If only every guest that comes through Londolozi could have the privilege of watching African Wild Dogs (AKA painted wolves) roaming their natural habitat.
Unfortunately, they are the rarest large carnivore that occurs in Southern Africa, only second in Africa to the Ethiopian Wolf. This, coupled with the fact that they have massive home ranges, means that sightings are relatively infrequent. Hence the excitement when somebody finds them…
On this particular morning we were in a little dry patch of sightings when the call from veteran ranger, Sandros Sihlangu, came through. We clinched our eyelids together (although as driver I was obliged to keep mine open!) and raced into the rain in order to reach the dogs, realising all too well that they could turn and sprint off Londolozi at a moments notice. Luckily for us they hung around.
And wow, what a spectacle we were treated to! Ten adults and eleven pups, back and forth around the vehicles in a wonderfully playful manner.
We followed the pack as they explored the open grasslands, running in and out of gullies in search of any prey. At one point we had a scrub hare come flying past with about three dogs metres behind its tail! Luckily for the hare it dived into a hole and was able to escape.
Soon after the scrub hare, the dogs were in hot pursuit of a large male warthog. This was risky business, as the warthog had enormous, sharp tusks and outweighed each dog by quite a margin. The warthog did not hang around in the open though, and skidded to a halt, backing into a burrow. Being the inquisitive animals they are, the dogs went and investigated, only to be charged at by the massive swine.
It wasn’t only the warthog that distracted the dogs. They stumbled across a herd of blue wildebeest in their travels. A bit too big for these dogs (although they are regularly hunted by them in other parts of Africa), but an entertaining interaction ensued. I have seen dogs encircle a female wildebeest and her calf before, constantly looking for gaps in the defence, only to eventually fail to make a kill.
The harassing of the wildebeest could only last so long as the dogs were now getting hungrier and thirstier by the minute. They continued trotting along, heading towards a small waterhole that often attracts high numbers of general game. The whole pack climbed into the mud and water, drinking and playing. One or two dogs must have smelt something though as they moved on slightly ahead. At that same moment, a whole stream of about 20-30 white-backed vultures descended over our heads.
We drove around ahead and by the time we positioned the vehicle, the whole pack was devouring the remains of an impala ram. The dogs had found the majority of a carcass on the ground – an easy meal really! We are uncertain as to what may have made the kill, but hypothesise that it may even have been a cheetah as one had been in the area the evening before.
With ten adults and 11 pups, this particular pack of dogs is looking particularly strong and healthy. We are led to believe that this is the pack that was denning just outside of L0ndolozi’s north-western corner earlier this year. It’s great to see how many pups have reached this age (over four months), as we are nearing the impala lambing season in which the dogs will have an ample supply of prey, further increasing the pups’ chances of survival.
Let’s hope they make more regular appearances!