The Anatolian Shepherd Dog Programme has aided cheetah preservation in South Africa, and to a far lesser extent it has also helped with conserving the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Seldom tolerated by game farmers, wild dogs are regarded as cruel, ruthless and callous killers and often shot on sight. The species is nomadic and requires a regular supply of water and a huge range in which to roam. Their large packs of up to 40 in number, hunt food at least once, sometimes twice, a day. As a result, apart from large protected reserves such as the Kruger National Park, today there are few areas remaining that are suitable for them. With ever-dwindling numbers, they are rarely seen in the wild. What is the future of the fast-vanishing species?
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, this much maligned yet fascinating animal, also known as the ‘painted wolf’ or ‘Cape hunting dog’, was found on African plains in large numbers. By 1930, however, their numbers had dropped dramatically and by 2002 the IUCN Red Data Book for Mammals of South Africa, classified the wild dog as an endangered species. Apart from deliberate extermination, the dog’s susceptibility to rabies and distemper had further reduced its numbers. 43
BREEDING PROGRAMME AT DE WILDT
In 1978 the Centre saw the arrival of 6 wild dog pups from Namibia. They had been donated to the National Zoo in Pretoria by the Department of Agriculture and Nature Conservation of Namibia. They were caught as free-roaming animals on a private game farm outside the Etosha National Park. After shooting the adults the owner took the pups to the Ecological Institute at Okaukuejo. It was planned to release the 6 in Etosha once they could fend for themselves, but later it was decided that the pack was related and too small in number to survive. Thus began the wild dog breeding programme at the Centre.
Thereafter, the Zoo sent to us the many unwanted wild dog pups it received from angry farmers; they had been sent from as far afield as today’s provinces of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, as well as from Botswana and Angola. Using microchips, the animals were numbered and recorded and family trees were selected so as to establish a healthy heterozygous population at the Centre. Unlike the cheetah, procreation of the wild dog was not a problem.
A large enclosure was now needed in which to observe the behaviour of the dogs in captivity and to expose the endangered and much maligned predator to the public.