A couple of years ago on South African television there was a motor vehicle advertisement in which a gentleman said: “A leopard cannot change its spots, but a wild dog can change the world”.
This specific line, however true or false it might be, has been ingrained in my memory ever since. The African Wild Dog is the second most endangered mammal species in South Africa. In the entire greater Kruger area (of which Londolozi is a part) there are only about 250-300 Wild Dogs. Some say even fewer than that. To give you a comparison, the most recent census concluded that the area hosts upwards of 1300 leopards! This gives one an idea as to how few wild dogs there actually are and what a blessing it is to sometimes be in the presence of what I regard to be the most successful hunters on this planet.

While on the hunting topic, and comparing leopards and wild dogs, we are looking at between a 20-30% success rate for the spotted cat and a 70-80% success rate for the canids. There’s really no comparison!
Their persistence and astonishing teamwork make them a nemesis to all antelope species at Londolozi up to the size of Blue Wildebeest. Wild dogs are the exception to the rule in almost every aspect of their existence. When any other predator tries to hunt and is seen, an alarm call is given by the prey species to announce the presence of that predator. When wild dogs are seen, the air is filled with a certain eerie quietness, almost as if the inevitable is about to happen. The prey species will freeze and hope that they are either missed because of their camouflage or that the wild dogs have set their sights on another hapless antelope. If they realize this is not the case, the prey will save their breath and not alarm, choosing instead to simply flee for their lives. Wild dogs are stamina hunters that run their prey to a standstill, so an alarm call to tell the dogs that they have been spotted is simply wasted oxygen.

Wild dogs are quite small, but in a pack they can pack a punch. I have personally seen wild dogs hunting and killing a buffalo cow! This is a feat that even lions can’t achieve on a regular basis.
To find wild dogs is high on the priority list of the most avid naturalist and visitor to Londolozi and a couple of days ago the dreams of some of our guests were fulfilled.

Dog Lie

Generally very wary of the danger of crocodiles in water bodies, it surprised us that the dogs lay this close to the pool. They seemed more interested in their own reflections than anything else though… Photograph by James Tyrrell

Excitement was running riot at the lodge; wild dogs had been found on the morning drive. Knowing that wild dogs are definitely not a sighting we get the pleasure of every day, I knew exactly what I was going to plan for the afternoon drive.
It has been tremendously hot at Londolozi in the past few weeks; for this day though, the heat was a blessing in disguise. Wild dogs, like most other mammals, don’t want to be exposed to the fiery African sun for prolonged periods and on the day in question they had gone to seek shade in the southern parts of the reserve. We left the lodge quite early in the afternoon, anticipation bubbling. James Tyrrell, one of the other guides, wasn’t far behind. We drove into the area where the wild dog pack had been found in the morning… we focused on all the obvious places such as shade, waterholes and longer grasses. It wasn’t long until we heard that the wild dogs were found close to a waterhole in a shady area, resting out of the sun’s rays. When we arrived I told the guests on the vehicle that we needed patience because this was going to be a waiting game. The dogs did not look particularly well fed, so we were confident that as soon as it cooled off enough, they would go on the hunt once more.
As the sun started to drop, increased movement in the pack became evident. The dogs started grooming, yawning and showing general signs that they are preparing to get active. When I say move, I mean move! Wild dogs can ran at about 65 km/h, even maintaing slighly slower speeds of about 55km/h for up to 5 km! This is absolutely unheard of in any other African predator.

Dog Drink

A quick drink before setting out on the hunt. Image by James Tyrrell

The pack got up, had a drink of water and without hesitation, they were off on the hunt! This is when all hell broke loose! Nyalas, bushbuck and impalas scattered out of the bushes, all trying to avoid the knock on death’s door. We tried to follow the hunters but to no avail; the bush was simply too thick. Euce, the tracker I work with, cleverly said I should switch off the engine and just listen. It wasn’t a couple of seconds before we heard them and the chase was back on. We careered through the bush and found the pack finishing off an impala that they had killed probably less than a minute before. We sat and watched in awe. Their effectiveness, proficiency and hunting abilities left everyone dumbstruck. And then, just as they had gotten up to hunt, they went back to the water to quench their thirst and blessed us with the opportunity to photograph them in perfect light. It simply can’t get better!

