Painted Wild Dogs of Luangwa Valley

Recent painted wolf – also known as the African wild dog – conservation success in the Luangwa Valley has it estimated to now have the largest population of painted wolves in the whole of Zambia.Despite being one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores, painted wolves in and around the South Luangwa National Park have enjoyed several years of increasing numbers, and there are now estimated to be approximately 350 adults and yearlings living in the Luangwa Valley.

This is largely due to the collaborative efforts of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), and Conservation South Luangwa (CSL). Successfully increasing the painted wolf population in the Luangwa has required joint conservation endeavours to reduce the impacts of snaring, which has had devastating impacts on painted wolves in the past.


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia 

ZCP Ecologist and Graduate student Henry Mwape (L) takes measurements from an immobilized painted wolf with CSL-ZCP vet Dr. Mwamba Sichande as part of the collaborative work with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Conservation South Luangwa. Painted wolves easily moving over hundreds and even thousands of square kilometres of remote Luangwa Valley bush these collars and intensive field efforts have helped keep the painted wolves on the landscape, especially in and around South Luangwa. © Matt Becker

As a result of intense monitoring of approximately 150 to 180 wolves by ground-based field crews, aerial tracking and satellite-GPS collar technology, teams from DNPW, ZCP and CSL have been able to detect and treat snared wolves. The data provided by collared wolves is also used in anti-poaching patrols, which target snare removals in high snaring risk areas for wolves.

“We have seen pretty devastating impacts of snares on wild dogs over the years in the Luangwa,” said CSL CEO Rachel McRobb. “Until recently most of a pack or key individuals like an alpha could suddenly be gone as they get caught in a snare set, and the pack would dissolve.”


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia 

Dr. Mwamba Sichande (L) and Henry Mwape treat a painted wolf snared through the mouth © Fred Watson

While this population increase is encouraging news, the painted wolves still face an uncertain future, particularly outside the areas in the Luangwa where they are not intensively protected.

“Conservation successes are hard to achieve, and we cannot relax, as they can quickly be undone if we are not vigilant,” said ZCP Ecologist Thandiwe Mweetwa. “Nevertheless, we should celebrate this conservation success for Zambia and the region’s wild dogs.”


Wild dog conservation, tracking, South Luangwa, Zambia

© Zambian Carnivore Programme


With multiple safari camps in the South Luangwa National Park, Robin Pope Safaris actively supports the wonderful conservation efforts of the ZCP through a mandatory Conservation Fee levied on every bed night through their South Luangwa camps and by hosting their base camp at Nkwali Camp.

The Robin Pope Safaris guides also play a part in assisting the ZCP teams not only providing the ZCP information when an injured animal is spotted but also help with the man-power when needed.


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia

© Zambian Carnivore Programme


During Robin Pope Safaris’ Carnivore Week in November, guests are given the opportunity to learn about and view carnivores as well as gain some exclusive insights into the ZCP under the guidance of project manager, Dr Matt Becker and his team. Furthermore, guests staying with Robin Pope Safaris in South Luangwa also indirectly help this great cause through the conservation and community funds paid during their stay.

A huge congratulations and thanks to all those involved in this project!


Wild dog conservation, South Luangwa, Zambia

© Zambian Carnivore Programme


Many people refer to painted wolves as wild dogs, a term which is also used around the world to describe domesticated dogs that have gone feral, rather than to refer to indigenous species of the Canidae family (of which the painted wolf is a member). To fully understand this interesting topic, read ‘What’s in a name? Dogs or wolves, painted or wild’

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