The Painted Wolf and Me – by Tolga Aktas

I remember it just like it was yesterday. I volunteered with my first Canid species back in May 2016 at a wolf sanctuary in Reading, United Kingdom for a month, after making a career change from Electrical Engineering to Animal Care and Management at college. I had such a great time, and this led me to wonder what other species of animals are contained within this family group.

Two years later I found out and had the opportunity to save up and go to South Africa to work with African wild dogs (Painted Wolves) with an organisation called Wildlife ACT in Kwazulu-Natal, Zululand. I recall back in 2014 trying to save up to go to South Africa by myself and it was such a daunting task, but because I was now studying a degree in Animal Biology, managed to obtain all of the funding needed to fulfil this dream.

I flew out to South Africa July 2018 and stayed out there until August. The role of my position was to volunteer on one of Wildlife ACT’s projects called ‘Volunteer with Endangered Species’ which allowed individuals to work with priority species such as: African wild dogs, Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Rhinos (both black and white) and Vultures (all South African species).

I was so excited, and I was going just for the African wild dogs which seems a little unfair, but I had grown to love them as I continued to research on the species prior to heading over to Africa.

When I arrived at Johannesburg, I had to get another flight to Richard’s Bay which was closer to my project locations. During my four weeks with Wildlife ACT, I would be based at two different game reserves: Somkhanda Private Game Reserve and Manyoni Private Game Reserve. Somkhanda was smaller than Manyoni, but Somkhanda was where I was based first and that is where the magic really happened!

Tolga Aktas

Somkhanda was where I had the opportunity to see my first ever wild pack of African wild dogs and I cannot justify enough how I felt. If I could explain in words, that first moment seeing them made me feel like I saw a god with all its magnificence and glory. It was simply breath-taking, and I couldn’t stop pressing my shutter button on my Canon DSLR to make sure I captured these moments.

My daily tasks were to wake up every morning at 4:45am and leave the camp by 5:30am to head out on our first game drive to monitor the priority species. Luckily for me the monitor, Pippa Orpen, was hugely focused on monitoring the wild dogs which made me extremely happy as I truly came to experience canid conservation the most. However, the other priority species received equal amounts of attention and I grew to appreciate those species too.

It wasn’t even a week in and it was suggested that we may have the opportunity to dart the alpha male of the pack to place a new VHF (very high frequency) radio collar on him. This was a huge deal for me, but I didn’t want to get too excited in the fear of being disappointed.

In order for us to get closer to the wild dog packs, we had to carry out habituation procedures which allowed the wild dogs to get at a close distance towards the vehicle. NOTE: This was done to make the animals become accustomed to the presence of the vehicle so when the opportunity for darting was confirmed then the Wildlife ACT team could call the veterinarian down to the reserve to carry out the darting.

Veterinarians that carry out the darting procedures have to get at a close range to carry out the darting procedure, hence why the habituation process is necessary. Veterinarians are also expensive and restricted on time too, so Wildlife ACT had to make sure that time wasn’t being wasted and the procedure was most efficient which minimises the risk of the animal getting stressed/injured and ensuring the collaring procedure was successful.

The habituation process which was occurring way before I came to the project proved to be successful and the Wildlife ACT team called the veterinarian to carry out the darting procedure. I so happened to be there at the right time as this is something that they do no promise on the project brief, but if it occurs then the volunteers will be as involved as much as they can.

This was the moment where my dream came true to be among the Painted Wolf. I had the opportunity to view them in the wild, conduct a darting procedure and be in close proximity with the species in the right way which makes me extremely happy. As Wildlife ACT say, “REAL AFRICA, REAL CONSERVATION.”

About the Entry

  • Blogger name | Tolga Aktas
  • Site name | Ways of the Natural World
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  • Why should someone visit your site? A lot of us human beings know that we inhabit the planet with wonderful and beautiful wildlife, but many of us do not appreciate it fully. With the human population continuously growing, the demand for space and resources puts a huge burden on our planet which will evidently expect us all. My personal blog illustrates the current issues in wildlife conservation and within the environment, and as a by-product of this all I am able to share my career journey through wildlife biology as I continue to strive for my dream career as a wildlife biologist. My goal is to aspire to inspire every time I publish a post!
  • Entry Number | 2

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