Follow the Dog Pack
March 14, 2008
From Tico McNutt, Director of The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust
I have just had a report over the phone from Craig Jackson, the PhD student monitoring the wild dogs released into the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in eastern Botswana. The NTGR community (landowners and others) has been alarmed that the dogs crossed the Bio-boundary in the southeastern corner of the NTGR and have run a muck in an area near some villages. In so doing they evidently ran into a maze of poachers' wire snares, and the dominant female disappeared while a male returned with a snare on his neck (which has been taken off in the last few days).
In trying to quell the rising concerns from the NTGR folks, I pointed out that the dominant female seemed to be the dog leading an apparent effort to get back across the Limpopo River which is now dropping and will soon be crossable to get back to South Africa where she was captured last year. Her disappearance is actually a good thing in my opinion as evidenced by subsequent movements of the rest of the pack. They returned to inside the bio-boundary in a couple days and then for the first time started to explore an area to the NW of their release, instead of pushing West against the river.
However, they once again went through to the other side of the bio-boundary and stayed for a week along the western boundary of the NTGR. This is when the NTGR community started to talk about a Plan B which included recapturing them and putting them back in an enclosure! Again I have explained that the exploring of the area is exactly what we should expect of them, particularly given that they have moved through the Bio-boundary into a semiochemical void - on the the wrong side. This crossing might be related to the fact that there was a significant (late season) rain two weeks after we put out the original scent marks. Anyway, I suggested Craig pepper the area where they are on the wrong side with some additional fresh scent marks. He reported that he had put out a few scent marks on Monday near a water hole that they had been visiting for the previous week. The following day (yesterday) they were suddenly 17km away and back inside their territory (as we defined it). He was pretty excited. Twice now he has placed marks out and had this type of bounce from them.
In reviewing with Peter Apps what we think might be contributing factors, we decided that the rains might have been important and seriously weakened the original delineation we laid out before the release. We are checking the timing, but it points to our need to keep collecting from our study population for the present.