National 31.8.2016 04:03 pm

Wild dog pack in KZN wiped out by deadly virus

Wild dog. Picture: @EZEMVELOKZNWild

Wild dog. Picture: @EZEMVELOKZNWild

African wild dogs are the most endangered carnivores in South Africa, and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park holds the second largest population in the country.

A pack of African Wild Dogs in the northern parts of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (commonly referred to as the Crossroads pack) has died, and the cause is believed to be the canine distemper virus, reports the Zululand Observer.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) were conducting routine monitoring of the pack through the use of a VHF tracking collar fitted to the pack’s beta female when they made the discovery.

The collar indicated that the pack had been stationary for 36 hours.

The observation was made three weeks ago and, given the highly active nature of wild dogs, which tend to hunt twice a day, the alarm was raised.

Investigation

The officials discovered a number of dead wild dogs at the location, while others were lethargic and showed signs of illness, including neurological problems and laboured breathing.

These animals were monitored, and food and care was offered over a few days, but ultimately they succumbed to their illness.

Ezemvelo veterinarians conducted the postmortem.

Early indications are that the entire pack died from canine distemper disease, but confirmation is still required from the samples that have been sent off for analysis.

Endangered species

African wild dogs are the most endangered carnivores in South Africa. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park holds the second largest population in the country after the Kruger National Park (KNP).

The death of this pack of 12 wild dogs has reduced the number of packs in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park to six and the total number to 57.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park has, over the years, acted as a feeder population to numerous other national parks and private game reserves around South Africa, and the loss of this pack is a major blow for the national metapopulation, which has now been reduced by 5%.

Canine distemper

This case follows previous incidents of canine distemper virus being confirmed in wild dogs from Khamab Kalahari Reserve in 2013, and more recently in KNP and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in 2016.

The virus has been known to infect numerous animal species worldwide and is not confined to carnivores.

Ezemvelo and EWT teams have developed a plan of action to prevent similar losses in future.

This includes, as a priority, vaccinating of all individuals of two key remaining packs in the park.

These individuals will be vaccinated again in a year’s time to determine the longevity of the vaccine.

At the same time, all blood samples taken in the park over the last five to 10 years will be analyzed to determine what level of natural immunities to disease (including canine distemper virus) occur within the wild dog population in the park.

This action plan follows a similar approach to that of the KNP to align results and knowledge gained into a national understanding for the future conservation and protection of wild dogs against infectious diseases.

Caxton News Service

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