The African wild dog project has continued steadily on over the past few weeks as the breeding season continues here in South Africa. Some clear behavioural changes have developed in some packs with the onset of the denning period. This phase brings about changes to pack movements, reducing the ranging area and forcing the packs to return to the same place each night, where the female and her pups remain.
At present nearly all of the dominant females from each pack are pregnant and the first of the females to become pregnant is thought to have given birth at the beginning of this month. There has yet been no sighting of these pups as they continue to remain securely with their mother in the den, but hopefully we will be rewarded with a glimpse in the coming weeks. No other pack in the area in which I concentrate in has yet to den, although observations from other packs have suggested some others have also begun.
Faecal samples are still continually collected when possible, as a means to monitor pregnancy hormone levels as well as stress levels.
As seen in the previous months, some wild dogs have continued to go missing, either dispersing to join other packs or having died. It is difficult to monitor some of these movements and population fluctuations due to the thick vegetation in most areas of the park, but we continue to persevere. Most pack numbers however, thankfully continue to remain stable.
The upcoming months should be an exciting time with more litters being born and then hopefully sightings of the new pups will become more frequent. Litter size and sexing of the litters will become an important aspect of the project to see if they fit with observations from previous studies and if not to determine ecological and or physiological reasons as to why.