It seems as though we are about to enter a carnivore baby boom, and we are waiting with much excitement! Stellar, the alpha female of the Wild Dog pack looks as though she will go to ground and produce her second litter of pups on Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve sometime either over the weekend or at the beginning of next week. The Wild Dogs have had a hard time over the past couple of years and we are hoping that a successful breeding season will see them bounce back to their former strength. Despite the pressure from lions taking their numbers down to only a few individuals, they are wonderfully resilient and look set to make a comeback. We cant wait!
A little later on, we are expecting cubs from Joan, our female cheetah who we reported fitting with a radio-collar by the end of August. We are not sure where she will hide her cubs, but photographic records show that she has been on the reserve since she was a youngster herself, and so we are confident she knows the lay of the land well enough to pick a safe refuge for her babies.
Our final expected arrival is to Pikkanin, one of the Lionesses, who is also due within the next couple of weeks, according to the dates she was seen mating with Blade, the dominant male lion on the reserve.
It is extremely exciting to wait for these new arrivals, and we hope that they will contribute to the continued persistence of these charasmatic species in this area around the Greater-Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. I will post news as soon as I have it!
The population of Wild Dogs on the South African side of the TFCA swelled enormously recently with a visit from a pack from the Tuli Block in Botswana. The visiting pack, numbering in the 20’s, came across the dry Limpopo River and spent a few days on farmland, some time on Mapungubwe National Park, and a short spell on De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve. They were within a few kilometres of the remaining members of the Venetia Pack, but as far as we can tell, they did not meet up.
The Tuli pack went back across the border to their normal range, but this visit shows how important the expansion of the protected areas is. Same sex groups of Wild Dogs break away from the packs of their birth when they become sexually mature and disperse in search of other dispersing groups looking to form packs. By having the space to do so, much less management intervention will be needed in order for the population to firstly stabilise and also to grow. While the population on the South African side is currently low, we are very optimistic about the future of Wild Dogs in the region as a whole.
I am very sad to have to tell you all that we do not have even one surviving member of this year’s Wild Dog litter. Every single one has gone, and we think they were all accounted for by lions. Our pack has dwindled to just two adult females and a male yearling. We know there are a few groups in the area, but by “area” I mean quite a vast expanse of space. We are hoping that these ladies will attract in a group of dispersing males from elsewhere who will establish a new pack in time for next years’ denning season.
Our hopes were for this years’ litter building the next phase of strength of the Venetia Pack, we are bitterly disappointed by this setback. We are listening out avidly for any sightings of dogs in the area and will keep you informed of progress.
Here it is! The first photo of this year’s litter of Wild Dog puppies. There are only six in the photo but there are in fact seven puppies. It is extremely exciting as not only are they remarkably cute, but they are the future of the Venetia Pack.
There were other babies seen yesterday as well, this time a group of three cheetah cubs. In a spot very close to where we saw the cheetah and cubs crossing our fenceline a few months ago, we were lucky enough to see another group, also split across the the fence. The mother was calling from the Venetia side to three small cubs on our side of the fence. It is definitely a different group as these cubs were only about three months old at most. This is very encouraging that they are doing so well. It must be another female as even if the first one we saw had lost her cubs, she would not have had time to have cubs of this size, so we are confident that they are two families using the area. This family were happily reunited when we watched the cubs slip through the wire strands of the fence onto Venetia.
We have seen them at last! I am extremely pleased to report that there are seven new members of our Wild Dog pack. They are doing extremely well to raise so many with only three adults and yearling. Wild Dogs can be very resiliant and bounce back quite quickly in suitable areas. If most of these survive and there is another successful litter next year, this pack will have pulled back from the brink of extinction and re-established themselves as a force to be reckoned with here in the Limpopo Valley. Now that they are old enough to have left their first den site, we are hopeful that most, if not all, of these puppies will make it. This pack has had a rough ride of late, but things are definitely looking brighter. Watch this space for photos!
