During this Covid-19 pandemic, the African Painted Dog pack on Manyoni Private Game Reserve has also been participating in a lockdown of sorts, particularly the alpha female.
Whilst monitoring the pack one morning, we noticed that the alpha female wasn’t with the pack. Knowing that she was potentially pregnant, we hoped that she had found a den and was getting ready to have her pups.
Using both the VHF and GPS components of the different collars on pack individuals, we were able to determine the potential den-site location. It is incredibly important to minimise any stress or disturbance to the pack during this particularly important period, especially to that of the alpha female.
Keeping that in mind, great care and attention went into planning and executing a camera trap deployment outside the entrance to the den-site. After about a month, when all the adult pack members had left to hunt, the team quietly went in to collect and replace the SD card from the camera trap.
Camera traps are essential in assisting us with wildlife monitoring and aid in making essential decisions about conservation. An understanding of animal behaviour, especially through moments such as these which we aren’t usually privy to, is important if conservation initiatives are to be effective.
Other than the important data which has been collected, it’s very humbling to witness these special moments between the alpha female (a first time mother) and her new litter of pups. At just a couple of weeks old, these pups are adventurous and look to be keeping the alpha female on her toes.
The rest of the pack have shown, once again, the amazing social dynamics and cooperation within a Painted Dog pack. The pups are cared for by the entire pack. Often the alpha female is left to guard the pups while the rest of the pack go out and hunt. Once the hunting party has consumed their kill, they return to feed her and the pups.
African Painted Dog pups have a high mortality rate, however, we’re hopeful that with the help of the pack and our continuous intensive monitoring, they will survive the crucial coming months. We are very excited to watch them grow, develop personalities and become part of the pack. A huge success to everyone involved but especially for African Painted Dog conservation. With only approximately 550 Painted Dogs left in South Africa, every new pup adds hope to the future and survival of this endangered species.
Text by Wildlife ACT Monitor Kayleigh Webber