Wild dogs are such incredible animals and ones that personally I hold quite close to my heart. Explaining why is difficult for me to put into words but a quote by a lady of huge inspiration to me, Beverly Joubert, sums wild dogs up perfectly:
“Social bonds are a vital part of the pack life for African painted dogs. It’s one of the reasons these predators are so successful. The cooperative canines are accomplished endurance runners, and can travel vast distances as a cohesive pack in pursuit of prey. They are built for the chase – their ligaments, limb muscles and even their bones are perfectly adapted to allow the dogs to maximise stamina, coordinate their movements and roam across massive home ranges.”
Let me start by giving a brief history of this particular pack of wild dogs, but first I will mention that it is rather challenging to keep track of the different packs of wild dogs. Unless there is a distinguishing feature of one of the dogs or characteristics of the colouration of the individuals that we can easily notice, we normally go based on the number of dogs present. For the last little while, there were ten dogs in the pack, six males and four females, the alpha female was missing her top right lip, making it easy to identify this pack. However, a couple of months ago both the alpha female and beta female were killed by lions on different occasions. Reducing the pack down to six males and only two females. Ok so now back to the story…
While sitting on Varty Camp Deck, enjoying a cup of tea and homemade banana bread muffin moments before going out on the early morning game drive, the serene still calm morning erupted when an excited guest shouted across to the group of rangers that they could see dogs running over the crest opposite camp. We looked up and to our surprise there sure were dogs, WILD DOGS!!! Seemingly in pursuit of a herd of impalas. Without hesitation, scrambled up to the vehicles to get out there and find them before they had covered too much ground.
We quickly crossed through the Sand River and it was not long before ranger Kyle Gordon called us on the radio to say that he had found them but not all of them. We knew there was a chance that they may have killed an impala after watching them chase them from Varty Deck, but where could the rest be? Were they successful? Knowing that wild dogs have a 70% success rate when hunting, we were confident that the missing three pack members had taken down an impala. Our best bet was to stick with the ones Kyle had found in the hopes that they lead us back to the others.
As we came around the corner we heard the pack squeal as they excitedly joined up with the rest of the pack. The three wild dogs had killed an impala in the Manyeleti River. We watched as they rapidly consumed the entire impala in minutes. With enemies like hyenas and lions posing an ever-present threat, speedy eating is a clever move.
After the pack had finished the vast majority of the carcass, hyenas ran in to see what they could scavenge. With such little remaining the wild dogs didn’t even put up a fight and sauntered away. This is unusual as wild dogs will sometimes nip at the hyena to chase it off of their kill. There was a strange uneasiness amongst the pack leading them away from the scene.
Usually, after a kill, wild dogs will find water to cool off and quench their thirst before settling in the shade nearby. This time, they kept moving and constantly Hoo-called, as if they were trying to contact call a missing pack member, but all eight pack members were present.
It was a female pack member that kept on Hoo-calling. Was this a territorial call? Is she the new alpha female that has taken over since the death of the previous alpha female? Is she looking for another pack? Did she smell the scent of another wild dog pack? These are all the questions I asked. Since both the alpha and beta females were killed the pack may be figuring things out still. Or is the female calling to try and get another group of females to join them. They have a complex social structure and an intricate vocabulary, making it difficult for us to answer these questions.
The next day their tracks lead in the direction that the female was calling towards. What does this mean for the Othawa Pack? Hopefully, we will be able to answer some of the questions soon.