Factors affecting the success of artificial pack formation in an endangered, social carnivore : the African wild dog

05 Aug 2019

Social integration is an important factor when reintroducing group‐living species, but examples of the formation of social groups before reintroduction are largely lacking. African wild dogs Lycaon pictus are endangered, and reintroductions have become a routine part of range expansion in South Africa. Wild dogs form packs that are essential to their reproduction and survival, and artificial pack formation is often required before reintroduction. We examined the proximate (i.e. social integration) and ultimate (i.e. reproduction) success of 43 artificial pack formation attempts in the South African managed metapopulation, between 1995 and 2018. The top (and dominant) model for proximate success included an interaction between total group size and an initial separation fence. Larger groups took longer to integrate, irrespective of initial separation, whereas smaller groups brought together immediately integrated faster than those that were initially separated. The top models for ultimate success included an interaction between the proportion of males and number of days spent in the pre‐release enclosure, the total number of days in the enclosure and an interaction between the proportion of captive‐sourced individuals and the total number of days in the enclosure. Ultimate success increased when packs spent less time in the enclosure, especially if those packs had a low proportion of males (i.e. female biased) or included >25% captive‐sourced individuals. Neither the size of the artificially created pack nor the season in which the pack was released affected ultimate success. The success of social integration and reproductive success of artificially formed packs in this study was higher than for natural pack formations. We provide guidelines for optimizing future artificial pack formation in wild dogs for reintroduction success. Our results serve as an example of the practical importance of social behavior in successfully implementing conservation measures for group‐living species.