Management: Habitat and size

Across all ecosystems wild dogs occur at relatively low densities compared to competing carnivores and display extensive ranging behaviour. It has been suggested that areas as large as 10 000km2 are required to properly maintain natural wild dog populations’ long-term viability. Metapopulation management, however, allows wild dog sub-populations to be established on smaller areas and for the whole population to be maintained through intervention and manipulation. The home range of wild dogs in Kruger National Park (a naturally occurring population) is 537km2. But in smaller reserves, habitat type and resulting prey availability, may become a limiting factor.  Lindsey et al. (2004) estimated the minimum areas required to support packs of varying sizes for different habitat types, based on prey requirements. They aimed ‘’to provide guidelines for minimum area requirements for wild dog reintroductions, and to provide a basis for the adaptive management of sub-populations post-release’’. Figure 3 shows their estimated minimum areas required for wild dogs in various southern African areas.

Fig 3. Minimum areas required to support predation by varying pack sizes given four different prey profiles. Documented prey profiles from four regions were used (i) southern Kruger, representing the likely prey profile of wild dogs in north-eastern South Africa, (ii) Save Valley in south eastern Zimbabwe, representing northern South Africa, (iii) Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu Natal, representing eastern South Africa and (iv) Pilanesberg National Park (notwithstanding a probable bias in the Pilanesberg data in that most observations of kills were made along the park boundary fence, the recorded diet of these dogs is very different from that observed elsewhere in South Africa). Graph and text from Lindsey et al. (2004).

The ratio of perimeter fence to area is much higher in smaller reserves and becomes a complicating factor as wild dogs quickly learn to use the fences as a hunting tool, enabling them to capture prey much larger than they usually would. Despite Lindsey et al.’s (2004) minimum estimates for a pack size of five adult wild dogs (65 km2 in northern, 72 km2 in eastern and 147 km2 in north-eastern South Africa) the use of larger areas may be required to prevent local population declines in preferred prey species.
It is, thus, advisable that possible impacts of wild dogs be calculated and carefully considered before reintroducing them to fenced reserves. Assistance in determining whether a specific area is large enough to support a pack of wild dogs is offered by WAG-SA.