The African Wild Dog is a very special animal to see on safari. To answer a common question, wild dogs aren’t domestic dogs, they are an entirely separate species and are in fact Africa’s most endangered carnivore due to human persecution and habitat loss. They number only about 3,000 left in South Africa. Because of their vast home ranges and high dietary requirements, many reserves in South Africa cannot accommodate populations of wild dog. The Kruger National Park is an important stronghold for the species. On lucky days, packs of wild dogs venture into Lion Sands, and when they do, it is never a sight that disappoints.
Highly active and social, wild dogs are endlessly fascinating to watch. The pack is led by a monogamous pair, the alpha male and female. This pair is usually the only one to breed, although beta pairs may mate as well. Socializing and playing is a very important part of their daily ritual. It creates strong bonds and reinforces the hierarchy of the pack. Before every hunt, usually in the morning and evening, the entire pack will come together to play. Because their hunts are highly coordinated, running and jumping on each other beforehand reinforces trust and the pack mentality.
Just a few days ago, we were very fortunate to have a great sighting of a wild dog pack during the morning game drive of Tinga and Narina Lodge. Faces red with blood, they had apparently been feeding just before. As is often the case with wild dogs, they were highly active. Keeping up with the wild dogs is never easy because they effortlessly navigate through thick bush with speed. However, to do so is usually rewarding. The more time spent with the wild dogs, the higher the chance to see them interact and socialize, and also to hunt, which they may do several times a day. On this particular morning, while on the move, the pack actually came across a leopard, which promptly ran up a tree for its own protection. An action packed sighting!
In the afternoon, everyone was excited to follow up and see if the wild dogs were still on the property. However, in the heat of the day the wild dogs usually lay down to rest before becoming active in the cooler hours. As the sun was setting, the wild dogs were spotted again. They were sitting in one of the roads, giving guests a nice opportunity to watch and photograph them while they were still stationary. Though resting, they were still active, licking and nudging one another.
As it cooled, the dogs became more active, beginning their customary social ritual before every hunt. This is one of the most exciting times to see the wild dogs. They began to run around, sniff and play with each other, and vocalize in high-pitched chirps. One by one with the alpha pair in the lead, they moved off into the bush. We followed behind them for a few minutes until prohibited by thick bush, we couldn’t go any further.
As we were turning around, behind us, an impala ram sprinted out from the bush, with one wild dog hot on its heels. In the flash of an instant, the impala and wild dog were both out of sight. Down the road, the dog was successful in making the hunt. When we caught up with the pack again, they were running and jumping on each other, the joy of feeding and reuniting clearly tangible. We saw them attempt one more hunt before the pack finally moved off down the Sabie River into the horizon.
Words and images by Charlotte Arthun