There are few more exciting sightings at Londolozi than when a pack of wild dogs crosses into our reserve. The sheer excitement of any ranger finding them is hard to contain as it gets called in on the radio. This is precisely what happened to me about a month ago but this time it came with an additional twist and one that will most likely linger in my memory forever. I am going to use this as the first part of a two-part story.
Let’s first start with a brief history of the Othawa Pack
The Othawa Pack and the Flat Rock Male
In November 2020 the Othawa Pack was made up of 13 adults. Tracker Advice Ngwenya and I were tracking the pack in the thick riverine area of the Sand River west of our camps. It was impossible to get a vehicle into the river so we wanted to find them and see which way they would go once they started to get moving as they always do close to sunset. We managed to find them resting in the cool river sand next to a small pool of water.
As we watched them through the wild date palms we heard an almighty crash of something powering through the palms, out of nowhere the Flat Rock Male charged straight at them. He jumped into the shallow pool of water scattering the wild dogs in all directions. He managed to isolate two and they ran right past where Advice and I were hiding in the bushes. We took a few steps around the bushes only to see the Flat Rock Male standing in front of us with one of the adults clasped between his powerful jaws. At this point, the rest of the pack had regrouped and ran to the aid of the victim. The Flat Rock Male quickly ascended a sausage tree carrying his prey. The pack was down to 12.
It would be a few months before the Othawa Pack ventured back onto Londolozi
Failed Litters and Loss of Adults
Wild dogs have a denning season during the winter months of the year. Specific packs tend to reuse den sites that they have used in previous years and in 2021 and 2022 this was the case. The den was just wast of our boundary in the northern stretches of Londolozi so we were not able to get to the den to view the pack and their pups, however, we would have occasional sightings of the adults hunting before returning to feed their pups at the den.
Unfortunately, their litter in 2021 was lost to a pride of lions that came across their den and in 2022 only a very small litter was born of which none survived past a few months. Later in 2022, the Othawa Pack was dealt another blow as a male lion killed three adults on one specific occasion followed by one of the Ndzhenga Males killing an adult a few months later. The alpha female of the pack was a very easily distinguished wild dog with a very noticeable missing piece of her lip. Unfortunately, she was one of the adults lost to the much larger predator.
The pack was now down to eight adults and we continued to see them as a pack of eight for a few months which included six males and two females. We are not sure what happened to one of the males at the beginning of 2023 but as of a few months into the year, the pack was down to seven.
Resilience and a Change of Fortunes
With the loss of the alpha female one of the last two females would need to become the leading light of the pack. Towards the end of May 2023, we found the pack on our property digging around a few termite mounds. Both females were heavily pregnant and we were hopeful that we would be lucky enough to have them den on our property. Two weeks later, however, our neighbours to our west reported that they had found a den on their property where the Othawa Pack had given birth to their new litter.
It would be just short of three months before we would see the Othawa Pack again and we hoped it would come with a change of fortunes for a pack that had been through its fair share of turmoil over the past few years. This is exactly what it was! Stay tuned for part two in the near future where I describe the elation of the very first sighting we had of the wild dog pups.