Even in large, well-protected reserves, wild dogs live fairly sparsely and predation by lions and competition with hyenas tend to keep wild dog numbers below the level that could be sustained by the available prey animals.
This brings its own problems when quite large reserves are often supporting less than one hundred dogs. Such small populations are especially vulnerable to extinction through sudden disease outbreaks.
One national park with a fairly viable population is Kasangu in Malawi. It is an important protected area that links populations between Malawi and Zimbabwe. Here Emma Stone, University of Bristol, is part of a cooperative venture with Malawian National Parks and local wildlife trusts. It is especially important that this population thrives but there has been no proper assessment done on the dogs there and how they interact in this environment.
Emma’s team is doing a complete ecological assessment of the wild dogs, leopards and lions in Kasungu. The work involves photographic surveying by camera traps both inside and outside the National Park. The coat patterns of the animals snapped are analysed to assess their abundance and dispersal and audio recordings are examined to estimate density.
The team is also working with the local people to create a practical, five-year management plan to relieve human-wildlife conflict across this key habitat corridor that will stretch from western Malawi to eastern Zambia. Once reconnected this massively enhanced protected area will allow the wild dogs to disperse naturally, intermix and secure their long term future.