Thursday, April 15, 2010

Protecting Wild Dogs in Africa

I always thought I would visit Africa (that constantly thwarted vision of being a wildlife photographer is a big part of that), but haven't made it yet. But one of my friends visited Kenya. She went on several "safaris," where a group of tourists are driven around to spot wildlife. She says she enjoyed the lions and elephants and all of that, but she was nearly drummed out of the vehicle when they spotted African wild dogs and she wanted to stay and watch for longer than anyone else. African wild dogs are not one of the "big three" or "big five" or however you want to count the most desirous species of wildlife to spot. Heck, they're not even on the radar of most visitors. As such, they don't have any perceived value to the locals, and they are often blamed (unfairly) for livestock predation, so their numbers are declining rapidly.
Greg Rasmussen became a zoologist almost by accident (while relearning to walk after crashing a small plane in the African bush), but he specialized in African wild dogs. He's now one of the world's leading specialists on them, and he's determined to save them. His first effort is to rename them as "painted dogs." Their pretty spotting patterns lends itself well to the new name, and it's certainly more intriguing than "African wild dogs," which sort of makes it sound as if they're packs of feral animals.
His second initiative is to work with the local people. He runs the Painted Dog Conservation, a center that provides a refuge for the dogs from poachers and a rehabilitation area for the injured. The center also serveds as a children's camp for school groups, where the kids learn that painted dogs don't attack humans and rarely take livestock (hyenas are usually to blame).
The third strategy is to try and elevate the painted dogs to an exotic species that attracts visitors and generates income for the local villages.
You can sponsor a child to go to camp for $60. I think I will add this to my list of charitable donations.
(Information from New York Times article "Every (Wild) Dog Has Its Day")

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