Working with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) has been working in the eastern communal lands for more than 20 years, assisting rural farmers with improved livestock management to reduce conflict with African wild dog, jackal, caracal and cheetah.
Namibia’s populations of African wild dogs occur in the north-eastern regions of Namibia, ranging between national parks and communal conservancies. The country hosts no more than an estimated 250 of these elusive animals, while worldwide populations are estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000. The biggest threats to African wild dogs internationally are lack of habitat, human-wildlife conflict and the reduction of genetic diversity due to isolated populations and persecution. As a result, the species has now gone extinct in 23 countries.
There has been an increase in conflict with farmers, particularly in Otjozondjupa and the Otjinene area. The dogs’ presence used to be seasonal, but since 2014 they have been denning each year in these areas and now reside there. With the year-round presence of wild dogs, creating conflict in the conservancies adjacent to CCF’s Centre, the organization is expanding its efforts to address human-wildlife conflict between farmers and the wild dog population.
Because of these changes in species behaviour and the growing need for conflict mitigation, CCF is now re-focusing its education efforts, with some staff now positioned in the eastern communal lands. Through its Future Farmers of Africa (FFA) course, the organisation trains farmers to capture data on conflict hotspots and the carnivore species in the area, including wild dogs. CCF field staffs, Ecologist Willem Briers-Louw and Community Development Manager Nadja le Roux, have been extensively involved in the Otjituuo, Okamatapati, African Wild Dog and Ozonahi communal conservancies, collecting data on the resident Wild Dogs in the region.
The African wild dog is an exceptionally adapted predator. These dogs can maintain a consistent speed of 48kph for 5km while hunting, running down their prey to exhaustion by taking turns at the chase. The cheetah may be the fastest mammal on earth, but the African wild dog is the winner in a long-distance endurance running competition. Conflict is at its peak around April and August, when the dogs raise their puppies in dens, making them most vulnerable to persecution. A Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) response network, consisting of community members was therefore set up in collaboration with MET rangers, to assist the team with information sharing.
By working with community trackers the team is starting to understand some of the movements of the dogs and have estimated that there are 3 – 4 individual residential packs. The team has managed to collect data on den sites and map them out, a first for this area, as well as determining the current hotspots of HWC with African wild dogs for 2018.
Although CCF primarily deals with cheetahs, “As a member of the Global Cheetah and Wild Dog Range Wide Group, it is important for CCF to address African wild dogs in Namibia, as cheetahs and wild dogs face the same threats, and their ranges overlap”, said Dr Laurie Marker, the executive director for CCF. “It makes sense that we care for and help manage the species. There is room for every creature on the landscape. We just need to learn how the other lives, so we can all get along”, she added.
African wild dogs are one of Namibia’s most valuable natural resources – a hidden, national gem. They have the potential to attract tourists to observe them in their natural environment. This is just one of the many reasons to value and protect our natural resources and learn to coexist with other living creatures on the landscape. Our futures – human and wildlife — depend on it.