A large percentage of Painted dogs are killed every year due to careless and speeding drivers on paved roads that transect protected areas. We have identified driving blind spots in Zimbabwe and high-speed areas. We have erected and posted “Painted Dog - Slow Down” signs to alert drivers and gained support from police to enforce speed limits. Painted dogs are exceptionally social creatures, one of the only species to care for the sick and elderly members of their highly organized packs. If one is killed by a collision with a vehicle, the pack will gather around the lost pack member, putting more of themselves at risk of being hit by another car.
Painted dogs are susceptible to rabies, distemper and parvo-virus. They can contract these diseases from exposure to other wild species and especially unvaccinated domestic dogs, which often wander freely around towns and in to the bush. Because of the highly social nature of Painted dogs, one pack member can easily spread fatal diseases to the entire pack.
Painted dogs are unintended victims of snares that kill wildlife indiscriminately. The snares are placed by poachers that are trying to snare species that would be prey for the Painted dog. As the dogs move through the underbrush to hunt prey, the dogs get caught in the snares. The snare wire typically catches the animal around the neck but can also catch an animal by the leg. Getting caught in a snare can result in the loss of a limb or a life.
Deforestation, land conversion, and habitat fragmentation has restricted Painted dogs’ immense hunting ranges and denning sites. As a result, they are pushed into areas where they come in to conflict with farmers and livestock. The reduced range also brings them in to direct competition with lions and hyaenas, who freely steal the dogs’ kills or kill the dogs themselves.
Persecution by Farmers
Painted dogs are sometimes killed in retaliation for killing livestock or preemptively before they can kill livestock or wild prey on game farms. Dr. Rasmussen conducted a nationwide education campaign to explain to farmers that less than 2% of livestock losses could be attributed to Painted dog predation, while over 50% of losses were attributed to poor management. He advised better livestock and wildlife management techniques to reduce conflict and encouraged non-lethal predator control. As a result, no Painted dogs have been shot in Zimbabwe since 2003 but persecution is still problematic in other range countries.
In the past, prejudiced public perception and ignorance pushed this species close to extinction. In most areas where the species remains, it is managing to just hold on. Tragically, they are persecuted by humans, particularly in southern Africa, where they are still regarded as vermin by ranchers and are often run over by cars, sometimes deliberately. In East Africa, they are seemingly susceptible to epidemic infectious diseases, rabies and parvo-virus, which persist in reservoirs of wild species or domestic dogs. In southern Africa and in the Selous, though disease occurs, the dogs are able to build up sufficient antibodies to so far stop it being catastrophic. This demonstrates that the species has the ability to cope with disease and may not be as susceptible as once thought. However, this does not rule out that certain populations, and particularly those that are environmentally stressed, are not vulnerable. As well as stress, it has also been hypothesised that loss of genetic variability may render painted dogs more vulnerable to diseases and parasites. Vaccination of painted dogs is contentious, as some people believe that stress from intervention may have contributed to the extinction of the Serengeti painted dog population by disease. However, vaccination of domestic dogs living on reserve boundaries would reduce local disease reservoirs and indirectly benefit painted dogs.
In the natural state, the dogs can struggle if lion or hyaena density increases, particularly in open areas where they are more easily detected. Both lions and hyaenas will steal the dog’s hard-earned prey, with lions directly killing dogs if the opportunity arises. Dogs normally hunt for around 3.5 hours per day, but must increase this to 12 hours if they lose 25 percent of their food to kleptoparasitism from other predators, which is a near impossible feat and can rapidly wipe out a pack.
More worrying is the loss of the dogs’ habitat, with its quality shrinking in face of expanding human population, poverty, and a declining prey base caused by poaching with snares that also accidentally kill the dogs. Consequently, these human issues need to be addressed in order for the population to expand into new areas and hold on in others.
As the dogs need vast areas of land on which to hunt and have territories that are not fixed in space over time, these nomads frequently roam out of protected areas where traditionally they have been killed. In Zimbabwe, education, outreach, awareness and community conservation has reversed the decline, resulting in hardly any persecution and a significant increase in the Zimbabwean population. Being so social, maintaining pack numbers is key, for packs are so sensitive to even the loss of a few individuals, and as a consequence small packs easily crash..
As most of the populations are in isolated reserves, the future of the species hinges on prevention of direct persecution, as well as on the management of land that promotes sustainable prey populations. Ultimately, to achieve good conservation for this species and to enable it to survive, the species needs corridors to enable populations to link and provide much better tolerance outside of reserves.