East London Zoo plans to cage endangered Wild Dogs for ‘conservation’

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Louzel Lombard Steyn

The troubled East London Zoo’s plans to buy Wild Dogs as soon as a moratorium on purchasing animals at the zoo is lifted are facing criticism from conservationists.

The Zoo is currently undergoing an emergency ‘Turnaround Strategy’ after a global outcry over the horrid conditions in which the animals have been kept. According to Siani Tinley, senior manager of Marine and Zoological Services for the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality (BCMM), the Zoo is busy “upgrading what was the original Wild dog enclosure with the intention to get Wild Dogs”.

The process has been paused “until such time that assessments are complete and it can be justified which animals are to be purchased.”

She says that the Zoo had previously kept wild dogs, but these had to be euthanised due to old age about seven years ago.
Former chair of the East London SPCA Annette Rademeyer says “it would be a very sad day if [the EL Zoo] gets wild dogs again”. The SPCA had confiscated many “animals from the zoo that were in such bad condition they had to be put down”.

Cole du Plessis, National Wild Dog Metapopulation Coordinator for Endangered Wildlife Trust, is also wary and says “If [the EL Zoo] cannot support the animals they currently host, there is no evidence to suggest that they would be competent in supporting a group of Wild Dogs. Wild Dogs thrive in large areas. We usually look at more than 15 000 hectares to host a single pack of Wild Dogs. Zoos usually offer half a hectare.”

The East London Zoo is currently not a member of the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA), after an audit in October 2014 found the facility lacking in terms of Minimum Operational Standards. As a PAAZA non-member, the Zoo will have to buy Wild Dogs as they do not qualify to trade the animals with any other PAAZA certified zoo.
In a bizarre turn of events, following weeks of discussions with BCMM and East London Zoo about the acquisition of Wild Dogs , and after seeing the blueprint for the new Wild Dog enclosure, representatives at a recent standing committee meeting denied any knowledge of the Wild Dog plans to SPCA members present. According to Rademeyer, representatives of the municipality and EL Zoo “are giving selective information to committee members”.

She says it is shocking to know that the Zoo plans to spend money on purchasing Wild Dogs, when there have been massive financial constraints to keep the current animals at the zoo in good condition.

Earlier this year, when horrific condition at the Zoo made headline news, The Daily Dispatch reported that the two elderly brown bears at the Zoo has been underfed severely, getting only half of the calories they are supposed to. The revelation came after Lionel de Lange, CEO of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation Ukraine, visited the zoo upon hearing of the bears’ condition via an online petition.

De Lange told reporters he was shocked by the small size of the bears and that he has never seen such small adult brown bears. “We have cubs that are bigger. The bears we have are about 450kg, which makes them around three times the size of these two,” De Lange told The Daily Dispatch. He has since offered to enlarge the bears’ enclosure using funding from his organisation, which mainly focusses on the rehabilitation of bears which have faced abuse in captivity.
No conservation in captivity

With regards to the Wild Dogs, Tinley says the Zoo is yet to find a seller and won’t be sourcing any animals until the zoo completes its assessments. “We cannot justify purchasing wild dogs at the moment until our process has addressed the need and ability of the facility to accommodate these animals to the point that it contributes effectively to the conservation and education of this species.”

Conservationists say, however, that the captive breeding and keeping of Wild Dogs “is completely null and void for conservation.” This is according to Vincent van der Merwe of the EWT Carnivore Conservation Programme, highlighting that “no plans exist on a national, regional or global scale where captive breeding is a conservation strategy for Wild Dogs. The facility getting dogs would not add any value even to the captive scene, but certainly nothing to the wild conservation of wild dogs.”

Dr Kelly Marnewick, Senior Wildlife Trade Officer for Endangered Wildlife Trust, agrees saying wild dogs kept and bred in captivity for the sake of conservation “does not address any of the threats that Wild Dogs face, which is persecution, habitat loss and fragmentation, diseases and snaring”.

If anything, EWT conservationists say better incentives need to be established to ensure people want to see Wild Dogs in the wild. Keeping Wild Dogs in a zoo would not help their biggest current threat, which is expanding their range in South Africa, Du Plessis and Van der Merwe say.

The African Wild Dog is classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as it has disappeared from much of its original range. There are around 450 Wild Dogs left in South Africa. They are the second most threatened carnivore in Africa after the Ethiopian Wolf.

For more, visit Conservation Action Trust.

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