Closure is something we are are unlikely to get in this instance.
Sometime between the hours of 12:00 and 16:00 on Monday 15th June, something happened near the Wild Dog den that resulted in the loss of seven of the ten pups.
The remaining three have bene moved to a new den, perhaps 1.5 kilometres from the previous site.
A visit to the den on the Monday morning revealed all ten pups alive and well.
Later that afternoon, a vehicle again went to check on the den, and in the frigid evening, only three pups were found milling about with the two adults. Nothing much was thought of it at the time, as sometimes some of the pups would retreat underground.
Then came two days of unseasonal rain. The reserve was cold and not much was moving about. On the Thursday morning, we again visited the den and watched as the female dog called the pups out. Only three emerged.
This was the first real sign that something was amiss. When the two adult dogs then began moving with the pups, off across the clearings and eventually to a deep drainage line where they are now established in a new den, we realised that something bad had happened, but it was only after retrieving the camera trap footage that we could workout when.
As it stands, we can only speculate as to what happened. For 7 pups to disappear in one go is quite something. Lions would be our first suspects, bu there were none in the area that we were aware of (the full Ntsevu pride – whose territory the den lies in- was miles away), and it was the middle of the day, so hyenas are also unlikely candidates.
The most likely culprit is a male leopard. To take out 7 pups is quite a thing, but not altogether impossible. The pups were in that stage of starting to explore from the den even if their parents were not there, and wandering a bit too far might just have spelt disaster.
Whatever the case, the facts are that only three pups remain, and they are in a seemingly secure den next to a small riverbed in the south-east of Londolozi. Looking at the silver lining here, three pups is a far more manageable number for the parents to raise…
Nature can seem cruel, but this is the reality we face as observers of incredibly vulnerable young animals in what for them is an incredibly dangerous ecosystem.