Back to the quote at the start of the blog: In my mind the quote applies directly to how the wild dog can influence the health of an ecosystem. In the Greater Kruger area, impala are by far the most abundant antelope. They are hunted by most of the larger predators such as the lion, leopard and cheetah. However, the impala is the favoured prey species of the wild dog. The wild dog is the only animal in this area that could have a direct influence on the number of impala and thereby actually help conserve not only impalas, but also other species of antelope. If the numbers of impala climb too dramatically it could have a detrimental effect on the other species relying on the same food sources. Leopards and lions pick off an impala here and there. One pack of wild dog could potentially successfully hunt 1000 impalas a year.
Wild dogs are my favourite animal at Londolozi and my fascination with these animals develops every day. Someone once told me that watching wild dogs is like going to a casino and hitting the jackpot. If you do it once, you are hooked! You will always take the chance to return because you just never know what might happen…

Filed under Featured Wildlife

About the Author

Werner Breedt

Field Guide

Werner came to Londolozi already well versed in the ways of the bush, having guided at Rock Fig lodge to the north of us. Although his Afrikaans accent can be difficult to understand at times, as is his continued support of the Blue ...

More stories by Werner


on On The Hunt With Wild Dogs
    Ian Hall says:

    Saw my first successful Wild Dog hunt on my last day at Londolozi- one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Excellent driving by Simon Smit that day.

    Frances says:

    Definitely my favourites too! Their whole (pack) lifestyle has to be admired – working, hunting, looking after the pups …. just amazing.

    Werner says:

    Hi Frances. That is exactly why they are so successful. If we can take a page out of their books and just work together we would also be able to achieve their success

    Werner says:

    Hi Ian! Yes! It is unbelievable to witness, and a sighting we should always feel very fortunate to be part of. Simon will be particularly thrilled as this is the first time he has been called an excellent driver! 😉

    David Bourceraud says:

    Hi Werner ! Very interesting post (as usual) !!! Always a great moment to see the dogs. I will always remember April last year for a memorable sighting with you. We have also seen a lonely wild dog with Greg last November. I keep the fingers crossed for the next stay this Winter and hope to see you. Keep well !

    Richard Allan says:

    Finally got to see first wild dogs at Londolozi in Aug 2014 with Don H and Judas at a den site, interacting with a passing elephant herd and a couple of days later catching a warthog right by the vehice. Great guiding / tracking and hooked on the thrill of wild dogs hunting since.
    Have since seen a pack chasing kudu and hartebeest in the Kalhari, taking down a female kudu – wow!

    Werner says:

    Good morning Richard! I am sure Don gave you some great tips regarding photography! Go check out his most recent photographic journal! Unbelievable. Watching wild dogs hunt, to me, is the best sighting one can ever have! Glad you enjoyed it and hope to see you back soon

    Wolfgang & Gabi says:

    Hi Werner, yes this was indeed one of our best wildlife sightings ever. To stay the whole afternoon with the dogs and watch how the scene developed until they started for the kill was awesome. Thanks again!

    Werner says:

    Wolfgang and Gabi! No problem whatsoever. I hope the memories last a lifetime!

    Frances says:

    We haven’t been fortunate enough to visit Londolozi but I’m really enjoying the daily Blogs. Our wild dog sightings have been over in Madikwe Game Reserve, on the Botswana border, where they have two packs – one pack this year with ten pups. Long live the painted wolves!

    Werner says:

    I am really glad you enjoy the blogs Frances! I have heard that the wild dogs in Madikwe are doing really well! This is excellent news because the more we can protect these animals, the more the future generation can enjoy them just as much as we have! I hope you can make it to Londolozi on of these days!

    Andrew says:

    “Turn off the engine and listen” Smart move, that.

    Werner says:

    Agreed Andrew. Its surprising how much one can miss with the engines noise in the background

    MJ says:

    Indeed, Wild Dogs are amazing, I was fortunate enough to go crashing through the bush and caught up to them after the kill but seconds from it disappearing into their bellies.. What a rush that is to go after these magnificent creatures. We also see them on the Safari Drive quite often and have followed them on hunts successful and not. They are amazing to watch how they surround the prey and run it to ground. It was one of my favorite sightings on that Safari.

    Werner says:

    Efficiency! This is the perfect description for these painted wolves. They do not waste any unnecessary energy and every single pack member knows what is expected of him/her! The are just magnificent

    Werner says:

    Hi David! I remember it like yesterday! When the dogs ran around the vehicle in the rain! Was a great sighting! Hope you are keeping well and see you soon!

    Jan says:

    I love the way you are sometimes putting a video up as an intro to your piece. It is wonderful to open the email and see wild dogs or elephants etc moving. It feels as though I am on the vehicle.

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