The African Wild Dog and the Biofence That May Save Them

The African wild dog or the painted dog is one of the world’s most endangered mammals. The population stands at 3,000 – 5,000 and are predominantly located in southern and southern east Africa. They are victims of human persecution and habitat loss, increased interspecific competition (from this habitat loss). Still to this day the African wild dog can be referred to as ‘the Devil’s dog’. It has earned this name through the seemingly ruthless way it disembowels it’s kill while still alive (it can be questioned whether the method of strangulation, of which most big African cats opt for, but which takes time, is actually more ruthless). The species are two times more successful than lions.

The African Wild Dog   Photograph - Steve Jurvetson

The African Wild Dog
Photograph – Steve Jurvetson

The African wild dog population has not always been so low. In fact in the middle of the last century there were 500,000 in 39 countries. The wild dogs are susceptible to trapping. Traps set for bush meat can result in death for the wild dogs. As the population increase, the deaths from traffic accidents or infection from domestic dogs increases. Often, unfortunately, the wild dogs are intentionally killed by farmers to prevent them from killing their livestock. Sometimes a whole pack can be poisoned or dens are destroyed. As their habitat gets squeezed further and further, the wild dogs are coming into conflict with lions and hyenas. These animals will kill the wild dogs and this accounts for half of all deaths.

Every effort is being made to reduce the conflict between human and wild dog. Unfortunately, conventional fences do not work as the wild dog is too intelligent and they find a way out. A new biological barrier is being explored by Craig R. Jackson who recently completed his doctorate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) . Territories of wild dog packs (and other animals for that matter) are defined by urine scent trails and scientists have used this to their advantage. Sand that had been sprayed with urine was collected and moved to keep each pack within a certain area.  The wild dogs responded and it has been a success at keeping the packs in their areas. As it is a difficult task to collect urine, artificial urine is being trialled by Dr. Tico McNutt in Botswana to keep wild dogs out of populated areas.

The African Wild Dog  Photograph -Richard Toller

The African Wild Dog
Photograph -Richard Toller

Although this is not the glamorous side of conservation, these efforts could just save the African wild dog.

Any habitat left for the species is being gobbled up by the huge rate of growth of Africa as its economy grows. Conflict between humans and wild animals is ever increasing but new and innovative methods as this can help alleviate difficult situations.



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