Why are African Wild Dogs so Endangered?

African Wild Dogs are endangered mostly due to ongoing habitat fragmentation, conflict with human activities and infectious disease. The estimated decline in African Wild Dog population size can be uncertain due to the species’ tendency to population fluctuations. However, what is certain is that African Wild Dogs are the second most endangered carnivore in Africa after the Ethiopian Wolf. In South Africa, we have fewer than 550 roaming our wild spaces and only 39 distinct sub-populations left in Africa. African Wild Dogs need large areas to support themselves and for populations to be genetically diverse and sustainable.

The major reasons why African Wild Dogs are so endangered are reasonably well understood. These include extreme sensitivity to habitat fragmentation as a consequence of wide-ranging behaviour, conflict with livestock and game farmers, accidental killings by snares and road accidents, and infectious disease. All of these causes are associated with human encroachment on African Wild Dog habitat. This is unlikely to be reversible across the majority of this endangered species’ historical range. (IUCN)

Is poaching a reason why African Wild Dogs are so endangered?

Most of our planet’s wildlife is found in poorer, rural areas. Poaching and the illegal meat trade is rife in most of Africa. One of the many methods used to catch wild animals for food, is snaring. Snare hunting is illegal on nationally proclaimed wildlife reserves in South Africa. While the target prey of hunters is generally antelope, snares often end up fatally wounding endangered wildlife instead.

African Wild Dogs are particularly susceptible to being caught as bycatch in the snares set by poachers. If one dog gets caught in a snare, the rest of the pack are most likely to go back to find the missing individual. This often leads to other endangered African Wild Dogs being caught if several snares have been set in the same area. An entire pack can be killed.

How do we help protect endangered African Wild Dogs?

The ideal conservation strategy to protect any endangered species, is to leave nature to its own devices and give wild animals enough space and suitable habitat to thrive. Countless species have been wiped out by humankind over the years by persecution, disease outbreaks and land fragmentation. With our wild areas shrinking and the human population burgeoning, the situation is only worsening for endangered African Wild Dogs and many other wildlife species.

What we need is to not only understand African Wild Dog behaviour and address misconceptions about them, but also to look at establishing new, protected areas that can hold these animals sustainability.

African Wild Dog Monitoring

Below are the answers to some of the questions that we often get asked about the work being done to help save endangered African Wild Dogs.

  1. Wildlife monitoring is an effective way of keeping track of the movements of African Wild Dogs, understanding demographics, and learning about their ecology and population structures.
  2. Studying and recording behavioural, social, and feeding patterns of African Wild Dogs is beneficial for research purposes.
  3. Intensive, daily wildlife monitoring allows us to predict future movements and possible dispersals of individuals from their packs.
  4. African Wild Dog tracking collars allow us to detect if any individuals have left the confines of a wildlife park. This allows us to act immediately to bring them back, and helps prevent conflict and interaction with humans and domesticated animals. Disease outbreaks of Rabies, Parvo or Distemper virus passed on by domesticated animals, is another significant reason why African Wild Dogs are so endangered.
  5. Daily Wild Dog monitoring allows us to pick up on poaching incidences quickly, as well as injuries from fighting, snares and predation.

All this data helps to evaluate Wild Dog conservation efforts. Without it we have no baseline data for comparison. Information gathered allows for informed decision making around African Wild Dog conservation. If we understand the reasons for previous population declines, we can adjust management practices where possible. In doing so, we can help restore African Wild Dog numbers.

What can you do to help save endangered African Wild Dogs?

A lack of accurate and extensive data to help wildlife management make informed decisions around endangered species conservation, is one of the reasons why African Wild Dogs are so endangered. Wildlife ACT has been helping to gather and collate such data for the past ten years and has intensified this process by enlisting the help of wildlife conservation volunteers. Those who participate in our Endangered Species Monitoring programme, are not only helping make a vital contribution towards Africa Wild Dog conservation, but towards other endangered wildlife species as well.

If the sizes of our protected areas were to increase and/or we were able to establish new protected areas, and/or greater buffer areas could be created around protected areas to minimise human influences, we could potentially manage this endangered species less intensively than we do now. But until that time, the conservation measures currently in place to combat the reasons why African Wild Dogs are so endangered, remain essential.

The Painted Wolf. Photo by Simon Watson (why African Wild Dogs are so endangered)