An injured wild dog in South Africa's Waterberg region was given a second chance at life recently when a group of mountain bikers spotted the canine lying beside the road and reported the sighting to local wildlife authorities. Limpopo Conservation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) teamed up and rushed to the scene to locate and dart the animal.

Wild Dog Vet Bullet Wound Waterberg 2014 08 15
The wild dog was found with a bullet wound to the head. Image: EWT

A bullet wound had left the dog suffering from a severe concussion and a badly damaged ear. With territories that range over great distances, African wild dogs are fighting a constant battle for space, and human-wildlife conflicts often emerge. South Africa's Waterberg region is one of the only places in the country where these predators are able to roam freely outside of protected reserves, so the population here is considered very valuable to the overall survival of the species.

"If we need to save them one at a time, then we will," remarked Kelly Marnewick, Programme Manager for the EWT's Carnivore Conservation Programme.

Wild Dog Vet Treatment Waterberg 2014 08 15
The injured canine was transported to a veterinary practice in Pretoria, South Africa for treatment and surgery to repair the damaged ear. Image: EWT

After treatment and surgery at a nearby veterinary facility, preparations were made to release the rehabbed dog back into the wild. A satellite collar was fitted so wildlife officers could monitor the dog's movements following release, and a dog database was used to ID her pack so wildlife officers knew where she was most likely to meet up with her fellow canines.

The rest of the pack had been spotted at a nearby guest lodge and its conservation-conscious owners were happy to have the rescued dog released on their property.

Derek Van Der Merwe of the EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme describes the release: "As soon as we arrived ... [the wild dog] started hoo calling [a call the animals use for locating each other] as if she knew she was home." 

Possibly still feeling the effects of the drugs administered for her recovery, the wild dog was a little wobbly initially. It took a bit of encouragement from onlookers before she eventually moved off, occasionally looking back at the curious crowd.

Wild Dog Release Lying In Shade Waterberg 2014 08 15
The released dog opted to rest in the shade for a moment before eventually moving off. Image: Kelly Abram, Waterberg Biosphere Reserve

Listed as Endangered on the ICUN's Red List of Threatened Species, there are approximately 450 wild dogs left in South Africa and about 35 live in the Waterberg area. Where no hunting permits have been issued, shooting a wild dog is considered a crime.

Kelly Abram, a conservation biologist at the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, stresses the importance of the area's unique free-roaming wild dog population and expresses concern about their future in the face of hunting and habitat loss.

"They are facing increasing persecution usually from incorrect reputation and information," she explains. "Often portrayed as vicious killers, farmers historically would try to kill them ... [Today], with the increase in rare game breeding that has boomed in the Waterberg in recent years, it is feared that wild dogs will be increasingly targeted and persecuted because of the potential risk they pose to these very expensive game species."

EWT's Kelly Marnewick adds: "The enthusiasm and concern from everyone involved [in this rescue] highlights that there are many landowners out there who appreciate the value of having endangered carnivores on their properties. It is these landowners who truly contribute to conservation and should be saluted."

Wild Dog Release Waterberg 2 2014 08 15
Image: Kelly Abram, Waterberg Biosphere Reserve
Wild Dog After Release Waterberg 2014 08 15
Image: Kelly Abram, Waterberg Biosphere Reserve