The Curious Incident of the (Wild) Dog in The Nighttime

Every morning, before the blistering heat reaches uncomfortable levels, the Ishaqbini Fence Maintenance Team carry out their patrol. The perimeter fence of the 3,000 hectare Hirola Sanctuary needs to be inspected for breaks or damages regularly, to ensure it remains predator-proof. This team carry out their work thoroughly, and have played a huge part in the success of the Sanctuary which now boasts a population of over 100 critically endangered hirola.

The fence team making emergency repairs

The fence team making emergency repairs

For a few weeks in late September, the fence team had seen and heard African wild dogs close to the perimeter. Initially, this was cause for celebration - African wild dogs are endangered, and to have them in the larger Ishaqbini Community Conservancy area would be a great testament to conservation efforts. But on one particular morning, the team found two of the cunning creatures had broken in to the Sanctuary during the night. With one person keeping an eye on the criminal canines, the others got to work trying to mend the fence while they waited for back up.

"They seemed pretty undisturbed by people and were often calling to the rest of the pack [outside the Sanctuary] with a plaintive, bird-like call they make" says Juliet King, technical advisor to NRT, who was in Ishaqbini at the time with NRT's chief conservation officer, Ian Craig.  

This was going to be a challenging operation - the wild dog needed to be moved toward the Sanctuary gate and let out before they got hungry. Hirola aren't known for their expert ability to evade predators, and what's more, there were plenty of young calves around. 

The Ishaqbini Hirola Sanctuary - much of which is thick bush

The Ishaqbini Hirola Sanctuary - much of which is thick bush

The whole conservancy was called in to action, including the chairman. The accountant, who was one of the first to get the message, grabbed the only vehicle around the HQ, and drove at top speed toward the rendezvous point. His eagerness to help dampened slightly by the fact that he was driving the conservancy tractor, with a top speed of 15 kmph. 

Meanwhile, a team of 20 rangers started to coordinate the ground work while Ian got into aerial position in the Supercub. They split into teams of three, but initial attempts to push the dogs towards the gate had the opposite effect, scattering them in the wrong direction. The thick bush prevented the Land Cruser (and the tractor) from following, so the rangers had to track the dogs on foot, following fresh prints. Wild dogs can run incredible distances, for long periods of time, so the ranger's fitness was tested to the limit.

Once they found them, they alerted the vehicles, who came with all the assistance team in tow. Ian made some strategic moves in the airplane, and together they started driving the dogs towards the fence, the accountant and the tractor bringing up the rear. Shouting, engine revving and aerial assaults combined to make a fantastic level of noise, and the dogs were heading in the right direction. Four hours after Operation Wild Dog commenced, the canines trotted through the open fence, probably glad to be rid of the flurry of excitement and the deafening din coming from an exhausted but jubilant team.