The oldest known African Wild Dog on record, affectionately named Albie, passed away recently.
Her death was most likely due to old age says Jo Taylor, a carnivore ecologist, scientist, field ecology technician and digital media manager at Karingani Game Reserve.
The African Wildlife Foundation explains that “the wild dog, sometimes called the hunting dog or African painted dog, has a colourful, patchy coat; large bat-like ears; and a bushy tail with a white tip that may serve as a flag to keep the pack in contact while hunting.
No two wild dogs are marked exactly the same, making it easy to identify individuals.”
On a Facebook post, Taylor said that although the monitoring team had seen the pack quite often over the past few months, they have not had a single sighting of Albie with the pack.
“In mid-December," Taylor continued, “I went up in the helicopter to locate the pack to see if Albie had been keeping her distance at sightings. We found the entire pack, but no Albie.
Read the latest Simply Green digital magazine below
“I did a scan from the air for her collar frequency, unfortunately, there was no signal. At her age, she would not have left the pack, as she would more than likely not have been able to survive on her own.
“The most plausible explanation for her no longer being with the pack is that this old girl has passed away. And now Nonisa, the beta female has taken over as the pack's alpha female.”
According to Taylor, Albie was the oldest known recorded African wild dog in the wild. Born in 2010 at the Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa, Albie had eventually worked her way up in rank to alpha female.
“When I was working at Tembe in 2017, I would often capture the wild dogs on my camera trap and at the time, having never seen a wild dog before always kept an eye out searching for them as I went about my work.
“I will never forget the day when I first saw them. I was driving with a scout to one of my walk-in camera trap sites and slowed down to watch some giraffes, as I drove around the next bend there they were!
“Albie and the entire pack were laying in the middle of the road resting. I snapped a few terrible and very blurry pictures as the pack got up and moved off into the bush, but I instantly fell in love, they were the most beautiful predators that I had ever seen!” said Taylor.
A dramatic and political history followed the pack at Tembe, conflicts and infighting ensued which led to the pack needing to be removed from the park and placed in a boma until an agreement could be made as to what the next step would be.
Taylor, who was requested to assist with the relocation operation, recalled her first day, “I was lucky that the reserve ecologist invited me to be a part of the capture and move.
“Albie was the first-ever wild dog that I got a touch and help collar. Those dogs inspired me to start moving my passions more towards canids over big cats which led me on a path to working on wild dog conservation and becoming a member of the Wild Dog Advisory Group.”
Classified as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an estimated 6 600 wild dogs are remaining in the wild.
They are similar in size to a Labrador retriever, reaching up to a metre in length and weighing in at around 18kg–36kg. Wild dogs usually live between 10–12 years old.
A decision was made to move the pack from Tembe with Albie and her female offspring chosen to re-establish the wild dog population within a new protected area in Mozambique which, at the time, did not have any existing wild dogs.
“Albie, along with 12 other dogs were driven across the border into Mozambique and released into Karingani Game Reserve. During their stay in the Karingani boma while they acclimatised to their new home, Albie birthed a litter of puppies - the first-ever wild dogs to be born at Karingani,” said Taylor.
During her lifetime, Albie has contributed significantly to the conservation of these highly endangered animals and her daughters continue that contribution as pioneers, helping to re-establish wild dogs back into Malawi. She will live on in her legacy and her offspring.