Spring is definitely in the air and the puppies are not the only new arrivals. The flock of Boer Goats are also having babies at the moment and while most of them are doing very well, there are inevitably one or two weaker ones in the group. Some first time mothers do not understand their role, and with the nights being very cold, the dogs are stepping in to help.
A few nights ago I was so pleased to watch Phudi (one of the Endangered Wildlife Trust Livestock Guardian Dogs working here) insist on coming into the lambing pen to help out with newborn triplets. The ewe was tired and the babies were weak but they cleaned them together and Phudi gently nudged the lambs to their feet and towards their mothers udder. She refused to leave the pen and slept with them over night. Last night she cleaned up two lambs whose mother had rejected them and got them dry before the temperature dropped. Without her care they would likely had died of cold. These dogs continue to amaze us and we simpy cannot imagine farming with livestock without them.
Thandi isn't the only new mum at Green Dogs. On Sunday, Gala delivered 5 healthy Malinois puppies. There are 2 bitches and 3 dogs and all are doing exceptionally well. Gala is a fantastic mother and is very protective of her babies.
These puppies are intended to become anti-poaching dogs to help combat the war against wildlife crime in South Africa and beyond.
While now they are so small and extremely cute, they will not stay that way for long. We are very excited to see how they develop and are confident they will make us very proud. They are set to be just as talented as their parents, and make a real difference to conservation.
At 12 days old, the pups eyes are starting to open! All of them are growing well and have more than doubled their birthweights. Among their first sights will be their ruminant room-mates. These puppies are all destined to be working livestock guardian dogs in South Africa and Botswana.
With the nature of the work that we do, our dogs come across all sorts of wildlife and so they need to be totally reliable not to bark at or chase anything. While we make sure that our dogs are exposed to as much as possible during the course of their training, most of it boils down to starting with the right dog in the first place. There are very few dogs that have the high energy levels and motivation that also have no desire to chase running animals, and so to find the right dog is a rare and wonderful thing. These pictures are a few stills taken from a filming session for a French TV show, where Faust demonstrates clearly how all he is after is his tugger reward. Nothing else interests him. Its all about earning the tugger.
Last night just before midnight, Thandi gave birth to her first puppy. We woke up as soon as we heard the first, amazingly strong lungs crying for his mother. Not much later the second puppy was born, which was followed by 7 brothers and sisters. It was a very long night for Thandi, but she did very well and we are so proud of her. This morning we were able to take the first pictures of her and her 9 puppies!
Here are a few pictures of Fatboy. He got his name by the fact that he was by far the fattest wild Lion we had ever seen. He had a crest of fat running down his chest and along his stomach. He was definitely not struggling for food! With the addition of the collar we were able to see just how he stayed so portly. He was using only a tiny territory above a man-made dam, where the game was forced to descend through steep gamepaths set amongst rocks in order to drink. It must have been like sitting at a sushi restaurant for him, sitting watching the food go by and deciding what he liked the look of. Food on tap with minimal effort to catch it; no wonder he was on the tubby side!
Fatboy sailed close to the wind on a few occasions, having moved in and out of Zimbabwe a few times when the Limpopo River was low. He has fathered a number of cubs, all that we know of being female. On one occasion when he had crossed the river and we feared the worst we found him again by playing calls of a buffalo calf during an annual Hyaena survey. We had been calling at different locations four hours in the bitter cold of a winter night with no sign when suddenly there was roaring so loud and so close to our vehicle that it made the car windows rattle. Scrabbling with the telemetry reciever, I tuned into his channel and it started thumping away very loudly. He was calm under the spotlight, but we could see he had a limp. A few days later I was called to check out some Lion tracks on a district road between local farms. I went out and could clearly see this was Fatboy. His tracks in the sand showed the clear limp. He had walked out onto farmland for about 15km, turned around and headed straight back home all in one night. Perhaps he sensed the danger posed by being on cattle farms. His limp improved, but his tracks were always recognisable by uneven stride length.
Despite our efforts and those of other people, Lions are lost from this population every single year, but every now and then you come across an individual that is just different, that is in some way Iconic. Fatboy was this Lion. He somehow represented the plight of the whole population and for as long as he dodged bullets, he gave us hope for them all. With Fatboy having been shot now, it is disheartening, but we must go on. It's all the more important that we carry on with the conflict mitigation, and that our Lion survey using the dogs is completed as quickly as possible so that we have the hard facts in hand to push for change to protect these cats. We can confirm that at least some of the tiny, wriggling, squeaking bundles that are Thandis newborn puppies will stay in this area and help to mitigate the conflict between people and carnivores. While today has been bittersweet for us, maybe it is fitting that we recieve this news on the same day that Thandi delivered a large part of the solution. We will not let Fatboy be forgotten, or his loss be in vain. For all the Lions in the GM-TFCA, we have a plan and we intend to make a difference.
After the euphoria of last night with the arrival of Thandi's puppies, we have come back down to Earth with an enormous bump. I came back to my computer to recieve news that Fatboy, the male Lion so close to all our hearts, was shot in Zimbabwe. With all the illegal and legal (though questionable) killings of Lions this year that is 13% of the Lions from the Greater Mapungubwe that will be gone by the end of this hunting season. It is crazy! No population can sustain this level of offtake, and the worst of it all is these are only the ones we know about.
