Every year as winter slowly rolls in, everyone gets excited for something that the change in season brings about. For some it’s the change in temperature as we move from hot summer days and t-shirts to icy cold mornings and big winter jackets. Others look forward to the grass getting shorter and the bush thinning out a bit which makes tracking and finding animals a little bit easier.
These things are pretty much a given for each winter but as we move closer to the dry season this year the thing that I’m most looking forward to is not; it’s more of a bucket list wish.
It’s a wild dog den.
I have never seen Wild Dog pups at a den site and a sighting the other day of a pack of adults got me very excited at the prospect.
We had dedicated the afternoon’s game drive to searching for Wild Dogs after receiving a couple of reports that a pack had been found that morning in the western parts of our reserve. We knew there was a chance that they could have moved off because of the nature of these incredibly active and enthusiastic animals and we also knew that their home range in these parts can cover hundreds of square kilometres, which makes looking for them sometimes feel like a needle in the haystack search. Fortunately for us they were found very close to where they had been left in the morning and when we got there they were still resting.
We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon with them and our decision paid off handsomely. After an hour or so one dog got up and approached another individual in the group and started the characteristic high pitched whimpering sound that they make when they start to get active. We noticed quite a bit of blood on the neck of the first male and assumed they had made a kill recently. We very quickly realized that this was not necessarily the case because the male suddenly started making what can only be described as amorous advances towards the female.
The whole pack sprang into action and tore off into the nearby clearing. It was chaos and and at first glance it seemed like every wild dog was attacking each other and biting each other’s neck. This was not the case and upon closer inspection it looked like it was just the males in involved in the fighting. It was rather brutal to witness one male get pinned down by the others in the group and get bitten from all angles.
We all sat in stunned silence for the majority of the sighting until we worked out what was actually going on. It seemed as if the male wild dogs in the pack were competing for the attention of what was presumably the alpha female. One of them did find success as we observed him mating with her on several occasions while the rest were distracted. Usually there is an alpha male in the pack who attracts the alpha female’s attention and we assumed this must be him despite all the competition from the other testosterone-fuelled males.
Now after witnessing them mating I started to sum up what we know about Wild Dogs and immediately started imagining the fantasy timeline that I wanted to see play out:
Wild Dogs usually den in the months of May and June. The gestation period of a Wild Dog is between 70-74 days. Therefore, in just over 2 months time Wild Dogs will be denning on Londolozi and I will get to see their puppies.
This may be wishful thinking because the reality is that this pack of Wild Dogs could den anywhere in the greater region that they call home. Nevertheless, I am going to keep on picturing a cold winter’s morning in the north, maybe even the south, of Londolozi about two months from now, as a pack of Wild Dogs return to a known termite mound back to the Alpha female and her litter of 12 pups. They will be greeted by high pitched whimpering and begging before they regurgitate food for the little ones. I will turn around to my guests with the biggest smile on my face, not needing to say anything…