Having a pack of wild dogs den on Londolozi last year was a bitter-sweet pill to swallow. Wild dogs are phenomenal predators and to just merely have them on the reserve conjures up intense levels of excitement, as most of the game drive vehicles jostle for their spot in the sighting. So how do you break the news to the world and in particular the ranging team, that while the world is in the crisis of 2020, the wild dogs have given birth and have an amazing den right in the middle of Londolozi?
A challenge, right!
As sad and difficult as it was that we were closed and unable to share the experience with you here in person, we were however able to dedicate a tremendous amount of time and energy into documenting the incredible journey of the Two-pack.
Things are slightly different this year, we’re open. The rooms are full. All the staff, rangers, and trackers are back and there is a certain hum about the place as times reflect that of June 2019. Being grateful that borders are open and those able to travel and have kept their bookings with us. If the sheer joy of coming to us is not enough then hopefully this post is.
Wind back the clock to 23rd May. A pack of wild dogs is found in central Sparta. A pack that is normally seen in the north, the alpha female is missing part of her top right lip and heavily pregnant. We are nothing but a stone’s throw away from the first den that the Two-pack used last year. Yes, she was still a few weeks from giving birth in hindsight, but the nostalgia was palpable.
Could we have another pack potentially den on Londolozi?
Sunset approaches and the wild dogs rally together before trotting off in the exact direction of the old den. A bit of a wayward thought but imagine they used the same den as the Two-pack.
Now, this is a completely different pack from the Two-pack so there shouldn’t be any prior knowledge of the den, which in this case is now actually just a termite mound with a hole in it. The rest of the pack continues into the drainage line directly towards the den, while the alpha female and one male stop about 50m away. Almost as though she was lagging behind while the rest made sure the coast was clear. We cannot see what is happening but can hear the excitable twittering of them all coming from the den. Our hopes are sky-high, maybe they will use this den and are just scouting it out for now and will return back to use it later on. Unable to follow them after that, I returned to scratch around the following morning with no further luck.
Ok, so that was just a little intro sidetrack to build some excitement.
What are the chances of this but three days later, on the afternoon of the 26th of May, a different but very heavily pregnant female is seen digging at a termite mound in the south. From not having a pack of wild dogs den on the property for more than ten years to have a den two years in a row, seemed too good to be true. And like clockwork, this pack disappeared just as quickly as they arrived. Until a few days later we heard from Singita that they were running directly towards that same mound only to be seen digging at the mound again as soon as they arrived there.
At this point, we were convinced that this was going to be the den but could not count our chickens just yet as we have been horribly let down in the past. That afternoon we searched the area but once again could not find the wild dogs anywhere.
Over the next few days, we devoted many drives to search long and hard for the wild dogs. Finding them on a number of occasions but none of which lead us back to their den. The anticipation killing us inside as we knew by this stage she would have most likely given birth and the den would be established. We were convinced about a few termite mounds that we had seen them digging at but none of these turned out to be correct.
Finding them early one morning, we were determined to not let them out of our sight. We followed them for hours eventually leading us back to a particular spot for the third time.
It was only later on, with growling coming from a burrow in the banks of the drainage line that we knew for sure that we had finally in fact found the den. We could rest easy. They were denning on Londolozi.
The pups would only be a matter of days old so we made the decision to give them some time before we start viewing them at the den. Our only means of monitoring them would be through the use of a discretely placed camera trap, the same one used last year. Knowing very well that we only have a minuscule glimpse into what actually happens at a den while we are there, so much more goes on outside of that. As much as we would like to we couldn’t sit there all day and night to see what goes on, this isn’t practical or advisable.
As of a week ago, there was evidence of the pups coming out of the den for the very first time, so we went down to have a look.
This year’s story is going to be nothing like the roller-coaster ride of the Two-pack from last year, and nor should it be. This pack will be presented with their own trials and tribulations, which they will deal with as best they can.
We will document as much of it as possible while still allowing the guests staying with us here to also have the amazing experience of seeing the pups first hand.
Stay tuned as we follow this pack along their journey right from the very beginning.