Wild Dog Tracking in Namibia

May 27, 2008

Mission: Wild Dog Tracking in Namibia
Date: 27 May 2008
Requesting organisation: Robin Lines and the Namibian Wild Dog Project
Location: Tsumkwe District, Namibia
Pilot: Nico Louw

Our only Bateleur pilot in Namibia, Nico Louw, sent us this report after having flown a second mission for Robin Lines and the Namibian Wild Dog Project:

“After flying for the Wild Dog Project in the Tsumkwe District in November 2007, I was asked by Robin Lines to do another flight in May, to locate the packs of wild dogs he is monitoring.

I left Windhoek on Friday 23rd May and returned on Tuesday, 28th May.  A total of 9.6 hours was flown.  The purpose was to locate the packs and then to drive to them, to do a pack assessment.

It seems quite certain that the expensive collar that Robin fitted last year has malfunctioned – adding to his frustration.  A collared dog had died last year and there are now only two packs that can be monitored.

Robin’s effort to get the local people in the Nye-Nye conservancy to locate new packs for him, for remuneration, was met with only lukewarm enthusiasm.  The local Bushmen live in harmony with the dogs as they do not have livestock and will confiscate the dog’s hunt if it is close to their village.  The Bushmen know when a hunt is complete, as the dogs give a locating bark when the prey is down.

As an aerial perspective is very important to the project, Robin is in the process of getting his own private pilot license.  This will give a boost to the whole project as a Cessna 172 is available for use by the project.

The flights were done at 10,000 to 11,000 feet (to locate the dogs only, and not for visuals) and even though one pack was quite close to the camp we had to do two flights before we found the dogs on the ground.  This was due to the very thick vegetation (grass and bushes) and both dogs and dog- seekers were often startled when they met face to face at only 5 metres apart.

Robin did not want low flying as he felt this would upset the dogs.  Again, my flying skills were sharpened on the 330-metre strip and rotation was usually metres from the end of the runway.  One of our landings was nearly on top of a well-camouflaged cheetah that darted away at the last moment, although a jackal on the strip at the same time was more casual and simply moved out of harm’s way.
As always it was a pleasure to work with Robin and with an average flying time of two hours per day, definitely not exhausting.”

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The Bateleurs in Bushmanland, by Robin Lines

We were very pleased to receive the report, below, from Robin Lines of the Namibian Wild Dog Project, who also contributed  the two superb photos of Wild Dogs that accompany this story. 

“The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is both Namibia’s and Southern Africa’s most endangered large mammal and one of the world’s most endangered canids. Numbers have declined by 99% in Namibia since pre-agricultural times and now stand at between 156-259 adults and yearlings in <36 breeding packs, 98% of which live outside protected areas in a mosaic of rangelands on the western edges of the Kalahari.

The last remaining packs roam the isolated wildernesses of NE Namibia, adjacent to the Botswana border, in the former Bushmanland now known as Tsumkwe District, and proclaimed as Communal Conservancies under the management of local San communities of the !kung group of languages.

To access and work in these areas requires immense determination as infrastructure and support systems are almost nonexistent. Mogas must be driven in from 300km away and Avgas from 500km. Weeks are spent working on the ground tracking and following the wild dogs, driving off-road through the bush until animals are caught up with, captured and collared for monitoring. Data regarding the sizes of packs, feeding ecology, mortality causes and reproductive success are used to motivate institutional support for management intervention. Without these data it is likely the population would decline to almost zero without the Government noticing.

With home ranges in excess of 3,000km2 it is essential to secure air support to locate the VHF radio collared packs. The radio transmitters in the collars have a range of 3km from the ground but up to 30km from the 5000AGL. Once the position has been established a ground crew goes in by vehicle to update records on the pack’s progress.

So it is with immense gratitude that the Wild Dog Project could rely once again on the experience and support of The Bateleurs and Nico Louw, flying V5-FUV. Nico assisted the project in 2007 and his considerable experience and skills allowed us to work from isolated and improvised airstrips on dry pans far from the ‘main’ airstrip in Tsumkwe. Two packs were located in quick succession and follow-up ground work found the dogs, albeit in thick bush requiring some considerable bundu-bashing in my 1986 Hilux.

As a result of trips like these some solid data has been gathered, quantified and presented to the main stakeholders at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, who are now looking seriously at the possibiity of re-introducing wild dogs to Etosha National Park. Fingers crossed.

In addition to the tracking flights Nico also gave one of the local community members a very special experience. !Kxoa Nxao had been living and hunting his traditional lands in this area for 66 yrs when he was flown over them for the first time. The stories floating through the air from around the village fire could be heard long into the night above the calls of hyena and boisterous elephant.

So I extend my thanks and gratitude to Nico, and all at The Bateleurs, once more.”

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