About Wildlife ACT
Wildlife ACT is an award-winning non-profit organisation set up in 2008. Their conservation projects, which extend across the Zululand area of South Africa include uMkhuze, Tembe, Manyoni and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
Wildlife ACT is unique in that they actively advance conservation by initiating, implementing and managing monitoring projects on reserves which do not have existing monitoring programmes in place; or by taking over existing monitoring projects on reserves that can no longer fund or manage them.
Wildlife ACT’s focus is to help save Africa’s endangered and priority wildlife species from extinction, thereby enabling broad-scale biodiversity conservation.
They achieve this by:
Conducting professional and strategic monitoring and research to enable and inform effective conservation management of wildlife in Africa;
Securing existing protected areas, driving range expansion of African Wildlife, and combating illegal wildlife poaching;
Identifying and developing programmes within surrounding communities to support biodiversity conservation and socioeconomic development.
For Wildlife ACT, international volunteers and conservation expeditions have been the cornerstone of their funding stream. They depend on this support to conduct vitally important endangered and priority wildlife species conservation work of endangered wildlife species such as African Painted Dogs, Cheetah and Black Rhino, as well as priority species such as Elephant, Lion, Leopard and many more, including their anti-poaching initiatives.
From the money raised through Artists for Painted Dogs, Wildlife ACT will:
£5,000 will buy and fit a satellite collar to a painted dog, allowing them to monitor them remotely, and cover some fuel expenses for their monitoring teams to follow up in the field.
£10,000 will cover the fuel and some maintenance costs for a project vehicle for an entire year.
£20,000 will cover the salary costs for a monitoring project's staff for a year.
£50,000 will fill their funding gap over the next 6 months and ensure Wildlife ACT's teams can remain in the field for the next 6 months.
The impact of COVID
Wildlife ACT believe fully in the conservation impact of their work, and are heavily reliant on their professional staff who get up daily (and early), so when Covid-19 hit, their drive for the short term was to secure their staff, and secondly, enable the work to continue.
All of their staff – across the board – took a salary cut to reduce pressure on the organization. Not one person complained. This reiterated the passion and dedication of their team. The challenge has been considering how long to plan for, and how long to hold their collective breath for, for Wildlife ACT to arrive safely on the other side.
Thankfully, due to the significant generosity from our supporters, they have met their short-term funding goals, retained all their staff, and kept their conservation footprint!
In Phase 2 – Staying Wildlife ACTive – their aim is to generate further resources to ensure work can be carried out effectively (fuel for monitoring sessions, tyres for vehicles, collars for Painted Dogs) and to get their staff back onto a salary that is back in-line with their commitment and input. With no idea what 2021 will hold, they need to plan for a slow and unstable recovery. Other than salaries, funds will be used to:
Keep our vehicles out in the field (many are all still financed) with fuel in their tanks - ensuring our staff can get around the protected areas they work in
Feed our staff, maintain our equipment, and
Ensure we can communicate and track wildlife.
We recently caught up with Pippa Orpen, Operations Manager (North) at Wildlife ACT in South Africa.
What do you think is the reason for the decline of Painted Dogs?
Pippa: African Painted Dogs face many threats, including ongoing habitat fragmentation, conflict with human activities, persecution, snaring and infectious disease. The estimated decline in population size can be uncertain due to the species’ tendency to population fluctuations. However, what is certain, with only approximately 550 Painted Dogs left in South Africa, they are the second most endangered carnivore in Africa after the Ethiopian Wolf. Painted Dogs need large areas to support themselves and for populations to be genetically diverse and sustainable.
The ideal conservation strategy to protect any endangered species, is to leave nature to its own devices and give wild animals enough space and suitable habitat to thrive. With our wild areas shrinking and the human population burgeoning, the situation is only worsening for endangered African Painted Dogs and many other wildlife species.
Why monitor Painted Dogs?
Pippa: Only when we fully understand Painted Dogs as a species can we protect them. Daily monitoring allows us to keep an eye on pack dynamics, movements, ecological influences such as feeding behaviour, mating and denning habits, disease outbreaks, snaring incidences and other human conflict issues. We also need this data in order to evaluate conservation efforts, as without it we have no baseline data for comparison. Information gathered allows for informed decision making. If we understand the reasons for previous population declines we can adjust management practices where possible, and in doing so help to restore wild dog numbers.
When young wild dogs become sexually mature some (usually same-sex siblings) will disperse in order to find other unrelated dispersers to bond with and form new packs. However, habitat fragmentation means they no longer have the ability to move safely between/to viable protected areas. Conflict with live-stock and game farmers; other forms of human persecution threaten their survival. Part of the intensive management approach involves periodic relocations of potential dispersers to new reserves to mimic natural dispersal and maintain genetic integrity.
If the sizes of our protected areas were to increase, and/or we were able to establish new protected areas, and/or greater buffer areas could be created around protected areas to minimise human influences, we could potentially manage this endangered species less intensively than we do now, but until that time the conservation measures currently in place remain essential.
Other than daily monitoring, which other conservation measures are in place to conserve Painted Dogs?
Pippa: The key to the survival of Africa’s endangered species is ensuring that they are reintroduced into well managed protected areas where they can safely roam and strengthen in number.
Relocations form part of the bigger vision being driven by the KZN Wild Dog Advisory Group. Through this association of conservation authorities and leading conservation organisations, the South African Wild Dog population (outside of the Kruger National Park) is managed as a single metapopulation, with genetic diversity being maintained through reintroductions and relocations. This is also crucial in preventing overpopulation in smaller reserves. The metapopulation is managed through such reintroductions and relocations in order to simulate the natural process of dispersal, pack formation and colonisation of new areas.
Over the last 20 years KZN has made significant contributions to the national wild dog population with KZN parks providing wild space for 12 wild dog packs, contributing to approximately 25% of the entire national Wild Dog population.
What equipment do you use to track Painted Dogs?
Pippa: One of our main tracking techniques is the radio-tracking of collars via telemetry. Tracking collars are essential in the daily monitoring of endangered species. There are various types of collars each performing different functions, some indicate whether an animal is moving, resting or possibly in distress, some have anti-snare devices, some have satellite components which assist with tracking in difficult terrain and supply valuable research data. Collars are chosen depending on the species and condition of the target animal, each collar is designed to minimise impact on the animals’ natural behaviour and to maximise their detectability. Varying belts and battery sizes are available depending on the type of service required, however the general rule is that no collar should be more than 4 to 5 percent of the animals’ body weight. So the weight of a collar for an average wild dog should not exceed 450g.
What is being done to mitigate snare poaching?
Pippa: Wildlife ACT’s Community Conservation Liaisons are working with schools within the Gumbi Community around the tribally-owned Somkhanda Game Reserve. Here they teach conservation lessons throughout the school year, during school hours, as part of students’ regular education. Students are given lessons in understanding ecological relationships, the importance of preserving biodiversity and conservation issues associated with snare hunting (to name a few). Grade six students from nine Gumbi Community schools attend free-of-charge, four-day conservation education camps. Wildlife ACT hopes to expand the program to more schools as the necessary funding becomes available. The program emphasizes hands-on child-centred discovery activities to teach students conservation concepts. The program is designed to instil a passion for nature conservation in young people.