Catching a glimpse of one of Africa’s most endangered predators is a privilege in itself, to spend time with them over a prolonged period of time is a dream come true.
Due to a loss of habitat the African Wild Dog is becoming increasingly threatened. This combined with their extensive home ranges makes it very difficult for them to avoid human settlements which unfortunately results in persecution from farmers and rural populations. So, when these guys pop up in the same area as you it certainly generates some excitement.
I was working as a guide in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. It was October, the rains were starting to build and I had one guests in camp, so the two of us headed out in search of whatever we could find.
It was the final evening of my guests stay and we were following one of the many leopards we had found over his stay, when a call from camp came in over the radio.
“Matt come in for Henry”
“Wild Dogs at the hide”
“message copied. Over”
The safari season began in late May and we were now well into October and this was the first sighting of Wild Dog of the season so without hesitation I spun my land cruiser around and made a beeline back to camp. A few minutes from camp I radioed in to see if they were still around our in-camp water hole and to my despair the message that came back said they had moved off.
I established which direction they had moved off in and decided to loop around behind the camp to see if I could cut them off. After half an hour or so I was beginning to give up hope and turned onto the main access road to camp.
There they were, sitting slap bang in the middle of the road. There were four adults and six youngsters of around six months old. True to Wild Dog form they moved off almost as soon as we spotted them and were lost to the night. Even though I only managed to spend the briefest of time with them I was still over the moon to have laid eyes on the pack.
The next morning, I had assumed that the dogs would be long gone and turned my thoughts to the last game drive before my guest departed for home. Sitting around the camp fire, coffee in hand and the sun just beginning to peer above the horizon I began to map out the route for the mornings drive in my head.
When out of nowhere the mornings serenity was broken by a herd of impala bursting through camp no more than ten meters from where we were sat. With coffee, still in hand we made our way to the cruiser and headed off in the direction of which the impala had come from. After a few minutes, I saw one of the dogs appear of out a thicket covered in blood after feeding on an impala. Followed shortly after the rest of the pack and led us down into a dry river bed where they settled down.
After my guest had left I had no one else to entertain so jumped in my cruiser and headed for the dry river. Word had got around and a few other vehicles were there so I moved off and had a sundowner next to the river. Soaking up the last rays of the African sun before heading back to camp. It wasn’t until the following afternoon that I headed back to the river bed, I had expected the dogs to have moved off by now and as I approached I couldn’t see any other vehicles so I assumed they had gone, but I decided to keep going just to be sure. To my surprise, there they were. The adults laying in the shade cast by the bank of the river and the youngsters were playing in and around a fallen lead wood tree.
They appeared oblivious to my presence so I switched off, pulled out my camera and just watched the magical scene before me. The pups played together running and jumping over and under the fallen log, always under the watchful eye of the adults.
This continued for the next week or so, every afternoon I headed for the river bed and spent the later afternoon right up to nightfall with the pack. Each day the pups got more and more curious venturing up to my vehicle taking a great interest in my tyres and my shoes.
On one afternoon, a warthog made his way down the bank and start to trot along the sand in the direction of the pack. The adults paid the warthog little attention but the pups saw this as a chance to make their first kill and shot off in the direction of the unsuspecting animal. The warthog quickly turned tail and in a cloud of dust, vanished up the bank and away to safety leaving the pups wondering what on earth they did wrong. Skulking back, tail between their legs to gain the reassurance of the adults.
Over the week I spent with them there were many moments like this and I began to recognise the individual personalities of each pack member. Each day I spent with them gave me an insight into these wonderfully complex and social animals. Then on one morning I headed down to the den and found another vehicle there. The Zambian Carnivore program had found the pack, after we had notified them that an un collared pack had moved into the area. They had come in to carry out some research. Due to the endangered status of these animals they like to collar a member of the pack, to track their movements. As my pack had no collared individual within its ranks they had come to tag one of the adults. The Alpha male (the only adult male) was sedated and the rest of the pack were waiting close by watching and wondering what was going on. Bloods were taken and measurements were made. Although I had spent so much time with them, this was the first time I was close enough to touch one of the dogs. As soon as the team had finished their work, the vet administered the antidote and we all moved off.
Within a few minutes the male had come around and made his way back to the rest of the pack. I decided to leave, as I didn’t want to cause any more stress to the animals after an already highly stressful, but hugely important morning.
I returned that afternoon as I had done for the past week but found that the pack had moved on. The disturbance of the morning had clearly unsettled them to a point where they found it necessary to leave, I followed the tracks as best I could for an hour or so but they eventually disappeared.
My pack had gone, but the initial sadness turned to hope as I knew that the information they would now provide to the Zambia Carnivore program could be vital in saving the species from extinction.
As well as hope, I felt a sense of gratitude toward the dogs for allowing me into their lives and those few weeks I spent with them will stay with me, I am sure, for the rest of my life.
Thanks for reading,
Cheers for now
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