On Saturday, 05 November 2022, a full pack of 18 African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) at Liwonde National Park in Malawi were found dead as a result of suspected poisoning from a small waterhole near the Mwalasi River. Sadly, some of these dogs were part of the 14 African wild dogs which were translocated successfully from South Africa and Mozambique to Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve, in an historic project to reintroduce this Endangered species to Malawi in July 2021.

The Liwonde team embarked on an extensive two-day search that emanated from delayed GPS location reports from some of the wild dogs between 02 – 03 November 2022. According to the GPS collar fixes, the dogs were killed and moved sometime in the early morning of Tuesday, 01 November 2022.  Signals from the wild dogs’ collars were detected at various locations within close proximity, including from a hole in a termite mound near a series of burrows, to the Mwalasi River where there were drag marks for about 100m from the dry river bed as well as above the bank of this dry river bed. These collars had been cut off the dogs and thrown down the hole.

Preliminary reports indicate that some of the dogs had died in the river bed and been deliberately dragged away and hidden. The carcasses were all in an advanced stage of decomposition, making identification of the animals challenging.  The large number of maggots found on the carcasses also suggest that the poison the wild dogs were exposed to wasn’t the commonly used Aldicarb (Temik / 2-step).

There appeared to be no missing parts from the dogs which suggests that the poisoner had not intended to kill the dogs. It is likely that the poisoner was targeting birds or small game and upon realizing that the wild dogs had been killed, then decided to hide the carcasses and collars in an attempt to avert detection.

Samples were taken from both waterholes and a small channel from the suspected poisoned waterhole that was dug to drain out all the water; subsequently these were covered with sand. To prevent scavengers from feeding on them, the carcasses were burnt under a pile of dry brush and wood.

The Wild Dog is one of Africa’s most Endangered mammals with approximately 6 600 left in the wild. They continue to face common threats such as snaring, deliberate persecution and disease. Collective conservation efforts, including reintroductions of African wild dogs into feasible, safe, protected areas, are crucial to enabling the African Wild Dog population to grow and thrive.

This is the first poisoning incident recorded in a number of years. It was incredibly unfortunate that the victims were our entire wild dog population which further counters conservation efforts in the Park.

African Parks will continue to provide comprehensive poisoning awareness training as part of basic field ranger as well as other ranger training programmes. Furthermore, this area will be considered top priority for the next ranger deployment cycles to address conservation threats on species and habitat.

African Parks remains committed to fulfilling the mandate entrusted to us by our partner, Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in support of Malawi’s national development strategy to conserve the country’s natural heritage.

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