They can run down antelopes under 100 pounds. Large packs have been known to take zebras and even elands. But African wild dogs are a globally endangered species.
Now the Walt Disney Company Foundation and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund are supporting an African Wildlife Foundation study that will lead to a better understanding of a "remnant" wild dog population in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania - and will help promote coexistence with local Maasai pastoral communities.
Only 3,000 to 5,000 wild dogs are thought to remain in Africa. They are so rare that elephants now outnumber the continent's wild dogs by almost 100 to one. Several years ago, an AWF-funded project confirmed the "remnant" population of perhaps 75 wild dogs in Kajiado district in the Kilimanjaro Heartland. This small but important group may represent a third of Kenya's entire wild dog population.
The wild dog's survival as a species is threatened by habitat loss, disease and competition. Deliberate or accidental killing by people is also a major barrier to the species' recovery. Conservationists have been at a loss to respond to the problem because they can offer farmers few alternatives to killing the troublesome wild dogs.
For these reasons, a sustainable strategy for conserving wild dogs demands better information about the circumstances in which wild dogs will kill livestock, the economic losses they cause and the extent to which public attitudes refect a real or perceived assessment of the damage. Without these facts, it is impossible to determine what husbandry techniques, local laws and education are needed to allow wild dogs and people to coexist.
Researcher Mike Rainy is currently documenting areas where conflict with humans has occurred and its causes. He is assessing predator and wild dog impact on domestic and wild prey species so that a consolation scheme can be developed to reimburse local people for lost livestock. The project also will examine and reduce conflicts between wild and domestic dogs to reduce the risk of disease transmission that has threatened to exterminate wild dogs elsewhere in East Africa.
AWF also supports wild dog and other predator research in the Samburu Heartland.
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