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African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) are known for their bushy whitetails and large ears. Commonly known as Painted Dogs or Painted Wolves, they hold the hearts of many across the world. As a top-order predator, they require vast expanses of land to roam and hunt. Unfortunately, South Africa is running out of safe space.

Wild Dogs are listed as globally Endangered Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with only an estimated 4000-6000 remaining in the world. They used to range throughout sub-Saharan Africa, however habitat destruction and fragmentation have caused them to become absent from most of their historical range. Persecution and widespread disease have further caused their populations to decline. Now, most Wild Dog populations in southern Africa occur in formally protected areas.

In South Africa, there are less than 450 known dogs, making them South Africa’s rarest carnivore and mammal. Wild Dogs are a protected species in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Act 10 of 2004) and the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations of 2007 (ToPS). Most Wild Dog populations in South Africa occur in protected areas such as the Kruger National Park or are heavily managed in Kwazulu-Natal, as a part of the Wild Dog Metapopulation Project. Free-roaming dogs outside of these formally protected areas are few and far between. The Waterberg Biosphere in the Limpopo Province holds most of these rare, free-roaming Wild Dogs.

The Waterberg Biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of a patchwork of cattle farms, game farms, agricultural lands, private and public nature reserves. The Wild Dogs range into these unprotected lands and face many threats to their well-being. The Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative (WWDI) is a community-based initiative endeavoring to increase safe space available to free-roaming African wild dogs in the Waterberg by working closely with the community to decrease human-wildlife conflict, increase tolerance, and foster a sustainable environment. WWDI works closely with local landowners, stakeholders, and other community and governmental organizations to spread awareness, gain accurate information, educate, and work with community members and landowners to protect and conserve the dogs in the Waterberg Biosphere. It is an organization working for the community and run by the community, unlike anything that has been attempted with the Waterberg Wild Dogs yet. It addresses concerns surrounding the Wild Dogs and works to support local landowners who ultimately host these Dogs by taking steps to mitigate any human-wildlife conflict. WWDI seeks to ensure that the Waterberg Biosphere will always be home to free-roaming African Wild Dogs.


The idea of the Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative was first conceived during a meeting between local stakeholders and the Endangered Wildlife Trust near the end of July 2020. It was decided there needed to be a dedicated community-driven initiative to assist in protecting these wonderful Waterberg Wild Dogs. After all, the dogs live in the Waterberg, so it should be up to Waterberg community members to protect them! Hence, the Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative was formed.

The WWDI forms part of a larger initiative, the Waterberg Development Initiative – an initiative aiming to uplift the community by promoting the development of Safety, Tourism, Health, Skills, Farming, Infrastructure, Business, and Conservation sectors within the Greater Waterberg Region. By promoting conservation, ecotourism ventures in the Waterberg will be boosted, creating jobs, growing the economy, and raising awareness about the biodiversity found in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. Housing free-roaming Wild Dogs in South Africa creates a unique opportunity for Wild Dog ecotourism, and recent successes of ecotourism ventures to denning sites have proven there is a market for it. Continuing to host ecotourism ventures with the Wild Dogs will ultimately benefit both their conservation and uplift the community.

WWDI operates under the non-profit company Waterberg Tourism NPC. It is overseen by a Steering Committee and managed by a full-time Project Coordinator. The Steering Committee is made up of community members that have varying interests and represent key stakeholders in Wild Dog conservation.


Reilly Mooney – Project Coordinator

Reilly has Bachelor’s degrees in Zoology and Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA. She moved to the Waterberg in June 2019 and spent a year tracking, habituating, and collecting data on chacma baboons. She is passionate about protecting and conserving the rare animals that call the Waterberg Biosphere home. She lives in the Rooiberg community of the Waterberg.

Current committee members include:

Mike Embleton of the TOOG Area

André Burger of Welgevonden Game Reserve

Derek van der Merwe of the Endangered Wildlife Trust

Reinhard Heuser of Nyati Wilderness

Peet Hennig of Tswana Lodge

Hermann Müller of Lapalala Wilderness


As a community-driven, grassroots initiative, WWDI relies heavily on the support and generosity from those with conservation values in their hearts. To support the initiative, please donate through our donation channels above. Your donations help secure the future of free-roaming African wild dogs in the Waterberg.


To get involved with the initiative or for any other queries, please contact the Project Coordinator at waterbergwilddoginitiative@gmail.com.

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