Can Communities and Wildlife Get Along?
Some people naturally root for underdogs, like me. Of all the charismatic critters in Botswana that I could have hoped to see in the wild, I was really drawn to wild dogs, which are definitely not the most beloved creatures in Africa.
Big round-eared, lean bodied and spotted, they look like someone flicked paint
brushes at them with the colors of the bush. Unfortunately, not everyone's an admirer. Lyacon pictus probably has more enemies than friends. Cattle ranchers and villagers portray African wild dogs as expert killers who seek out domestic prey.
||"Wild dogs are often the victims of such run-ins"|
For years, the tsetse fly (which spreads a parasite that causes sleeping sickness)prevented people from developing land around the Okavango for livestock. Man and wild dog lived far apart. Over the years, as tsetse fly eradication programs in the Okavango succeeded, more land has been turned to grazing pasture and the conflicts between communities and wildlife have increased. Wild dogs are often the victims of such run-ins.
Over the years, wild dogs have barely been able to maintain viable populations. Their numbers have dwindled to less than 5,000 due to hunting, disease, poisoning, trapping and loss of habitat. Some even die in collisions with motor vehicles. The World Conservation Union lists wild dogs as "endangered" on its "Red List" of endangered species but Tico told me he thinks their status could be raised to "critically endangered" because their fragmented small populations are extremely vulnerable.
One of the greatest threats might be sheer lack of information about the dogs among communities in the region. This is where Tico's wife, Lesley Boggs, focuses her anthropological work. "Preconceptions about wild dogs fuel retaliation against them," said Lesley. "People so rarely encounter wild dogs yet they are certain that they are vicious animals."
"Lesley and Tico definitely have their work cut out for them. "
It's taken years for tourists to learn about wild dogs and for safari operators to appreciate the social nature of these animals and their appeal before a camera. Tico and Lesley have opened their doors - I mean, tents, to travelers, reporters, scientists and tour operators in an effort to get Lyacon pictus on the "map" of must-see animals of the Okavango.
Lesley and Tico are looking for new approaches to build further awareness about wild dogs as well as optional control methods, which they hope will decrease wild dog killings. It seems, that the more people who know about Lesley and Tico's work, the more willing they are to seek advice and share information before pulling the trigger.
Now that Tico and Lesley are spending more time working with the farmers in the areas near Maun, they are thinking of setting up a "hotline" so that ranchers and villagers can contact them by phone or radio when they spot wild dogs. Then, Tico can see if they are collared, trace the movements of packs more accurately and work on ways to keep dogs away from livestock. To that end, he's dabbling with the idea of planting scent markers, which would indicate to these territory-sensitive animals where they should and should not go.
Lesley and Tico definitely have their work cut out for them. The Okavango Delta region is vast and time is running short for wild dogs in Botswana but then again, I'm always behind the underdogs.
If you are interested in supporting the efforts of the Botswana Predator Conservation Program, please contact Harmony Frazier at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo in Washington State.
<< Prev |