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GVI Volunteers Play Pivotal Role in a Wild Dog's Welfare

By 4 years ago
Categories Limpopo and KZN

This is the story of how the quick-thinking and clued-up actions of some GVI volunteers and staff kick-started a public campaign to save a badly injured wild dog.

As part of a volunteer’s time with GVI South Africa Limpopo and KZN, they get to experience a wide variety of attractions beyond the bounds of the reserve on which they are working. Depending on whether the volunteer is placed at Karongwe or Zimanga, on days off, they will have the chance to explore the likes of the Kruger National Park, Isimangaliso Wetland Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and the Blyde River Canyon. A lot of these attractions are world famous conservation areas.

A big part of a volunteer’s training on the various programs we run is the importance of accurate data collection and the impact this exercise can have for the protection of an ecosystem or a species. While our primary focus is the data collection on our respective reserves, there are numerous campaigns across the country for regular citizens to contribute to large scale studies and conservation efforts. These are run by various organisations, be it SANParks, The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Birdlife SA, etc. A case in point is the brand new EWT Road Kill National Survey that we will be assisting with around Karongwe. The South African public is regularly asked to provide sighting information for species such as wild dog, saddle-billed stork, ground hornbill, pangolin, black-footed cat, etc. With our volunteers’ new-found appreciation for accuracy and the potential impact of each data point, any time spent off project comes with the potential for extra data collection for these various studies.

On a recent weekend off between program phases, our current volunteers, Matt Hopkins, James Walker,  Elana Piha and Kaleisha Leon took the opportunity to visit Kruger National Park. On top of their list of desired sightings was the critically endangered African Wild Dog. Late in the day, on their way back to the park gate, two creatures appeared on the road, walking toward the vehicle. The volunteers describe how their excitement built instantly when they figured out that it was two wild dogs! However, they soon realised something was wrong. One of the dogs was badly injured. It’s left ear and the skin around it seemed to have been ripped away from the side of its head. The injury was likely inflicted by a lion or hyaena. The grizzly extent of the injury was plain to see when the dog decided to sit down right next to the vehicle. Its companion spent a while apparently trying to nuzzle and lick the injured dog’s face and head. Fearing the worst, noticing that the dog’s breathing was slow and erratic, the volunteers had to leave to make the gate closing time.

Photo credit: Matthew Hopkins, GVI volunteer

Describing their bittersweet experience upon their return, Jamie Sangster, the Karongwe Science Officer, reminded the volunteers how important the information and photos of the sighting could be for the EWT’s Wild Dog program. After a quick confirmation of the exact location, time and download of a few images, the data was sent to the EWT. Within hours the EWT had launched a public campaign on its social media sites for any more information on the dog and appealing that the public report any more sightings.

Despite the injury being of a natural cause, the EWT and SANParks seem committed to intervening due to the fact that the animal in question is a member of a critically endangered species where each individual is of extreme importance to their survival. The EWT state that there are less than 450 individuals left in South Africa. The opinion of EWT’s experts and various staff at GVI is that the dog could survive the injury if it were not to be caught by another enemy while it is weakened.

If and when any updates come through, we will be sure to let the volunteers know and mention it on our own social media sites.

Even if nature’s course results in the death of this particular individual, the precedent created by our volunteers submitting extra data to a vital program and their studies will hopefully ensure GVI volunteers will provide a consistent service to data collection initiatives beyond the confines of their GVI program.