Wild dogs impacted by domestic dog illness

Image source Burrard-Lucas Photography

Wild dogs are one of the hardest species of the savannah ecosystem to protect. This is because they live at low densities. They have been exterminated by humans in the misguided belief that wild dogs were killing more of their domestic livestock than other predators and they are highly impacted by illnesses that they can get on the rare occasions they have contact with domestic dogs. The last of these is a particular problem as because wild dogs are highly sociable, when an illness enters a wild dog population it can rapidly spread throughout

One of the most well-known and terrifying examples of this is the eradication of the wild dogs with in the Serengeti ecosystem. In 1995 canine distemper entered the wild dog population of the Serengeti comma and by the end of the year there were no known wild dogs left with in the Serengeti. Thankfully, although no wild dogs were left with in the Serengeti, the Serengeti is actually linked to a number of other protected areas, and the wild dog managed to cling on in one of these. As the situation has improved in the surrounding area with the domestic dogs’ health, helped in large part by wildlife charities who noticed that the domestic dogs were passing on illnesses to the wildlife, wild dogs have started to reappear in the Serengeti.

There is a long way to go before this population has fully recovered. Indeed, before they disappeared, people talked of watching packs of wild dog numbering greater than 50 chasing the huge migrating herds of wildebeest across the plains, and it is a long way back to this position. It is unfortunate that, while it has not yet happened, other national parks are in a position where a similar impact could be felt. In particular, when I spent time on the edge of Kruger National Park, it was not unusual for us to come across dog tracks. It was clear that these were from domestic dogs. We knew, however, that there were also wild dogs in the area and it is highly unlikely that they had had no contact with one another- this is precisely the situation that led to the eradication of the wild dog with in the Serengeti.

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