Tembe Elephant Park, approximately 300 km² of mixed grassland and sand forest habitat in Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal, provides a potentially key location for linkages between populations in Mkhuze game Reserve and the proposed Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Park (which extends from South Africa into Mozambique).
The reintroduction of African Wild Dogs into Tembe Elephant Park was more complex than could ever have been anticipated. However, following 20 months of negotiations, lobbying and logistical juggling a pack of 14 Wild Dogs was finally reintroduced into Tembe Elephant Park in January 2011. As a result, Tembe Elephant Park became the fifth reserve in KwaZulu-Natal to reintroduce South Africa’s rarest carnivore, and an important contributor to the South African Wild Dog metapopulation initiative (in which geographically isolated reserves with resident Wild Dogs collaborate nationally to manage these subpopulations as one, collective population). In addition, the collaboration between South African and Mozambican officials to develop the Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Park remains an exciting prospect which could facilitate the expansion of available range for the Tembe Elephant Park Wild Dog population to the Maputo Special Reserve.
Opinions on the potential reintroduction ranged from one extreme to the opposite, pitching the institutional need to limit human-wildlife conflict against understanding the realities of Wild Dog management and making a significant contribution to saving South Africa’s most endangered carnivore. However, the reality was, and remains so, that in order for carnivore conservation to progress it will continue to require tenacity, creativity and resources to balance the needs of neighbouring communities and agriculture with ecosystem integrity.
Tembe Elephant Park management worked closely with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and WildlifeACT, under the guidance of the KwaZulu-Natal Wild Dog Management Group, and with assistance from the national Wild Dog Advisory Group to facilitate the reintroduction of Wild Dogs. In December 2009 four male Wild Dogs from the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre were released into the Tembe Elephant Park boma, to be joined in February 2010 by three females relocated from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. These dogs bonded well and were due to be released upon final approval from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Community liaison initiatives led by WildlifeACT, with support from the EWT and Wildlands Conservation Trust, continued to actively engage community stakeholders regarding the project. Despite the support for the initiative by the Tembe Tribal Authority, the Tembe Local Board and the local municipality, permission for the reintroduction was withdrawn at a critical period in 2010, when the boma-confined pack was expecting the alpha female to give birth to a litter of pups.
Veterinary opinion on the welfare concerns for the animals, which had subsequently denned in the boma, allowed time for continued lobbying which finally resulted in the granting of release permission and another significant step in the restoration of this charismatic animal to the region.