A True Underdog Story
Dodgeball! A hollywood comedy film starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. I have after all stolen their caption, so I should be talking about the film, yes? Well, not this time. Instead, I am referring to a very wild version of a current day underdog. The African Wild Dog, cape dog, or painted dog. Take your pick.
A little bit of background perhaps? Let’s start with the basics. First, like many animals of the dog family, the Africa wild dog is a highly sociable species, with the bonds between a pack being stronger than those observed in hyenas and lions. Therefore, an individual of the species is barely ever seen alone. As a diurnal pack hunter, they typically hunt species such as antelope and wildebeest. Average pack numbers are usually around 10 individuals, though there are some that can be as large as 40! So, what is the inspiration behind this article? What made me want to write about this large eared hunter? Well, recently, along with thousands of others in the UK, I began to watch The Hunt. A classic David Attenborough documentary, the first episode focused on the wildlife of Africa, with the wild dogs of Zambia being one of the stars. Being a dog lover, I was instantly captivated by the lives of this species and I couldn’t help but notice how similar their behaviour was to the dogs sitting at my feet. I don’t mean that my dogs take themselves off and hunt wildebeest everyday, no. But the way they interact with one another, especially in play.
But this stars light is fading, and fading fast. Unfortunately, these wild canids now find themselves in the precarious position of being on the IUCN Endangered Species List. The reason being that the wild dog has disappeared from large areas of its native ranges. According to the WWF, the current population lies somewhere between 3000-5500. The main threats they face and have faced being habitat fragmentation, disease and of course, human persecution.
One reason why wild dogs have suffered persecution, was because in the 20th century wildlife managers believed that the dogs method of hunting was cruel. I know. The irony is almost painful, but there it is. This lead to over 5000 wild dogs being shot in a fifteen year period (average 333 a year!) Road traffic accidents are also a leading cause of death in adults, with many dogs living in areas with busy and good roads. Illegal snares also threaten the dog (along with hundreds of other animals), even though they are not set to catch dogs in particular. And the last threat? Disease. Disease is a specific threat to the dog, especially in areas where there are large populations of domestic dogs. Diseases such as rabies, Parvo virus and distemper have a been known to lower wild dog populations across Africa.
But why do we need wild dogs? Well, if you really need a reason, they are a top carnivore. And as is the usual role with apex predators, they help to regulate prey populations in their environment and thus help control vegetation grazing and regulate vegetation communities. Without these predators, herbivore species begin to dominate and over-grazing begins to occur, causing lasting ecosystem damage. But also, they are one of our worlds species, and without them we become a decaying planet with poor biodiversity and overall ecosystem health.
But what can be done? Sounds like a hopeless business! Well, true the species has been protected since the 1970s, and this has clearly not been enough to conserve them. Now however, projects are focused on community engagement and education, in order to show people how to live in harmony with the species and how they can work to protect them. With so many species facing extinction on our planet it is easy for many to slip through the net. Let’s not let this happen to the wild dog (or any other!) And in the battle against extinction, ‘Winning = Everything!’ We need to help the African wild dog to dodge the extinction ball!
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