We are still waiting to see this year’s litter of Wild Dog pups, due to the fact that they have chosen a den site in a very rocky area that is almost impossible to access. While last year they denned in an old advark hole in the far south of the reserve, this year they have opted for a hilly area to the north. They are still in the same area and come down to hunt before returning immediately to the presumed den site, so we are confident that there are indeed still pups there. It may be that this year we will have to be patient and wait until they are old enough to leave the den before we are lucky enough to see them.
We have Wild Dog news that is both good and bad. Beginning with the sad news, I am sorry to have to report that we have lost another dog. This time, Carat, a subordinate dog who was wearing a collar, was picked up as being away from the pack and stationary for a couple of days. This usually only means one thing so we went in knowing to expect the worst. Harriet, the head of the Carnivore Conservation Group at EWT tracked the collar until she could hear she was almost on top of it, and then saw the badly chewed collar lying in the grass. There was no sign of a body at all, and it may be that the collar had been carried by a hyaena or lion for some distance from where poor Carat met his end. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing what the cause of death was, and the Venetia pack has now dwindled to only 3 adults and one yearling.
Venetia Wild Dogs on the move.
The good news is…. we think that Stellar, the alpha female, is now underground in her den with this year’s litter of puppies. The dogs are sticking closely to one area and Stellar has not been seen for a few days. She was certainly pregnant and this is the right time of year for denning so we are very hopeful. Had she also met a grisly end, we would not expect the rest of the pack to remain in such a close area. I will keep you posted on the puppies that may well bring the Venetia pack back from the brink.
Last year’s litter of puppies, of which only one, Rory, is remaining.
Azwifarwi, my very able field assistant, is working towards his diploma in Nature Conservation and as part of that needs to complete a project on animal behavior. After much deliberation, he has decided to focus his study on the pack of Wild Dogs on Venetia. The pack are somewhat more skittish than usual after having to be darted twice each for their rabies injections, and so the extra hours Azwifarwi will spend with the dogs will help to regain their trust in having a vehicle present. Even in their more alert state, the Venetia pack is an exceptionally relaxed and well-habituated pack and so offer some of the best opportunities for tourists to observe Wild Dogs in their natural environment anywhere in Africa. Trips to see the Wild Dogs are hosted by one of the dedicated researchers and guests are often lucky enough to witness them hunting. As we come into the Southern Hemisphere Winter, it is approaching the time we expect the Wild Dogs to make their den and have another litter of puppies. We are confident that the alpha female, Stellar (so named for a white star on her coat), is pregnant. There should be some interesting data for Azwifarwi to collect, along with the data collected by Kristi, the Wild Dog researcher. Last year the den was only 10 metres from the fence line with our farm, right where the cheetah family crossed over. We can hardly wait to see what this denning season brings!
It is with heavy hearts that we have to report the sad death of one of our Wild Dogs, an adult male named Dalerwa. We thought we had lost him earlier in the month when the dogs came across a group of Lions in thick bush. The pack, minus Dalerwa appeared unscathed and we assumed the worst had happened, but he happily reappeared with the pack in perfect health a couple of days later. As he does not wear a radio-collar, his whereabouts during this period is unknown.
A few days ago however, Kristi, our new Wild Dog researcher, was out with the Wild Dogs when a group of sub-adult Lions (the same group that showed up with the call-ups) appeared out of the bush. All the dogs ran in one direction, except for poor Dalerwa who made a dash for freedom in another direction. The Lions were onto him and broke his back instantly.
The conflict between Lions and Wild Dogs is well known, and having been born on Venetia which has a very healthy Lion population, Dalerwa would not have been naïve of the dangers. It is always sad to lose an animal, particularly one that has been well-studied, but we try to remember that it part of the natural process. As a subordinate dog, Dalerwa did not play a part in the reproduction of the pack, but was a notably good hunter and provided generously for the pack’s puppies. As we go into the season where the Wild Dogs will den and produce another litter of puppies to feed, it may be that his absence is felt by the adults of the pack, who have now dwindled to just 4 in number. Wild Dogs are extremely resilient and we will keep you posted on their progress.