“So... Are you ready to come back to Namibia and collar African wild dogs?”
Five years ago I saw them for the first time. African wild dogs that belonged to a free roaming population in North Eastern Namibia. No boundaries, no fences, but also no real protection. These puppies were taken from their den, and their parents most likely didn’t survive the raid. The only reason these pups did, was because people thought they were of monetary value. Unfortunately for them, stealing pups from a den is illegal and the pups were confiscated. I just started working for the Cheetah Conservation Fund, an organization now not only raising orphaned cheetah cubs, but also orphaned African wild dog puppies. More puppies from other litters followed, while many others were killed. Some people didn’t want to kill any animals, they just wanted them gone, and they realized if there were no pups, the adults would leave. And so the fire in my heart to try and help them, their population, the species, was ignited. Before this no one really knew what was going on in the area, so we started talking to the local people, understanding the reasons to retaliate on the dogs like this. Seeing the losses people suffered because of these animals made it clear the only way to help these animals is by helping the people. Everywhere around the world it is the same problem, humans and animals are competing to survive, and the only way to have those endangered species survive is to make sure the people benefit. I joined Nadja le Roux on several occasions, trying to help people with their injured livestock, often injured by predators, not limited to African wild dogs. The dogs however often kill or injure their most valuable animals, they come in a group and they move fast. This gives some people the impression there are thousands of them. And they are after all, some of the most successful predators in Africa. No wonder people fear and therefore absolutely despise them. I ventured out for a rabies vaccination campaign into the area as well, vaccinating around 1300 animals with the CCF teams. Not once did I, nor Nadja, see a single live African wild dog in the area. The more we learned and heard about them, the more passionate we became and so Nadja drove around with a postcard with a photo of a wild dog in her car, and a bottle of champagne for when she would actually see her first wild dog. Every time we would get somewhere people would say “they were right here this morning”. Or they would phone us; “2 hours after you left we saw them right here on the road you drove”. So we just said we were “chasing ghosts”.
So once she called and asked if I was ready, she didn’t have to ask me twice. “Am I ready? Hell yes!”