Looking for wild dogs (or painted wolves as they are also known) is no easy task. This was a pack of over 10 dogs, which would inevitably leave a good trail of tracks, however dogs do stray from the beaten path and this makes tracking them rather challenging.
We knew the reward would be worth the risk though, so Ranger Greg Pingo and I set about to look for them early one morning this summer. We tried to predict their movement from the evening before, from where they had last been seen and where we thought they may go. This sent us on a large loop, hoping to intersect some fresh sign of the elusive canids.
Greg found some tracks. This got the excitement levels going and it set us in a much clearer direction, along the banks of the dry Maxabene riverbed.
Nothing was materialising though.
We searched further – a lot further. All the way down to another dry riverbed system and the waterholes closeby.
And no more word from Greg.
I knew he was busy analysing the signs with tracker Equaliser Ndlovu.
The call from Greg finally came. The dogs had changed direction, their tracks were now heading west from where he had last seen them.
We had been searching way off into the south. Not to worry though, at least we knew that they weren’t in the area that we had checked with a fine-toothed comb!
We had now been going for close on two hours and the temperature was reaching close to 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). Our chances of finding the dogs actually moving around were becoming slim. I knew that they could be far off by now, but dedication prevailed. Bennet Mathonsi and Equalizer Ndlovu – determined – decided to skip our shady tea and coffee break and opted to continue on foot; a brave decision in the hot conditions.
All the while, Ranger Nick Sims – who was driving the rest of the party of the guests with us – decided to also make his way into the area to meet us for the end of our break.
“Pete, come in Pete!”… I turned the radio down to enjoy the elephant sighting.
“Pete Thorpe, come in Pete!!” The urgency in Nick’s voice suggested I’d better answer the radio.
“Pete We’ve found the dogs! Come quickly!”
I wondered why I should go quickly, as it was now over 35 Celcius, thus any wild dog in its right mind would be fast asleep in the shade. I obeyed the orders though, trusting my colleague’s judgement.
We were absolutely thrilled! The dogs were still active, playing in and out of a small waterhole. A massive white rhino bull stared on nonchalantly. The dogs too seemed to be completely unfazed by their huge companion in the water. It was amazing to see these two rare animals in such close proximity, cooling off in the water. The rhino eventually lay down, too tired to continue observing from his standing position.
What made the whole morning rather amusing was that between Greg and I, we had driven past that same waterhole three times already, with no animals in sight. Nick – who had been off on the other side of the reserve, looking for something else – happened to bump into the wild dogs and the rhino, by a streak of good fortune. Bennet and Equalizer had put in some hot, hard work, and having directed us around as to where to look, unfortunately didn’t even get to experience the wonderful sighting as they had been following tracks quite far away when we were with the dogs and rhino.
It just goes to show how much distance a pack of wild dogs can cover in a short space of time, and how you never know what’s just around each corner!