While our hearts are in our shoes, we just need to press on and make our Lion survey count. We must get the data we need to force the issue with the relevant authorities.
Im so sorry Fatboy. You were a legend in this area. We promise to keep trying.
We may be biased but we think our dogs are totally gorgeous as well as talented, so we thought we would share a few of our action photos that Carline took this morning. We promise to take some out in the bush soon too! Faust is almost impossible to take photographs of as he is just so fast, but Carline managed a few.
With our Livestock Guardian Dogs in particular, we rely very much on our 4-legged trainers to teach the dogs what they need to know about their job, and help to straighten out any problematic dogs that are sent to us for behaviour adjustment. We have a select team of animals that help us with this, and have the right temperament for it.
First up is Jelly Bean, our Dairy cow, and her calves Jelly Belly and Jelly Pudding. She is a very tranquil lady and has just the right balance of ignoring any rambunctious behaviour, and laying down the ground rules very clearly. She is never aggressive but is firm but fair. Her daughters share her ladylike demeanour and are a great for our pups to have as their first exposure to cattle before their eyes are even open. If we have older dogs sent to us who may have been showing troubling behaviour on their farms, Bean teaches them very quickly that over enthusiasm is not OK. Whereas an aggressive cow could hurt a dog or a puppy, Bean uses minimum force and usually minimum attention. She came from a smallholding with many dogs, including 2 Great Danes, so there is nothing a dog can do that makes her so much as bat one of her beautiful long eyelashes.
Emmy the sheep is rather special. Not only is she named after Carlines mother, but her job as a dog-training sheep is very fitting as she was extremely lucky to have survived a jackal attack herself as a lamb. Unlike the vast majority of sheep, Emmy has a strong will to live and pulled through the attack before coming to live with us. She came from a farm where an Anatolian Shepherd (one of ours from Thandi's previous litter) protects the goat flock so she is familiar with big dogs. Often if sheep are not used to a big dog, they run when they first see one, but Emmy is as solid as a rock and cuddles up with any size dog.
Big Lizzy is a Boerbok Ewe who is unable to walk too far in veld due to an old injury to her leg. She does, however, produce the most fantastic lambs, and shares the same calm but firm attitude as Jelly Bean. She is never so aggressive that we fear she may hurt a puppy, but she does not tolerate overly playful behaviour.
No mention of our 4-legged team would be complete with a mention of the ponies. Their kraal is adjacent to one of the whelping areas and they are totally unflappable when it comes to puppies sniffing at them and exploring. Nina even helps with the detection dogs by really trying out their concentration and joining in while they are searching the paddock areas for target scents. If they can concentrate with a pony joining the game, we can throw most things at them.
This list is far from exhaustive, and the whole flocks and herds play their part at some time or another, but these are our main cast, and they are fabulous!
Last week, we had a meeting just across the border in Botswana about the state of Wild Dogs in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (NOTUGRE). In 2008 there was a pack of 18 Wild Dogs relocated onto the reserve. Some of the dogs moved away and others split into smaller packs. The current pack that is residing on NOTUGRE consisted of 7 Wild Dogs up until 2 months ago, when a local farmer drove over 2 dogs. Unfortunately, the alpha male got killed in this horrific incident, which is leaving the alpha female with one other adult male. However, this male was caught in a snare and is not able to reproduce, which puts severe pressure on the sustainability of the pack.
According to Section 46 of the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act (see textbox), the farmer was in its full right to kill these two dogs as they have been or were forming a threat to his livestock (in this case ostriches), since the land he owns fall within NOTUGRE, but is not officially part of it. Legally, there is not much we can do and therefore it is of full most importance that we come up with solutions for this problem.
We offered to help and assist and we are going to look into this case in order to see if it is possible to place one of our Livestock Guardian Dogs with the ostriches to prevent any more ostriches from being taken by Wild Dogs or any other predator. This in turn protects the Wild Dogs and its carnivorous friends for getting persecuted by local farmers.
The frequency of human-wildlife conflicts world-wide have increased over the last ten years, which is mainly related to the expansion of human presence, habitat loss and fragmentation of the natural living area of the large carnivores and human exploitation of the natural prey base causing a decline in the occurrence of wild prey for the large carnivores thus increases the likelihood of depredation on livestock. Unfortunately, in most situations the large carnivores are paying a large price for preying on livestock, since the majority will get shot in order for the farmer to eliminate further stock losses, which is also the case for the Wild Dogs in Botswana.
Phudi - one of the Anatolian LGDs from the EWT Breeding programme
This is where Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) come to the rescue and can be a potential solution to decrease the persecution of Wild Dogs in NOTUGRE. LGDs have proven to be an effective and efficient non-lethal tool to protect livestock from large carnivores. Scientific literature shows that if Livestock Guardian Dogs are placed with the stock, stock losses have dropped or even became zero. Livestock Guardian Dogs work by scent marking and barking to offset and distract any hunting attempts from predators. They let smaller predators now that there is a larger predator in the vicinity, which results in natural predators being pushed back on natural prey.
The 5 Wild Dogs will be strictly monitored by the Mashatu Research Team and we will soon follow up on a visit to the farm to see if it is possible to put one of our LGDs with the ostriches, and to see if we can stop the farmer from killing these magnificent animals by offering him a magnificent solution.
Green Dogs to the rescue!