Not enough has been made about this anomalous pair of Cape Hunting Dogs/Painted Wolves/call them what you will.
Although pack sizes can vary enormously – with over 30 being recorded in some larger groups – double figures is at least the standard we are used to seeing at Londolozi over the years. Whether we’re just lucky or not I don’t know – and it obviously depends on the year and the success rate of that year’s litter -but a pack of just two is just not a common thing. And these aren’t simply dogs that are dispersing.
Wild dogs will leave their natal packs and move to new areas in an effort to form new packs and colonise un-utilised habitat. This aids in gene dispersal between subpopulations and regions. I don’t personally know the history of the two dogs in this particular pack (if anyone does, please let me know in the comments below), but I imagine they are the result of two possible circumstances:
A. They dispersed individually and met up.
B. They are survivors from a bigger pack whose numbers have been whittled away over time.
Whatever the scenario, they are here now, and the female is heavily pregnant. That in itself is huge (as is she!). Wild Dogs nearly always den in the deep winter months, when the savanna here is dry, dens won’t flood, and the area is open, making their hunting-through-stamina methods more streamlined. To have a female liable to give birth at any second at the end of April/early May (she may already have given birth for all we know), is very unusual. I certainly haven’t seen it in my 10 years in the bush.
Without going into too much discussion on the reproductive cycles of African Wild Dogs, I just want to bring attention to the very real possibility that the pair (who are by default the alpha pair of their pack, so good for them) may already be denning somewhere nearby. There may already be tiny pups concealed deep within a burrow in the side of a termite mound.
The two dogs were seen right next to Londolozi’s Tree Camp about a week ago, and tracks of them were found in our central areas a couple of days later, but we have had no sign of them since then.
I won’t even be that upset if they den elsewhere; I’m simply rooting for this most unlikely couple.
If they do meet with breeding success, wherever it may be, it will be (and I hope you forgive me for using this phrase) a true underdog story!