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iWild: For more see iWild.org

Better Than Beckham

The highly-unusual African Wild Dog, Today’s Endangered All-Star, hunts so cunningly and cooperatively that it is featured on a Botswana stamp in honor of the 2010 World Cup, standing on a soccer ball. Once covering most of sub-Saharan Africa in numbers that may have reached a half million, the Wild Dog is endangered, reduced to 3,000-5,000. Driven out of West Africa, the species now survives mainly in southern Africa, with strong populations in the Okavango Delta, the vast wetland that expands during the rainy season each year, exploding into a spectacular wildlife haven. While a medium-sized predator, the Wild Dog frequently takes prey far larger than itself, spooking herds of Cape Buffalo, Zebra, or large antelope, chasing and surrounding its prey, and then leaping to grab the lip and tail of the unfortunate victim. The Wild Dog has long been feared and persecuted by farmers, so in 1989, researchers launched the Botswana Wild Dog Research Project to study its biology and behavior. Now focussing on the entire guild of predators in the region and renamed the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, the group monitors populations, interactions between species, social behavior, and habitat use in one of the longest-running studies on the continent. Among many fascinating projects sponsored by BPCT, the BioBoundary Project is aimed at “cracking the territorial chemical code,” the social messages left by the scent-marking of Wild Dogs. With a better understanding of these powerful chemicals, researchers might one day use scent-marks to keep Wild Dogs safely distant from people and livestock. Wild Dogs may well benefit from a major international conservation effort: the creation of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, the largest proposed protected area in the world. Around the size of Italy, the KAZA TFCA shows signs of improving communication between wildlife agencies and communities and promises to open up migratory pathways for Botswana’s overpopulation of elephant, trapped behind veterinary fences. Launched by the Peace Parks Foundation and the five countries involved—Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—KAZA is described in Caroline Fraser’s Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution. If you’re traveling to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, why not plan a side trip to see neighboring Botswana’s incredible people and wildlife? To get yourself in the mood, have a listen to the strangely birdlike chirpings of the Wild Dog at BBC’s Wildlife Finder or watch the extraordinary footage of Wild Dogs running down impala in BBC’s Planet Earth. It’s better than Beckham.
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