to be particularly interested in probing the possibility of returning to the south, presumably back to South Africa where they came from (an outcome demonstrating a remarkable ability to ‘home’ to their place of origin reported previously for wild dogs in an attempt to translocate an intact pack in Zimbabwe). If the Limpopo River were dry or lower, there is little doubt among the observers that the released dogs would have crossed immediately back into South Africa (see photograph above). Despite this predisposition however, they appear to be cognizant of and responding to their perceptions of a neighbouring pack (the BioBoundary). The ranging of the dispersing group of three 2yr old males appears much more like a new pack inspecting the extent of their new range as identified by the BioBoundary.

Stay tuned for updates . . .

* This report was prepared by J.W.McNutt, from reports written by Craig Jackson, the field researcher in charge of monitoring the wild dog reintroduction into the NTGR, and PhD student, University of Pretoria, South Africa. JWM (“Tico”) is the Director of the Botswana Predator Conservation Program and scientific supervisor for the BioBoundary experiment in NTGR


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