Together with a number of wildlife organizations reporting significant decreases in poaching, I think it’s fair to say the African wilderness has taken a great turn for the better.
Wildlife organizations began acknowledging the comeback of the dogs since the beginning of 2015, but many of us guides noticed it several years earlier.
Wow! So what does that mean. Well if it’s true, it could be that dogs are filling in the gaps being left by the definite and serious decline in lions. Filling such an important gap at the top of the food chain would be a critical need of the overall wilderness.
The story of the dogs’ comeback also gives us a good indication of what methods for conserving the wilderness work best.
Last week a sixth pack of wild dogs was released in the northwest Serengeti to great fanfare. This is in such marked contrast to only a decade ago when wildlife organizations had to keep secret their work in saving the dogs, because local farmers and businessmen so hated them.
So that’s the first big change: people in the area no longer express such animus to dogs as they showed only a short time ago. That doesn’t mean that ranchers don’t get awfully mad when a dog kills domestic stock. With government and wildlife organization funds to fairly compensate ranchers that have lost stock to dogs, though, many fewer ranchers are retaliating.
To mitigate the problem of more well educated Africans and not enough jobs, a number of “wildlife” organizations have dedicated serious resources to the social plight of Africans. Wildlife Works created 85 jobs in an area with a fragile peace between people and game.
“The key to preserving wildlife here is human relationships,” explains Wildlife Works’ Amy Lee in an op-ed published in the New York Times last week. Her organization is now the third largest employer in Kenya’s wild Rukinga district, and Amy credits this fact with saving the wilderness and wild dog in particular.
But there is also a real sense that the dogs are taking less domestic stock. The dog take less domestic stock because there’s more wild stock for them. Again this could be a reflection of the serious decline in lion, dog’s most aggressive competitor. But there is also a healthy increase in hyaena, and the total increase in dog and hyaena seems greater than just filling a gap left by lion.
That means the entire ecosystem must be improving. The persistence of organizations like the Frankfurt Zoological Society to continue reintroducing dogs over the last 30 years has finally paid off.
Finally a number of subtle social/wildlife collaborations all around the Serengeti have proved enormously beneficial.
A group of American zoos led by Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo continues an aggressive campaign to freely inoculate Maasai pet dogs against common diseases that surround the Serengeti. I’ve written before about this highly successful program.
Wild dogs, being more inbred than pet dogs, easily succumb to common dog diseases. This program has the added benefit of pleasing the people who surround the wilderness.
It’s always hard to tell a conservation success story: We worry that it will lower our vigilance. We know how fleeting it can be and with climate change how unpredictable now the tools that we’ve developed for monitoring and improving are becoming.
But at least for the moment, give yourself a pat on the back!