Archive for KwaZulu-Natal

Fighting for her legacy…

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Poaching, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

I was always sobered by the experience of finding dead wild dogs while photographing for my book Underdogs. These are endangered creatures that I have dedicated the last three years of my career to and so I would like to think that my reaction is understandable. That said, nothing could have prepared me for the news that came through from South Africa that Stellar, the iconic alpha female of my Wildlife Photographer of the Year photograph Survivor, was dead.

Stellar’s life was characterised by tragic events. She had lost alpha mates and litters during her stressful and luckless existence on both Madikwe Game Reserve and Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve. When she was translocated to KwaZulu-Natal’s Mkhuze Game Reserve in 2010 she had the chance of a fresh start and to put the troubles of the past behind her. For almost a year it seemed that she had done just that in raising a litter of four pups through their most challenging period in life. Sadly, Stellar, her alpha mate and one of their pups were recently found to be the victims of snares.

It is a difficult balance to strike for conservationists but the dropping of fences between protected reserves to create larger conservation areas often opens up land to poaching and the threat of disease. The death of Stellar and her family at the same time as other deaths in South Africa’s fragile wild dog population highlights the fight that conservation authorities, game rangers and anti-poaching scouts still have on their hands if the species is to be saved.

As I put the finishing touches to my book Underdogs, the fight on my hands is to do justice to the time that Stellar allowed me into her world. I am hoping that the book will not only raise greater awareness of these charismatic canids and the threats to their survival but that it will help to raise funds for greater protection and invaluable research. Keep an eye on my blog or website and follow me on twitter or facebook to find out when Underdogs is available and how you can help the African wild dog.

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The translocation of Rory – an update

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

A while ago I blogged on the darting and translocation of Rory, a young African wild dog, from South Africa’s Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve to his new home in KwaZulu-Natal. After some rather downbeat posts recently on the trade in wild dogs and on their endangered status, I thought I would give you an update on how Rory is doing as well as the video of his translocation that I shot earlier this year.

As an outsider joining an established alpha pair, Rory couldn’t have fitted in to his new pack and surroundings any better. The alpha female gave birth to eight pups this year and Rory has been the main babysitter and provider of food after hunts, regurgitating meat for the mother and for her litter. His care and responsibility towards them has ensured that all eight pups have made it through their first six months alive and well.

But it’s not all been hard work and responsibility…Charl Senekal, the reserve manager at Hlambanyathi Game Reserve where Rory was moved to, has noticed that the pack has taken to regularly chasing leopards up trees – a curious and dangerous game given the violent death of most of Rory’s family at the hands of predators.

The video shows the lengthy darting and translocation process that took place earlier this year to move Rory to KwaZulu-Natal. Four of the five darts fired made contact but, as is the case with such darting procedures, things don’t always go to plan. Two of the darts were ineffective and it was the fifth and final dart that had the desired effect. It is never ideal to have to intervene to such an extent in the lives of wild animals but with so precious few African wild dogs left and with their plight on our watch, it is sometimes a sensible and necessary decision. And in this case, with Rory playing his part in the survival of eight young dogs at Hlambanyathi, there can be little doubt that decision has been justified.

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The translocation of Rory

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

As the son of Stellar, the charismatic alpha female Wild Dog on South Africa’s Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, Rory has come from good stock. The problem is that following the unexpected deaths of the two other males in his pack, Abel and Baker, Rory recently became the only possible mate if his mother Stellar was to bear a litter of pups again.

With just a few hundred African Wild Dogs left in South Africa, if Rory were to mate with Stellar it would fly in the face of conservation efforts to build a genetically viable population. So the decision was made to dart Rory and to move him to another reserve to start a new pack. Rory would then be replaced at Venetia by males brought in from Botswana…creating two breeding packs in the process.

The Venetia dogs were moved into a boma (a large enclosure) to make the darting and translocation process easier. This will also allow the pack to be monitored closely when the females are introduced to the new boys from over the border.

The morning of 17 February was overcast. A good sign as it meant Rory would be less likely to overheat during his long journey to KwaZulu-Natal. But he had to be darted first…surely a straight-forward task in a fenced area with strategically-positioned bait? You’d think so.

