We’ve touched on this momentous event far more on some of our other social media channels, but feel we can’t go on enough about how excited we are to have wild dogs denning on Londolozi for the first time since 2010.
The pack of two dogs and three ears are denning a litter of 10 pups in central Londolozi, and although it’s easy to say this in retrospect, it was almost as if for the preceding weeks, we knew it was going to happen.
Sightings of the pair had been infrequent, and then suddenly dried up.
We held our collective breaths, waiting for the announcement from some neighbouring reserve that they had discovered a den, as has happened every year for the past ten. But… silence.
The female had been so heavily pregnant when she was last viewed, that we were certain that she must have given birth. And although we didn’t want to believe it, in the absence of any updates to the contrary, we were fairly confident it had to be somewhere on Londolozi.
Then one evening, while briefly stopped at a waterhole, Kev Power and I suddenly saw the male emerge from the thickets. It was late evening, and he was alone (the dog, not Kev).
Only three scenarios were really likely:
A.) He had come to the waterhole for a drink from the den.
B.) He was on his way back to the den from a hunt.
C.) The female was dead and he was on his own.
Option C we dismissed immediately.
A or B it had to be, and given the time of day (the sun had gone down fifteen minutes before), the den had to be close, as he was very unlikely to be so far from it after sunset with very young pups. The male disappeared into a dense thicket where we were unable to keep up with him.
The next morning we carefully began checking termite mounds near where we saw the male, but a surplus of elephants in the area made progress difficult, so we were forced to return 24 hours later.
This time, it was barely 15 minutes before Kev smelt the distinct smell of wild dog near a very prominent termite mound, which had a burrow in the side of it with a clearly active entrance. A scan through binoculars revealed wild dog tracks at the burrow’s mouth.
No sign of an actual dog was to be had though, so we sat quietly in the Land Rover and waited.
Only a few minutes had gone by when movement caught our eyes in the thicket line, and both adults emerged with blood on their faces, fresh from a hunt. We were expecting the mother to simply disappear down the burrow to nurse the pups, but instead she ran to the entrance and started squeaking, and tiny movement was seen filtering out from behind the tall grass that obscured our view.
Speechless, we counted 6 tiny pups, their ears still folded, barely able to walk. We think we were witnessing one of their first forays out of the den. At the most they had probably been venturing out for 48 hours, but probably less.
A return visit that evening put the count at 9, and a final check the next day gave us the full complement of 10 pups.
Regular visits to the den since then have shown amazing growth in the pups, and a trail camera placed discreetly watching over the den’s entrance has revealed some fascinating behaviour, much of which we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks.
Although it’s sad that this happened during lockdown, when so many guests from around the world could be enjoying such an amazing spectacle, the reality is this story isn’t about us, it’s about the pack.
With fewer than 500 wild dogs left in South Africa, this tiny pack (who are understood to be the second pack to give birth in the country this year) have given their species something they – and I suppose all of us – desperately need: hope.