In a challenging age where there is so much demand on us to support causes across so many areas, why should we even consider giving anything to this rather smelly mutt?
A personal message from Nicholas Dyer
Whenever I do a talk, my first challenge is to explain that the painted wolf is not a domestic dog or a wolf, but a genetically unique creature in its own genus called Lycaon. In fact, I go on to explain, it is as close our dogs as I am to a baboon. That doesn’t always get the response I hoped for!
But seriously, the question posed is a sensible one. Why should we care about the painted wolf when there are so many worthy causes demanding our attention and support?
To many of you, this will be a dumb question. I suspect that anyone that has spent time with this incredible creature will share my inherent instinct that we cannot let these guys go extinct.
But let’s delve deeper than this and find some less emotional and gut-felt arguments. Here are five good reasons to offer them support.
1. Massive decline
Let me start with the fact that about a century ago, it is believed that there were around 500,000 painted wolves roaming all over sub-Saharan Africa. Today, only 6,500 remain in a few isolated pockets and still falling – that’s a decline of nearly 99%.
This compares with around 22,000 rhino, 24,000 lion and 450,000 elephant. Numbers should not necessarily determine our focus. But surely the severity of this annihilation should at least give the painted wolf a seat on the top table of conservation.
2. Lack of funding
Their lack of conservation status can perhaps be best illustrated by the meagre amount of funding that painted wolf conservation receives.
Billions of dollars are raised to conserve African wildlife each year. Yet our analysis suggests that the painted wolf receives only around two million dollars a year – across the whole of Africa. These really are just table scraps that those who care have to fight for.
3. History of hate
And while all wildlife has seen worrying declines, we should perhaps remind ourselves of what decimated the painted wolf in the first place. Sure, like all wildlife, this creature has had to endure land loss and increased competition with humans for space.
But unlike other animals, the painted wolf has been purposefully targeted for extermination. It was considered vermin across Africa and the aim was to totally eradicate the species. Rewards were actually given if you killed one and produced its tail as evidence.
This nearly wiped them out completely and maybe, out of a collective guilt for our past actions as humankind, we should offer them special protection now.
4. A growing attraction
But collective guilt is never a great motivator, so perhaps we should ask what are the positive benefits of keeping the painted wolves around.
Well, let’s consider the economic benefit. I spend a lot of time in Africa’s incredible wildlife parks and the painted wolf has become a major drawcard. I am inundated with requests from people wanting me to take them to see these fascinating creatures.
Let’s face it, they are much more exciting than sleeping lions.
The painted wolf has a growing potential to be a main attraction and pull in income into cash strapped national parks. And this is really important if we are to keep these pristine wildernesses alive. So as a tourist attraction they have become a star act.
5. A sound ecosystem
But my main motivator is this. Scientists refer to the painted wolf as an ‘indicator species’. This means that they are so fragile that for them to be present in the ecosystem, conditions need to be almost perfect.
What does perfect mean? It means a good prey base that relies on sustainable vegetation. It means a decent balance of competing predators such as lion and hyena. But perhaps most importantly, it means that local communities tolerate the painted wolves’ presence and get some benefit from living alongside a potentially destructive predator.
So the argument goes that if you achieve this “perfection” for the painted wolf, you have a balanced the local ecosystem. In other words, by implementing conservation measures for the painted wolf, you are also conserving everything else … not only all the wildlife and the trees and the plants, but critically, the communities they live alongside.
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But achieving this is no mean feat. In fact, it is a serious challenge but one that the Painted Wolf Foundation is very much alive to. We have spent a lot of time analysing these challenges and firmly believe we now have a strategy to double their numbers over the next three decades.
Our strategy covers painted wolf populations across the whole of Africa. We understand what needs to be done and know that it will bring benefits to the entire landscape.
What I am asking for is your support and to join our mission because, at the moment, they really are leading the race to extinction, and it is a race they never wanted to enter.
Join us to help secure the future of the painted wolf and deliver all the benefits that they can bring.
Thank you so much for reading this!
Painted Wolf Foundation