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The Wild Dogs of Namibia

  
  

The African wild dog or Lycaon pictus is truly one of nature’s wonders. Its intelligence, social pack structure and beauty make it one of the most interesting animals to track and view on safari. Namibian conservation groups are currently trying to bring these canines back from the brink of extinction and now you can help. 

Getting to know the African wild dog

Once these animals could be found in over 39 countries across the African continent with a population of more than 500 000. Now, however, estimates put the population of the African wild dog between 3000 and 5000 spread across just 14 to 25 countries in Africa.

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Two young dogs.
(Image via AfriCat)

There are many reasons for this dramatic decline in numbers: Human encroachment, poaching, and competition from larger predators have all played their part in decimating the population of these animals.

As a result of these factors the African wild dog is the fifth most endangered mammal in Africa. It is also the second most endangered predator on the continent and with numbers dangerously low it has been declared endangered and conservation efforts have slowly been increased.

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A cool drink of water on a typically hot day.
(Image via Lamb and Serpent)  

The African wild dogs are some of nature’s most well adapted predators and when a pack goes on a hunt they have over an 80% chance of making a kill. This figure is all the more impressive when you consider that lions, often thought to be excellent hunters, have a success ratio of about 30% on each hunt they begin.

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The dogs play, live and hunt together.
(Image via AfriCat)  

A large part of their hunting successes and social hierarchies stem from their ability to effectively communicate with one another using strange chirp-like calls that help co-ordinate their activities.

Members of a pack will vocalize to help coordinate their movements.

It is rare to see the dogs on a hunt but there have been a few documentaries that have managed to capture this amazing feat of pack hunting. Click here to watch the BBC’s Planet Earth team capture an amazing wild dog hunt in the Okavango.

Namibia’s Wild Dogs

Namibia has had a consistently critically low population of wild dogs and current estimates put their numbers anywhere between 300 and 600. As such the conservation of these rare animals is fast becoming a priority for conservation groups in Namibia.

Two organisations stand out in Namibia in their efforts to protect these endangered animals. They are N/a’an ku sê and the AfriCat Foundation at Okonjima private game reserve. Each organisation has different but complimentary programs aimed at getting people to better understand African wild dogs and thus ensure their survival.

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This trio is trying to beat the Namibia heat under the shade of a small tree.

N/a’an ku sê

N/a’an ku sê is a privately run foundation that operates just outside Windhoek and its aim is to help with any and all conservation efforts in Namibia. One of their points of pride is their wild dog program. The foundations maintains a massive enclosure on their premises that houses several wild dogs that were rescued as pups after their mother died.

These dogs now live their lives within their special reserve as they are unfortunately unfit to be put back in the wild. The dogs are observed within their enclosure so that the team at N/a’an ku sê can learn more about the social structures and behavioural patterns of these enigmatic animals. The upside to their being in captivity is that guests can get an up close and personal encounter (behind a fence of course!) with the dogs.

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Wild dogs surveying their enclosure at N/a’an ku sê.

The captive population of wild dogs can also be used as an invaluable genetic reserve that may one day help to repopulate the wild with these animals. The foundation also hopes that by better understanding the way in which the African wild dog behaves they will be able to educate farmers and locals all over the country on how best to live in sympathy with the dogs.

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A young male wild dog takes a breather.
(Image via AfriCat)

On the Carnivore Tour offered at the lodge you will not only learn about and see N/a’an ku sê’s pack of African wild dogs but you will also get a chance to observe (and sometimes interact with) lion, leopard, baboons, caracal and cheetahs. The tour is one-of-a-kind and is a must for conservation enthusiasts. All proceeds from these tours go straight back into helping animal conservation projects around Namibia.

You can also help support the projects at N/a’an ku sê by visiting their page here, or you can take part in one of their many and world-renowned volunteer programs by clicking here.

