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‘Devastating loss to conservation’ as six endangered African wild dogs poisoned in the Waterberg

‘Devastating loss to conservation’ as six endangered African wild dogs poisoned in the Waterberg
Members of the TOOG pack. (Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

A third of one of South Africa’s last remaining free-roaming packs of endangered African wild dogs has been poisoned.

When Reilly Mooney of the Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative (WWDI) saw the first dead wild dog, she was shocked but held back the tears. This was a crime scene and her brain switched into professional mode. It was clearly poisoned. 

Over a two-day search, a team of investigators found a total of six dead wild dogs on Mountain View Bush Lodge, a private game farm south of Lephalale, Limpopo. The scene was traumatic to witness for the team that has been involved in conserving this pack, and the loss is being felt by the broader community engaged in the pack’s conservation over recent years.

Wild dogs, TOOG pack

A member of the TOOG pack. (Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

“The worst was when the investigators had finished and our team had to bury the dogs to prevent scavengers from feeding on them and becoming victims of secondary poisoning” said Mooney.

“For one dog, we dug a grave in a dry riverbed, covered it with lime to deter scavengers, filled in the grave and covered it with rocks. By that time, we’d found a total of six dead dogs. 

Wild dog grave

The last resting place.(Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

“Sitting there next to the grave of a dog I’d known since it was a tiny pup, I was gutted. I just lost it and the tears flowed. My team has been working to conserve the pack for three and a half years. We knew each dog and had spent significant time getting to know them and working alongside the community to conserve them.”  

Conservation of the free-roaming TOOG Area Pack in the Waterberg, Limpopo, has until now been a community-driven success story. The pack ranged over a large area that included many private farms and reserves. Several dogs had been collared and monitored by a joint team of conservationists from the WWDI and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to track their movements and work with the community to conserve the pack. More than 50 private properties played a role in conserving this pack and high-pup survival rates led to a strong and healthy pack. 

Wild dogs, radio collar fitting

Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative team in action installing a radio collar. (Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

‘Devastating loss’

Wild dogs are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild and are protected in South Africa by the Biodiversity Act and Threatened or Protected Species Regulations (ToPS). Killing them without a permit is a criminal act. An investigation is now underway, led by Detective Warrant Officer Cois van Deventer from the South African Police Service – Endangered Species Unit. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Africa’s Wild Dogs’: Nomads of the Bushveld

The poison used was found to be Temik, well-known in wildlife poisoning cases. The site at which the dogs were poisoned and the reason has not yet been verified and is part of the investigation. 

Conflict between people and large carnivores is a leading threat to large carnivores worldwide. In the Waterberg, it arises when wild dogs predate on animals belonging to the widespread game ranching industry. As a result, the dogs are vulnerable to persecution for predating on what is their natural prey.

Wild dogs

Members of the TOOG pack in discussion. (Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

Until the latest incident, however, co-existence methods implemented by the team were showing success, and additional projects were underway to further help offset losses to game farmers. This is why the poisoning came as such a shock, Mooney told Daily Maverick

“Recent efforts by conservationists and the community gave hope to the future of wild dog conservation here. The pack ranges across 125,000 hectares and we engage daily with landowners to keep the community informed about its movements.”

Wild dogs

Members of the TOOG pack contesting a meal. (Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

“Poisoning is an indiscriminate, unethical and illegal method used to eradicate predators and the dogs would have suffered immense pain before dying,” the WWDI and the EWT say in a joint press release. “The senseless act has undermined the efforts of the 55 private farms that have played a role in conserving this pack over the last four years. 

“It is a devastating loss for conservation and for South Africa’s free-roaming African wild dog population, for the Waterberg’s biodiversity, for the team of conservationists dedicated to protecting the pack, for the community and for South Africa’s heritage.”

Wild dogs crossing sign

Keeping the public informed. (Photo: Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative)

The Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative is offering a substantial reward for information relating to this crime which results in a successful prosecution. 

Anyone with useful information that could further the investigation can contact Detective Warrant Officer Cois van Deventer from the South African Police Service – Endangered Species Unit at 082 872 1741. A TOOG Pack Disaster Fund has been set up to support the investigation and safeguard the survivors and donations are being called for. DM

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