Dogs on the catwalk: Modelling re-introduction and translocation of endangered wild dogs in South Africa

03 September 2009

In South Africa, a plan was launched to manage separate sub-populations of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in several small, geographically isolated conservation areas as a single meta-population. This intensive management approach involves the re-introduction of wild dogs into suitable conservation areas and periodic translocations among them. Despite the initial failures and high costs associated with wild dog re-introductions and translocations, there is no predictive framework available to quantify which management protocol is the most efficient. We therefore developed an individualbased model of wild dog population and pack dynamics, which accounts for the wild dogs’ social complexity. The model appeared to capture the essential characteristics of a real wild dog population from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa and to be relatively robust to parameter uncertainty, suggesting that the model is valid enough for addressing management problems. The model enabled us to quantify a critical initial number of packs (two) and individuals per pack (six) necessary for a re-introduced wild dog population to establish itself in the release area. We also found a practically feasible intervention regime at which a re-introduced wild dog population had the best chance of persistence: intermittently adding packs (at least every 6 years) and harvesting disperser groups (as often as every 4 years) for translocation to other release sites, without threatening the small source population. This study demonstrates that individual-based models can be a powerful decision-support tool in re-introduction planning and provides insight into how populations made up of social groups have dynamics, and ultimately persistence, determined by individual behaviour.