A Critical Assessment of South Africa's Managed Metapopulation Recovery Strategy for African Wild Dogs
Davies-Mostert HT., Mills MGL., Macdonald DW.
The only viable population of African wild dogs, Lycaon pictus (Temminck 1820), in South Africa occurs in the Kruger National Park. In 1997, a panel of experts identifi ed the establishment of a second viable population as a conservation priority. However, the absence of suitable large conservation areas required that this population be established as what we call a managed metapopulation: namely a series of small, isolated subpopulations that would be managed as a single population by moving wild dogs between areas. Between 1998 and 2006, 66 founder animals were used to establish nine such subpopulations, and the metapopulation reached a peak of 264 animals in 17 packs in June 2005. Pup survival was 64% and yearling survival 71%. Mean annual wild dog densities were 3.3 animals 100 km-2 and approached the upper limit of wild dog densities reported from larger conservation areas. Although the metapopulation strategy was successful in terms of enriching species assemblages and stimulating ecotourism, the process of establishing subpopulations was management intensive. A number of management challenges were revealed, including managing confl ict with neighbours following breakouts, addressing concerns over the ability of prey populations to sustain wild dog predation, and the necessity of overcoming stochastic processes that affect small populations, and which curtail natural population dynamics. Experiences gained over the past 10 years have improved technical capacity to capture and translocate wild dogs, and this is likely to inform wild dog conservation management elsewhere in Africa. The managed metapopulation approach might be successfully applied to other large mammal species occupying fragmented habitats and, in some cases, this may be a necessary last resort to stave off extinction. However, such an approach requires considerable inputs of time and money and, where they are an option, priority should be given to conservation strategies that will promote natural dispersal and population self-regulation. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.