Scientists at USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado have “gone to the dogs." Well, African wild dogs, anyway. Two NWRC scientists recently travelled to Zambia, Africa to assist with research efforts on African lion and African wild dogs. Populations of these two species are having difficulties maintaining their numbers in many areas of southern Africa in the face of encroaching human populations, poaching, over-harvest, and disease. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has listed the African wild dog as “Endangered” and the African lion as “Vulnerable."
The scientists were invited by the Zambian Wildlife Authority, the government agency tasked with management of the species, and the African Wild Dog Conservation Trust (AWDCT) of Australia, a non-profit research, Zambian-registered trust based out of Mfuwe. The scientists, Dr. Mike Dunbar, a wildlife biologist and veterinarian, and Mr. Are Berentsen, a wildlife biologist, were asked to assist because of their unique expertise in wildlife immobilization, radio telemetry, animal disease, and wildlife health, especially at the domestic animal interface. The scientists assisted with the capture and handling, deployment of radio-collars, as well as collection of biological samples from the animals. Mr. Berentsen said, “It was a genuine honor to assist a developing country in the conservation of a critically endangered species such as the African wild dog.”
Little is known about the health of these species in Zambia. The objective of the research is to better understand movements, habitat use, and interaction of these species as well as with the spotted hyena and domestic dogs in nearby villages. By evaluating biological samples, the USDA scientists will determine the health status of the species and their exposure to select disease agents including rabies, distemper, parvovirus and a number of blood and intestinal parasites. In other areas of Africa, it has been postulated that some of these diseases in African wildlife may be the result of their contact with diseased village dogs. Therefore, samples will also be taken from village dogs in order to understand the possible transmission of diseases from domestic dogs. Dr. Dunbar stated, “If this is the case, biologists may be able to break the transmission of diseases to wildlife by focusing on and treating the domestic dogs.”
The scientists returned to Colorado leaving researchers of the AWDCT to continue to capture and collect samples from the animals. After sufficient samples have been collected, under special permits, the samples will be sent to USDA in the U.S. where they will be analyzed and evaluated. Then, recommendations can be made that will assist the government of Zambia in the development of Conservation Management Plans that will result in the benefit of these magnificent, free-ranging wildlife. Dr. Dunbar and Mr. Berentsen will continue to seek funding to return to Africa and continue this important and valuable research on African wildlife.
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