Feeding ecology and carrying capacity of a reintroduced pack of African wild dogs in a relatively small, fenced reserve.
Reintroduction has been used successfully as a tool to restore declining populations of many threatened species. However, the lack of detailed evaluations of past reintroduction attempts has hindered a priori planning of management actions to achieve conservation goals. The metapopulation approach resulted in the most extensive and successful reintroduction efforts of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) in South Africa, but the approach was only recently evaluated by Gusset et al. (2008). For future reintroduction attempts to be successful on relatively small reserves, extensive evaluations are needed. Particular focus on feeding behaviour and impact on prey populations is essential to predict sustainability and carrying capacities in these areas for the African wild dog. A small reintroduced population of African wild dogs (pack number varying from 3 to 13 during the study period) were studied in the Karongwe Game reserve (79 km2) between January 2002 and January 2004. Fourteen prey species were identified: impala (Aepyceros melampus, 60 %) was the most dominant prey followed in descending order by bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus, 7.4 %), waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus, 4.9 %), warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus, 4.7 %), kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros, 4.4 %), and grey duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia, 4.4 %). Generally, prey were included in the diet in relation to abundance, and the dogs were not rate maximizing foragers but, unlike the findings of previous studies, were opportunistic feeders. The fences and angles in the fence, were used to assist hunting, but only for medium sized prey, impala and bushbuck, which were killed significantly more than expected along the fence line. A predictive prey preference model was then tested, but the model did not account for possible differences in feeding behaviours and prey preferences found in this, nor another study from the small Shambala Game Reserve. The model had limited accuracy as a predictive tool for proposed reintroductions into relatively small reserves. Models which can predict carrying capacity and minimum area requirements were also tested. Large variation and low numbers were predicted, which conflicted with social requirements needed for the survival of the population; further the models did not account for interspecific competition nor simultaneous depletion of prey by other guild predator. If the metapopulation approach is to continue to be successful and sustainable, more detailed evaluations of reintroductions of African wild dog on relatively small, fenced reserves are needed to determine the impact of these dogs on prey populations, and to determine if African wild dog feeding behaviour does differ for these areas in comparison to previously described open systems. With this information, more appropriate protocols regarding reintroduction and management can then be developed, thereby meeting one goal of management and conservation for the African wild dogs and their coexisting prey populations, and which can be used as a model for managing other large predators.