Climate change threatening survival of African wild dogs

20 July 2017 - 11:03 By Dave Chambers
Rising temperatures have cut the endangered African wild dogs’ hunting time‚ and pups’ survival rate is plunging as a result. File photo.
Rising temperatures have cut the endangered African wild dogs’ hunting time‚ and pups’ survival rate is plunging as a result. File photo.
Image: Supplied

Climate change is threatening the survival of African wild dogs.

Rising temperatures have cut the endangered animals’ hunting time‚ and pups’ survival rate is plunging as a result.

The warning‚ by a team of researchers led by Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London‚ comes soon after scientists suggested a “biological annihilation” of wildlife means Earth’s sixth mass extinction is under way.

Woodroffe’s paper‚ published in the Journal of Animal Ecology‚ is one of the first to show the impact of global warming on wildlife thought to be well adapted to heat.

Only 6‚600 African wild dogs survive in the wild‚ and the 1‚400 adults leave their pups in dens when they set off on early morning and late evening hunts‚ avoiding the worst heat of the day.

The scientists found rising temperatures in Kenya‚ Zimbabwe and Botswana cut the time the dogs were active‚ reducing the amount of meat they were able to regurgitate into the mouths’ of their young‚ thereby endangering the survival of pups.

In Botswana‚ the average number of pups that reached their first birthday fell by 35% from 5.1 per litter between 1989-2000 to 3.3 between 2001-2012‚ with temperatures rising 1.1C in the same period. Yearlings fell by 31% in Kenya and 14% in Zimbabwe.

Said Woodroffe: “When people think about climate change affecting wildlife‚ they mostly think about polar bears. But wild dogs are adapted to the heat – surely they’d be fine? So it is shocking and surprising that even right on the equator these effects are being seen. It illustrates the global impact of climate change.”

Projected temperature rises due to global warming were ominous‚ she said. “It’s really scary. It is possible that some of these big areas will become too hot for wild dogs to exist.”

The animals’ energetic lifestyles makes them susceptible to hunger when it is too hot to hunt buck. “Wild dogs live fast and die young‚” said Woodroffe. “They have these huge litters [of up to 14 pups] and then the mortality is quite high.

“If you are an animal who makes your living by running around really fast‚ obviously you are going to get hot. But there are not enough hours in the day any more that are cool enough to do that. This is something which is genuinely suppressing population size.”

South Africa has African wild dogs in the Northern Cape‚ Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal.

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