As a ranger, we are not really supposed to just have one favourite animal but for me, I can’t deny it and not say that one of my favourite animals are wild dogs. They are one of my favourite animals for many different reasons but one of these reasons is because of their playful behaviour. Whether it is playing with one another in the pack chasing each other on land or in water or simply just chasing a zebra in circles.
Knowing this behaviour I did not hesitate to join ranger Andrea Sithole when he called in that a pack of wild dogs were close to the Sand River, in the hope that we could see them crossing the river.
We parked the vehicle 0n the northern bank of the Sand River and waited until we saw one ear pop out then a flash of a white-tipped tail. Then with a splash, the whole pack were in the water. They had chosen a spot where it was clear and shallow so to ensure their crossing was safe from crocodiles.
There is something special about seeing an animal for the first time only a few feet away from you and even more so when they interact with one another but the real cherry on top is seeing animals in or around water. We were expecting the pack just to cross the river but our expectations were exceeded when they started to play with each other in the river.
This type of playfulness helps strengthen their bonds with each pack member and helps develop their hunting skills. This play also attributes to the high level of endurance that they need to chase down their prey.
Wild dogs are very entertaining around water. Most cats such as leopards will avoid getting wet by leaping over a stream or using a path of boulders to get across, which don’t get me wrong is also a bucket list view or photo opportunity. But wild dogs often take advantage of a shallow waterhole or stream. Firstly to drink water and secondly to cool down. After a hunt wild dogs will often seek out a puddle of water to lie in to help thermoregulate. But sometimes their playful nature takes over and they cannot resist the water where they chase each other in circles as if the water excites them. This is why I enjoy following wild dogs and cant not enjoy a few minutes of wild dogs pouncing on each other wagging their tails with what I think looks like joy.
It was hard to capture it all and to not put emotion into how the wild dogs were feeling but it sparked a feeling of joy and laughter in all of us, some could say it was playful and some could say it’s just necessary for muscle development, fitness and social bonding or all of the above, who really knows? Soon after they finished chasing each other they crossed the Sand River and found a shady bush which they then rested under for the rest of the day.