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African wild dogs have been flown into Mozambique in an attempt to restore the animals in the country after they were wiped out during the civil war.
The move is part of a £30 million project funded by Gregg Carr, an American philanthropist, to return the Gorongosa National Park, known as “Africa’s lost Eden”, to its former glory.
Mozambique was once teeming with animals but fighting that followed the end of Portuguese colonial rule in 1975 killed up to one million people and obliterated wildlife. The wild dogs were annihilated and giraffe and elephant populations fell by 90 per cent.
Even after the peace deal was signed in 1992 Mozambique has struggled to protect its wildlife. In 2013 the country’s last rhinos were killed by poachers. Conservationists hope to undo the damage and restore Gorongosa to its heyday of the 1960s and 1970s when it attracted celebrity visitors including John Wayne and Gregory Peck.
The pack of wild dogs, eight males and six females, were sedated and airlifted from South Africa. They were kept in an enclosure for a few days to acclimatise before being released into the 1,570 sq mile park. The project can already claim an early success: one of the females is pregnant and rangers say she is seeking a safe spot to give birth.
There are signs that other wildlife is also returning. Hippos and crocodiles have been spotted in the park and a 2016 survey found nearly 60 lions, double the number of a few years before. A recent aerial census counted 500 elephants.
Reintroducing the tawny dogs with their distinctive big ears is not, however, without challenges. Carnivores can upset fragile ecosystems and come into conflict with farmers if they hunt livestock.
Students at Gorongosa were given the opportunity to name the wild dogs. Among the names selected were Ndarassica and Ndapiona, meaning “I am lost” and “I am found” in the Sena language.
African wild dogs are one of the continent’s most endangered carnivores and fewer than 5,000 are left in the wild.