Five darts and five long hours later and Rory finally went to ground under the influence of the tranquiliser drug. The team of vets and researchers went straight to work removing the darts, disinfecting the dart wounds and removing his radio collar.

After being doused with water to keep him cool, Rory was placed in a crate, loaded onto the back of a Land Rover and driven the 900km’s to his new home.

Sure, this kind of intervention can sometimes be stressful for animals but when we as humans have driven a species like the African Wild Dog to the margins of existence, it’s a good thing there are people prepared to sit and be bitten by mosquito’s in 35 degree heat for five hours and then drive 900km’s just to give an animal a fighting chance of survival.

Hunting the Trogon (part 2)

Posted in African Wildlife, Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

Went for another walk to find the Narina Trogon…found it…as well as a male Black Rhino…went home and had a beer!

Hunting the Trogon (part 1)

Posted in African Wildlife, Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , on August 22, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

Went for a walk from our camp here in KwaZulu-Natal to find the elusive Narina Trogon…found fresh Leopard tracks instead…went home and had a beer!

450 up!

Posted in African Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

All the time I’ve spent tracking and photographing Wild Dogs recently has also given me the chance to notch up a personal milestone of ticking off 450 birds in Southern Africa…not bad for a casual birder who spends nearly all his time in the bush and not enough time at the coast!

The Limpopo river valley along South Africa’s borders with Zimbabwe and Botswana, notorious among birders, has been exceptionally rewarding as usual and as well as regulars like the Pied Kingfisher and Black Crake, has yielded ‘lifers’ for me such as the Blackcheeked Waxbill and Tropical Boubou.

A rare opportunity to spend some time in KwaZulu-Natal shortly should help to push that tally up towards that 500 mark…

Wild Dogs – an introduction

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

I’m currently working out of South Africa putting together a project on Wild Dogs and the struggle to secure and develop their population and I thought I’d grab the chance to post an update before I head back into the bush and away from the world of internet connectivity.

Wild Dogs always were pretty special to me but having the opportunity to follow them daily and observe their social intimacies and their hunting and survival strategies has given me a whole new respect for them.

So far I’ve been working alongside researchers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust on a reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo Province but the unique metapopulation conservation approach will also mean working in Botswana and the renowned Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.

Wild Dogs have large territories and out of denning season they can cover huge distances in barely no time at all and so I’ve been completely reliant on and continually impressed by the tracking skills of these dedicated few individuals.

Radio collars are used on certain individuals but the terrain and distances involved require more than an understanding of telemetry equipment, and a combination of traditional tracking techniques and an instinctive understanding of Wild Dog behaviour are put to the test daily.

As well as their susceptibility to disease, it may come as no surprise that Africa’s second most endangered carnivore has disappeared from much of its former range as a result of habitat loss and persecution.

DPP07D907190D2226Lions are a Wild Dog’s greatest natural adversary though and don’t need a second invitation to kill either adult dogs or pups. Having lost their alpha male and litter to Lions last year, it’s been fascinating monitoring the movement of the pack to avoid Lions, even up into inaccessible rocky areas.

But the dogs can only avoid Lions when they know where they are and this is usually done by keeping those massive ears tuned for Lions calling. But we did face an agonising wait one morning as the pack literally brushed shoulders with the Lion pride by unwittingly lying up on the adjacent side of a hill.

Wild Dog movements are also governed by the availability of prey. Impala make up the majority of their diet and despite Wild Dogs being among the most efficient large carnivores when it comes to hunting, it was excruciating to witness a handful of failed attempts on their part.

But one has to be on the ball when following Wild Dogs as they don’t hang around, especially when feeding, and on two occasions the pack consumed their prey in only a handful of minutes before we could even get to the scene.

It’s been a pure privilege working on this project so far and there’s more to come including visits to a Wild Dog pack in Botswana who are currently raising a litter of 13 pups and KwaZulu-Natal to see how the Endangered Wildlife Trust is managing the essential element of conservation – community education and engagement.