The Wild Dog Dilemma
Manyoni currently doesn't have wild dogs in the park. Unfortunately the pack was removed due to repeated escapes outside the reserve into neighbouring properties and community lands. Manyoni is a release site for rehabilitated Temnicks pangolin that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
One of the conditions that Manyoni needs to meet in order to comply as a pangolin release site is that no bottom electric strands on any fence in the reserve may have electricity from a height of 30cms to the ground. Electric fences have been proven to be one of the biggest causes for pangolin mortality in the world. This is due to the fact that when they come into contact with an electric strand, instinctively they try to roll into a ball and often roll on the strand resulting in the animal receiving repeated shocks until it dies. Pangolins aren't the only species at risk, tortoises, porcupines, African rock pythons, chameleons and other small reptiles are also impacted by the bottom strands on electric fences.
Unfortunately the consequence of turning off our bottom electric strands is that animals like wild dogs are more easily able to escape. Often species like warthog, porcupine or hyena are able to dig under the fence due to the lack of an active bottom electric strand creating easy openings for other animals like wild dogs to use. Manyoni's fencing team repairs holes on a daily basis but in certain areas with sandy soils it becomes a massive challenge to close every single hole every single day. Usually this would be enough to keep most predators inside the reserve but wild dogs are territorial, possessing a strong homing instinct and impressive intellect.
Manyoni has had wild dogs since 2014 with hardly a single escape worth noting until 2019, because the wild dogs firstly, had no reason to leave the park, ie all their needs were being met, which primarily entails enough prey, space and pressure from other large predators. Secondly because the wild dogs hadn't learned that the other side of the fence is space that they can use. Once they learn that they can move through a fence and discover that the new area also has prey species etc they then incorporate this new area into their territory and stopping this learned behaviour becomes nigh on impossible.
The first time the wild dogs escaped in 2019 the pack had yearling pups, pups are more curious and investigative at this stage in their lives which may have very well instigated this first escape. Immediately the pack was lured back into the park with a call-up. A call-up is a common non-invasive way to attract a predator using a caller or speaker which plays the sound of a prey species in distress, in combination with a bait. We hoped that due to our quick response that the pack would not have learned escaping behaviour.
Sadly we were mistaken and the pack escaped again a few days later. The pack was unresponsive to call-ups and began to move deeper into the neighbouring property. Eventually we were forced to dart the entire pack of wild dogs and move them back onto Manyoni into a holding boma. They spent six weeks in the boma which was very valuable, 'fence respect learning', as those bottom strands were active, resulting in the odd healthy shock to a slightly too inquisitive wild dog. The pack was released back into the park with their newfound respect for fences working as expected with no observed escaping behaviour. We were very happy to discover the pack were denning a few weeks later and another litter of pups were born. For about four months we did not observe any escaping activity while the pack reared the new litter of pups.Unfortunately once the new litter of pups were old enough to run with the pack they escaped the park in the same area as before.
This time the pack knew exactly where they wanted to go and travelled to the other side of the neighbouring property, making attempts at luring them back impossible. We gave the pack a few weeks to see if they might come back to Manyoni on their own hoping that once given the chance to explore they might decide to return to Manyoni. Unfortunately the wild dogs surprised us with an unexpected second litter of pups born that year. Wild dogs usually den for about three to four months and trying to move them during this period poses a severe risk to the vulnerable puppies in the den. We continued to monitor the wild dogs over this period and conducting call-ups near the den to keep the pack habituated to our monitoring vehicle. This payed off when two of the wild dogs got caught in snares and needed to be darted in order to remove the snares and treat their wounds. Once the new litter of pups was running with the pack we were forced to capture the pack and return them to a holding boma on Manyoni.
We reviewed our options in collaboration with the KZN wild dog advisory group, or KZNWAG. This association is made up of conservation authorities and leading conservation organisations that manage KZN's wild dogs as a single meta-population, managing genetics and reintroductions with the individual game reserves. Unfortunately the best solution was to rehome the pack to a different game reserve as we feared that the wild dogs would simply continue escaping because they know the area they want to escape to.
The wild dogs were successfully rehomed in 2021 and arrived safely in their new home.
Manyoni endeavours to continue being a safe space for pangolins and wild dogs and we are actively working on a solution. We have looked at various methods to remotely control the bottom electric strands on a fence and we are now in the test phase with a viable option using various technologies.
We are also working on the fence itself and building new roads along that fence line to increase accessibility. We hope to have a new pack of wild dogs as soon as possible.