AfriCat

AfriCat has been in operation since 1993 and in that time the organisation has been rescuing, rehabilitating and re-releasing predators onto the Okonjima nature reserve in central and northern Namibia. Here they lead natural lives until they day they move on from this world.

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The program has successfully rehabilitated many African wild dogs.
See Raine, Rex, and Ricky.
(Image via AfriCat)

The foundation is only able to keep up their good work because of the money they bring in from tourists doing safaris and other activities in the park as well as through their highly effective adoption and donation programs.

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Join the pack today.
(Image via AfriCat)

AfriCat release a yearly report on the status of African wild dog conservation and you can read it here and see the good work that is being done across Namibia by the foundation and other conservation groups.

Going Forward

A unique challenge in the conservation of wild dogs is that a pack needs vast tracts of land in which to roam in order to survive and thrive. Most national parks in Africa, however, are too small for this and as a result many of the packs roam onto unprotected land and farmlands.

The resulting human/animal conflicts that result from the roaming packs of wild dogs have been largely responsible for the rapid decline in their numbers over the last few decades. The wild dog also suffers from a bad (and ungrounded) reputation of being a ferocious killer and as such is often hunted without mercy by overzealous farmers trying to protect their livestock.

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Here’s looking at you!
(Image via William Burrard-Lucas via WWF)

Through organisations like AfriCat and N/a’an ku sê we can all help in reversing the decline in their numbers and ensure that future generations will be able to witness these remarkable beasts in their natural environments.

Whether you donate your time or your money both are completely appreciated and welcome.

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A lone male looks to the horizon
.

REST- Protecting Namibia's Elusive Pangolins

  
  

The Rare and Endangered Species Trust is an organisation that operates in Central-Northern Namibia near the town of Otjiwarongo and the Okonkjima game reserve. REST was founded in 2000 by Maria Diekmann and has since gone from strength to strength. Originally Maria envisaged REST as playing a supporting role in the effort to conserve endangered species such as the Cape griffon vulture. As time went by, however, it became clear that REST would be better suited to playing a leading role in conservating severeal different endangered species from around Namibia.

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The entrance to REST.

The Forgotten 5

Presently REST is concerned with protecting the so-called “forgotten 5”. These endangered species represent a cross-section of the rich and fragile biodiversity of Namibia. These forgotten animals of Namibia are the African wild dog, the Damara dik-dik, the dwarf python, the Cape griffon vulture and the Cape pangolin.

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The African Wild Dog.
(photo courtesy of the NTB via Roderick MacLeod)

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The Damarra Dik-dik.
(Image courtesy of REST) 

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The African Python.
(Image courtesy of REST) 

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The Cape Griffon Vulture.
(Image courtesy of REST) 

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The Cape Pangolin.
(Image courtesy of REST) 

When we visited REST we were given a tour of the facilities and were shown the many species the trust helps to protect. Of particular interest to us was the the Cape pangolin. It is an illusive and little understood species of mammal that inhabits Namibia and is coming under increasing threat from poachers and black market pet dealers.

Problems facing Pangolins

Pangolin scales and pangolin meat are highly paid for commodities in several Southeast Asian countries. As a result of this the number of pangolins killed for either their scales or flesh is increasing every year. The pangolin is now the most frequently seized mammal in Asia's illegal wildlife trade. The majority of these pangolins are indigenous to Far-east and Southeast Asian countries but as the stocks dwindle in these regions poachers are beginning to look further afield.

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 One of the many pangolins found dead and en route to a black market destination.
(Image courtesy of Global Nation)

Little is understood of Namibia’s cape pangolins and as a result they are difficult to track and monitor. Their behavior and numbers are largely unknown and it is thus difficult to ascertain exactly how many are being taken out of Namibia. Once the pangolin flesh and scales have made their way to the far-east their value sky-rockets. However, within Namibia the value of a Cape pangolin can be as little as 20 US$.

