Where to see…. Wild dogs
A pack of wild dogs (also known as painted wolves or painted hunting dogs) is one of the most thrilling sights to see on safari. Extremely rare but with a growing population, these canids show all the characteristics we think of in predators: keen intelligence, fine co-operation, excellent hearing, great strength, great vision and sheer speed. The excitement when a guide announces that wild dogs have been spotted in the vicinity is palpable!
What to Expect if You Spot Them – On the Hunt
There is nothing to beat watching wild dogs on a hunt. Individual dogs communicate by ‘sneezing’, indicating whether they are hungry, and whether they should go on a hunt. Once an agreement is reached, the pack will silently approach their prey like a Thomson’s gazelle, a warthog, a zebra or a wildebeest, carefully surrounding it to block off escape route. When the animal realises that it is being stalked, the chase begins! And what a chase it is: wild dogs can reportedly reach speeds of nearly 70 kilometres / 44 miles an hour for up to sixty minutes at a time.
In strict hierarchy, pups younger than a year eat first. They have expended huge energy on the hunt and are the most vulnerable to being killed so must keep their strength up. Once they’ve finished eating, the pack will move on immediately.
Of all predators, wild dogs are easiest to see on the chase because – like cheetahs – they hunt during the day. Pack members fan out and it’s hard to focus on all of them at the same time. Just sit and enjoy having the privilege of seeing these incredible animals putting their astounding qualities to the test. Researchers suggest that at least eighty percent of chases end in a kill – the highest of all predators.
What to Expect if You Spot Them – Resting
If you watch a pack resting, you will notice how similar they are to domestic litters and dogs. Puppies will play with sticks, practicing their hunting skills. The matriarch and patriarch (unusually, each pack has a dominant male and a dominant female) will keep an eye out and lead the pack in hunting. Pack members are also known to sleep nestled together for safety and warmth. The youngsters are very curious and have been known to approach game-drive vehicles, sniffing every inch of the tyres and body. All animals in Africa will rest during the hottest parts of the day – look out under shrubs and trees for the best chance of seeing a pack as their mottled coats camouflage them extremely well. Their gold, white and black fur melds perfectly with dappled sunlight and you need sharp eyes to spot them.
The Best Places to See Them, Where to see…. Wild dogs
Although wild dogs are found across Africa, with different sub-species in different regions, the highest known population numbers are currently in Botswana. But there are plenty of other top safari destinations where wild dogs are making a resurgence and sightings are good – let’s check them out:
Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai
Covering a massive strip of the central and eastern Okavango Delta, Moremi is a classic collection of wetland, fertile floodplains, open grassland and riverine forest. The Khwai Concession is run by the local community and borders the Khwai River and the north-east of Moremi. Wild dogs are more likely to be found in ‘drier’ camps rather than those that are almost permanently surrounded by water and on Chief’s Island. They’re fairly nervous about water, instinctively fearing crocodiles that may be lurking just under the surface of the Okavango’s water.
South Africa – Greater Kruger
The Greater Kruger area takes in not only the Kruger National Park but also surrounding private reserves like the Sabi Sands, Timbavati, MalaMala and Manyeleti. There are regular sightings of packs throughout the region, which lies to the north east of the country.
Madikwe and Pilanesberg
Madikwe Private Game Reserve was a frontrunner in the successful re-introduction of wild dogs to reclaimed farmland. The packs have been under threat from disease, but sightings are still possible. Pilanesberg, a public national park on the border of the Sun City resort, has a surprisingly good record of wild dogs being spotted.
Zimbabwe – Mana Pools
Although Zimbabwe’s wildlife area is Hwange National Park, Mana Pools has been known to see plenty of wild do. This is in fact where the BBC’s Dynasties wildlife programme was filmed, which features memorable interactions like elephants charging wild dogs that get too close.
Tanzania – Selous
One of the world’s biggest conservation areas, Selous Game Reserve offers vast areas of land for a limited number of travellers to explore. Because it is so big, wildlife has plenty of space to move around.
Predators thrive in the Southern Serengeti because this is where hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra drop their babies at the beginning every year to benefit from the lush grazing and plentiful water. Lions take over the savannah, but wild dogs are also known to make the most of easy pickings here.
Much more arid and hilly than the Masai Mara, Laikipia and Samburu are two lesser-visited areas of Kenya but still offer incredible game viewing. You may be lucky enough to spot wild dogs but also look out for the Samburu Special 5, endemic species found only here (reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, long-necked gerenuk and Grevy’s zebra).
Why are Wild Dogs so Rare?
There are many reasons, including those happening to all wildlife across the world such as habitat loss and vulnerability to diseases, specifically rabies and canine distemper. Lions are ruthless in destroying any wild dog puppies they come across and have been known to kill all the pups in a den. Today there is thankfully a massive conservation drive to save the remaining wild dogs and packs are slowly resurging.
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