Size matters: The dogs of Venetia Limpopo
The wild dogs of Venetia Limpopo have had a turbulent last few years – mainly at the hands of lions – resulting in alpha female Stellar cautiously leading her small pack of five from rocky safe haven to rocky safe haven each day.
When Stellar became pregnant recently it was clear that her mind wasn’t just on survival for her pack but on growth and for a short while all seemed rosy in this colourful mopani and baobab clustered corner of South Africa. Though having lost her entire litter the previous year, the future of the pack hung desperately on her ability to find a safe den site.
The bitter irony of choosing a rocky high-ground for the den in an attempt to avoid dangerous competitors like lion and hyena was that she lead her pack straight into a leopard’s domain, a choice which cost her mate Abel his life.
The trauma of the attack split the pack leaving Stellar out on her own. Did she not flee with Fender, Rory and Baker because she had pups hidden away? It was too soon to tell as she would only bring them out of the den after a few weeks…but with one less member of the hunting pack, her chances of even keeping her pups alive that long would be slim.
We know Stellar has met up with the others but still spends time on her own. We also know a pack from Botswana and free roaming dogs have explored the boundaries of the Venetia territory. So is Stellar desperate for the support of the pack for the survival of her pups or will the others disperse and move on? It’s an interesting and crucial period in the life of the Venetia pack and one that echoes the broader fight to save Africa’s wild dogs.
In a natural and competitive environment where size matters, wild dogs have their own battles and with only a few hundred left in South Africa alone, losing an alpha dog is a real setback and an event that can change the fortunes of a pack and the balance of a population.
As we inspected Abel’s carcass, the importance and fragility of EWT’s efforts became clear, the only consolation in the thought that at least Abel wasn’t another statistic born out of man’s misunderstanding and intolerance of these charismatic canids.