Unfortunately there is a misconception in Namibian communities that a pangolin is a golden ticket to riches in-excess of tens of thousands of dollars. In reality though the punishments for selling pangolins are massive and the payout is very low. Whenever the conservationists at REST get wind of a local trying to sell a Cape pangolin on the black market they will try to intervene and prevent the sale and will usually take posession of the pangolin.

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A baby Cape pangolin in Maria's hand.
His mother was rescued from black market traders.

(Photo courtest of Maria Diekmann

How REST Helps

At the beginning of 2012 REST unexpectedly received a female Cape pangolin. The team at REST decided to release her into the wild but before they could do so she gave birth to a pangolin pup. The mother then made her way back into the bush leaving the pup behind. Motherless, this pup, affectionately called Baby Pang, now spends its time foraging around the surrounds of the REST grounds. It is currently being weaned off of human contact and is almost fully prepared for a re-entry into the wild.

So little is known of Cape pangolins and their habits that they need to be carefully monitored in unique situations like the one described above. One of the major successes at REST is their ability to care for pangolins. Usually, pangolins die when kept in captivity but at REST the gentle creatures flourish before being sent back into the wild. Baby Pang is one of two pangolins, world-wide, to survive after being born in captivity. Maria attributes this success to their methods. At REST the emphasis is always on limiting the stress an animal experiences thus increasing its chances of survival. The team at REST also makes every effort to keep these animals as close to their natural habitats as possible.

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During our visit we were allowed to walk with Baby Pang and watch how it forages
in its natural environment.

Zola the Pangolin

While visiting REST we were fortunate enough to observe the arrival of a new Cape pangolin that had been confiscated from black market pet dealers just outside a nearby town. This pangolin (now called Zola) was clearly distressed and disorientated in its new environment. As a result Devries (a game ranger on loan from the neighbouring Okonjima game reserve) and Maria wanted to get her back out into the wild as soon as possible.

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Maria wanted to limit her exposure to humans and thus increase her chances of re-intergrating back into the world of the Cape pangolins. Before this release could be effected a non-instrusive tracker needed to be attached to one of Zola’s scales and we were allowed to document this highly sensitive and rare procedure. 

Namibia, namibia africa, volunteer namibia, volunteer, volunteer work namibia, Pangolin, conservation, namibia tourism,  Devries and Maria tagging the newly arrived pangolin Zola.

It was touching to see the amount of genuine concern and care that was lavished upon this strange and beautiful creature. The radio transmitter was attached with a minimum of stress and Zola was taken inside Maria’s house to recuperate in preparation for her re-release into the wild. When we left REST the next day Zola was notably more relaxed and comfortable. It seemed a fitting end to an experience that was both hopeful and inspiring.

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 When we left Zola was hanging out on an old wine barrel enjoying some afternoon sun.

How You Can Get Involved

The easiest way to help is by giving donations to REST either through websites like Rockethub or through REST’s website itself. Another great way to help out is to volunteer to work at REST. The three volunteers we spent time with: Simon, Thomas and Anna had only compliments and heartfelt commendations when asked about the program.

REST also offers day tours around its facilities and depending on what time of the day you arrive and how long you are willing to stay you may get a chance to see these curious little creatures. Limited accomodation is also available and must be booked in advance. Contact the REST team by email with any enquiries you might have. 

In some parts of the world it may already be too late to save these gentle creatures but in Namibia we are uniquely positioned to lead the charge in the conservation and study of pangolins. The more we understand these animals the easier it will become to protect them from future dangers. 

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As we were leaving Baby Pang decided Maria's head looked like a good place to perch.

Travel with a cause: Volunteer in Namibia

  
  

Ever dream of getting away from it all and truly immersing yourself in another culture, a conservation effort or simply taking the time to give back?

Namibia offers a host of different volunteer programs focused on wildlife conservation, health care, the environment and teaching. Most volunteers commit to a longer time to really get the most out of it. But there are shorter programs available for those of you who are a little hard pressed for time.

Here are just some of the organizations that offer volunteering in Namibia.

