Guest Blog - Jon Bryant

Stacking the odds in your favour: The search for wild dogs

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Guest Leave a Comment

I have been following the Wild Eye teams adventures via various social media platforms.

One post that stood out for me recently was from Marlon on Instagram. It was a video he’d posted of his guest David Marshak who had his first Wild Dog sighting and had realised a 7 year ambition across 6 safaris to find and photograph the African Wild Dog.

DOG

When I watched the video I was smiling. Only last year I was so fortunate to have a very similar experience to David. So I knew exactly how he was feeling!

This got me thinking.

How was it that’d I’d been fortunate to see Wild Dogs on only my 3rd Safari in 12 months?  Dave had waited 7 years and he’d been on 6 safaris.  So how did I get so lucky?

After thinking about it, I realised that it all comes down to stacking the odds in your favour. There are no guarantees when you go on Safari. None. At the end of the day if you want to see a specific animal there are 3 main variables:

  • The game reserve you choose
  • Your field/photographic guides skill and ability
  • Luck

Yes, luck plays a part, you need to be in the right place at the right time. But if you do your home work in choosing the right game reserve, and by working with the field or photographic guide ahead of time, you will be increasing your chances of seeing and photographing your animal (or animals) of choice. When going on safari, I think it is important to temper your expectations, and also take nothing for granted. Every sighting is unique. Every animal is special in its own way.

My first safari experience was in Sabi Sands. I was very very fortunate to have an abundance of big 5 sightings, big cat sightings, lots of leopards and cheetah. It was amazing. I knew that I was one very lucky safari goer. To go on one morning drive and see the big 5 in the space of 3 hours is a phenomenal gift.

One thing I had not seen in Sabi Sands was African Wild Dogs. After viewing images of them online, I knew this was one animal I had to experience. So after returning from Sabi Sands I started to do my homework and was told by reliable sources “If you want to see Wild Dogs, then Madikwe is the place to go”.

Guest Blog - Jon Bryant

Mission Madikwe: In search of these incredible Wild Dogs.

Six months later I was on a flight out to Madikwe for a 6 day safari. Some people may say that 6 days is too long to be on Safari. But for me, I wanted to give myself every chance to see Wild Dogs, so going for 6 days instead of 4 or 5 was just stretching things a little further in my favour and I will come back to that point in a moment.

When I arrived at the lodge the field guide asked me THE question “Are you interested in seeing anything in particular?”. Generally I don’t like answering this question because I feel it tempts fate. However, I couldn’t contain myself because I was really excited to be back in a game reserve. And that game reserve I had chosen specifically for a reason! “I’m here in Madikwe to see wild dogs” I replied!

We then set off on drive every morning and afternoon for 5 days.

The result?

Not one sighting of a Wild Dog. On the evening of the fifth day I had resigned myself that it wasn’t to be. I was slightly down heartened but it had been an incredible experience in Madikwe.

The next morning, on day 6, we were up at 5am and on drive at 5.30am. We headed out on our last drive before our transfer back to Johannesburg. After some general game sightings, word came on the radio that Wild Dogs had been sighted. I was overjoyed. However, my excitement had to be tempered as we were on standby. We had to hang back and wait and I can’t tell you how nervous I was at that point having to wait!

There was an added complication.

The pack of Wild Dogs had been split and the majority of them were not in the Madikwe reserve but across the boundary on private land within the Morukuru territory. Word had come via the radio that they had taken down an Impala, but were not feeding yet as the pack had split.

Guest Blog - Jon Bryant

Found them: We spotted 2 alphas, this one was frantically looking around for the rest of the pack.

It was then, whilst on standby, we located the 2 Alpha Males on the Madikwe side. They were trying to locate the rest of the pack to start the feed, but they were very far from the pack. I had no idea what to expect at all. What followed was a master class in Wild Dog behaviour and cooperation.

The pack of wild dogs crossed the river from Morukuru to Madikwe where the Impala carcass was lying.

The 2 Alphas set off running to locate the pack, and we followed. They regrouped at the water crossing between Madikwe and Morukuru, and started calling for the rest of the pack. The pack, from nowhere, came sprinting across the river.

Guest Blog - Jon Bryant

This happened at such a phenomenal speed. I did not know, that Wild Dogs cannot devour their prey on their own like other predators, for example big cats. Wild Dogs have to systematically cooperate as a pack on their kills. I learnt this in the next 30 seconds, when the pack descended on the carcass, splitting it into many pieces before the dogs then tried to find their own small space to feed without any intrusion!

Guest Blog - Jon Bryant

The wild dogs started the distribution of their kill. A complex hierarchy in play, but every dog got something to eat.

Whilst the dogs were feeding I was able to pick my shots. This gave me a much better insight into this quiet complex pack animal and the cooperation and hierarchy at work. It also taught me a lot about anticipating their behaviour. I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience in Madikwe came in very useful in future safaris where I was very lucky to witness Wild Dogs on a kill again. What I learnt in Madikwe was how Wild Dogs behave and I knew what to expect. I was much better prepared to anticipate my images. What I had witnessed that day in Madikwe was truly phenomenal.

Guest Blog - Jon Bryant

One of the important aspects of wildlife photography is never to take a sighting for granted. At that time I knew I had made the right choices. I had chosen Madikwe. I had opted to stay for 6 days and on my very last drive of my last day I’d witnessed Wild Dogs on a kill. If I had stayed 4 or 5 days I would have been out of luck. I had stacked the odds in my favour and the game, thankfully delivered.

I was one very lucky photographer that day, and I remember driving out of the reserve back to Johannesburg wondering if that might just be the only time I get to see and photography wild dogs.

Thankfully it hasn’t been and I have seen Wild Dogs since then. But that first sighting in Madikwe was a very special moment, one I will always remember.

Jon Bryant

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Jon BryantAbout the Author:  Whilst I have been taking photographs for many years, it is only in the last 2 years that I moved into wildlife photography and it has quickly become a passion of mine. I have been fortunate in the last two years to dedicate time on wildlife photography in Southern Africa, which combines with my love of travel. I am also passionate about sharing my experiences and learnings in the hope that I can inspire others to move into this challenging and rewarding genre.

 

 

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