 

The Cheetah Conservation Fund

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The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) offers programs to volunteers as working guests, interns and zookeepers. Volunteers cover the costs of training, accommodation and meals. Volunteers and student interns participate in a variety of general tasks and operations of the program, in addition to a focus area. Your focus area will depend on your background, areas of interest and length of stay at CCF. The best qualification for our program is a willingness to help out wherever needed.

For more information click here 

 

N/a’an ku sê

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Photo from naankuse.com

N/a’an ku sê offers wildlife conservation and medical volunteer programs. Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteers provide an important resource in caring for and feeding the animals at the sanctuary. Research Volunteers participate in activities such as tracking leopards and cheetahs, as well as assisting the estate with development. Volunteers will also provide hands on support at the Life Line Clinic providing health care for the San Bushmen community.

For more information click here 

 

Elonga Internships

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Photo from elonga-internship.com

Elonga puts you in touch with local NGO’s, international and (non)governmental organisations as well as to media and other private enterprises and education institutes. Depending on your interests and abilities you can work, for example, at local schools, kindergartens, orphanages, hospitals, clinics, media companies, universities, ngo’s, tourism organisations or take part in engineering and environment projects. To make such an internship or voluntary job possible we offer pleasant and comfortable accomodation in Windhoek, on walking distance from the city centre. Besides, we have 30 years of experience in Namibia, so we can provide you with advice on getting around in Namibia and give you an inside view on the beautiful culture and nature of Namibia; the land of the endless horizons!

For more information click here

 

Penduka Women Project

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Photo from www.penduka.com

Penduka is a non-governmental development organisation working with women in Namibia to improve their social status and help them support their families and improve their communities. Based in Katutura township in Windhoek, Penduka women make beautiful products - from crafting glass beads to embroidering fabric with the stories of their lives. Every year Penduka offers a limited amount of students a placement, either with product design or more general business skills. If you are interested, contact Kauna at Penduka.

For more information click here

 

The Elephant Human Relations Aid

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The Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA) runs an elephant conservation and volunteer project that aims to reduce elephant-human conflict in the southern Kunene region of Namibia. Volunteers construct protection walls around water points and join the EHRA trackers on weeklong elephant patrols. It's a chance to make a real difference to the conservation of Namibia's desert elephants and have an experience you will never forget.

For more information click here

 

Harnas

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Photo from harnas.com

Volunteers at Harnas participate in daily activities such as food preparation, feeding, caretaking, fence patrol, research on rehabilitating animals and animal walks. Harnas gives volunteers the opportunity to make a difference in the animals’ lives, ideally to live a life free of human disturbance. The programmes run for a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of three months. If you are older than 40 or just seeking a more luxurious and relaxed experience, you can join the Harnas Exclusive VolunTourist project which runs for two weeks at a time.

For more information click here

 

Biosphere Expeditions

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Photo courtesy of Travel News Namibia / Venture Publications

Biosphere Expeditions is an international non-profit wildlife volunteer organisation, founded in 1999, that runs conservation expeditions (conservation holidays) for environmental volunteers all across the globe. They offer a 2 week volunteer programme in Namibia, safeguarding big cats, elephants and other species of the African savannah. This expedition will take you to the beautiful Khomas Hochland (highlands) in central Namibia to conduct a survey of elephants and African cats (mainly leopard, but also cheetah and caracal) and their interrelationship with humans and prey animals (such as giraffe, eland, kudu, zebras, etc.).  

For more information click here

 

Some useful information and links

  • These are just some of the great opportunities to volunteer in Namibia. To find more, ask a travel specialist
  • Once you've decided that you're going to volunteer in Namibia, take a look at this handy travel planning check list to get you started
  • Want to find out more about Namibia before you make the decision? Read about our culture, wildlife and geography on our website.
  • Africa volunteer work is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help AND explore. Find out about what else you can do in Namibia by downloading one of our travel planning guides here 
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