African Wild Dogs
Did you know that there are several countries in Africa where you can see Wild Dog. Often referred to as African Dog, Wild Dog, and Painted Dog, they all symbolize the same carnivore, the African Wild Dog.
After more than thirty trips to Africa, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see a wild dog. Locals said they were extinct on the plains of the Serengeti, no one had actually seen or heard much about them in recent years. The word was that disease, distemper, sickness and injury had become pervasive in the remaining packs of dogs and drove them to the brink of extinction. At least that is what everyone believed. I had heard they were often seen in Botswana and parts of Zambia, however, I had never seen them. Why were they so elusive when I really wanted to see them? Where were they hiding?
These dogs roam in large packs in both grassland and thick brush. But, if extinct, I knew I would never see them in Tanzania. or in Kenya. Though I might never see them, I knew about them. I knew that Wild Dogs are territorial and live in packs of 2 to over 30 dogs, usually consisting of males, females and pups. These wild dogs are vicious; they kill their prey before it is actually taken down and then disembowel it.
So close, yet so far…
Some of my ‘safari’ friends have had the pleasure of seeing them and have come back taunting me…guess what we saw. Wouldn’t you know it, the one time I am unable to travel to Africa with them is the time they saw a pack of wild dogs taking down their prey. I have to say I was a little bit jealous, but knew if they saw them, I would eventually see them too. I just didn’t know where or when.
There had been another time, in Botswana, when I thought I would see them. One of my friends who does research in an area of Botswana had mentioned to me that wild dog pups had been sighted in an area where I would be traveling. Unfortunately, when we got there the mother had been killed and without mom, pups will die and those cute little 8 pups succumbed to malnutrition. But now, I was in Tanzania, and the word was out, wild dog that had not been seen for years, were recently spotted! Could it be?
So, on a particular trip to Tanzania in 2011, my driver had heard that there was a pack of wild dogs recently seen in Tarangire, one of the most traveled National Parks. As luck would have it, we were going to be visiting that park on this trip. I wondered what my chances would be of seeing them. After all, it was days ago that they had been seen, so they could be most anywhere now. They roam large expansive areas, but even so, I was excited at the remote possibility.
Who let the dogs out? The real deal…
On this beautiful sunny day, we head into Tarangire Park and not moments after we enter the park, our driver spots something. You can never tell what a driver is looking at. They have years of experience on what to look for, and where to focus their attention. We, as tourists, don’t usually see anything unless we are right upon it or clearly able to tell what we are looking at.
So when a driver, says look over there, and points and you see nothing, you begin to wonder if it’s you that’s blind or crazy, or is it the driver? You could look for minutes and still not see what he is pointing to. It is usually when there is movement that you can then see just what the driver is seeing. It was no different on this occasion. As we stared into the tall grass, unable to see much more than the rustling grass, on a slightly windy day, we kept wondering, WHAT is he looking at?
Wow, it’s an ear!
Then, an a-ha moment, an ear twitches from side to side! Who can get excited over an ear? We can, because in this case, we could clearly see; it was the ear of what appeared to be a Wild Dog. First one ear twitched, as if to try to pinpoint where the sound of this low ‘roar’ was coming from, the hum of our vehicle. Then another ear popped up and then another. I could not believe my good fortune. A pack of 8 wild dogs, was lounging and lying in the tall grass just before us. The rains had been good, the grass was green and quite high. I wasn’t the only one getting excited over an ear. The driver and the other two ladies in the vehicle with me were over the top, happy. As if in unison, cameras came out, and the clicking began!
We continued to watch those dogs for at least an hour. Only once did one of them stand up, while the others raised their head, as if to question our presence. Now one dog was showing his full body – photo op!!! My first sighting, and with photos to boot. This was going to be good because there were local drivers and residents that had never seen them in all their years. Now, my first ‘ear’ of a wild dog, and eventually the full standing body of a wild dog. How lucky was I on this day?
The green green grass of home…
I was engrossed, didn’t really want to leave. The dark coloration of the dogs against the absolute sparkling green grass, with fresh dew dangling from it’s blades, what an absolute gorgeous contrast! I was as attached to the scene as I was to my first dog sighting. I didn’t want this to be my only encounter with a wild dog, but I was happy with it, if that was to be. And….for this trip it did look like these ‘painted’ dogs were more interested in sleeping than in showing themselves.
On safari, you are just ecstatic when you see something like this – especially when you constantly hear that the wild dog is extinct. You’re already convinced you’ll probably never see them. What a story to prove that to be a myth. I am so grateful. Not to have to read about these animals in a book, but see them in person is a thrill beyond anything you can imagine. You realize how fortunate you are, when drivers and others residing in the area, or others on safari, tell you they’ve never seen them in all their years of guiding, living or being on safari. Yes, I am grateful.
The dogs are back in town…
Again, in Tanzania, just a year later, February 2012 (you can see I love this season), a pack of about 6 dogs were following the road, so we followed them, staying closely behind, but not so close as to invade their space. We were with the director who was taking us to see his new property. Even he was ecstatic.
Even for locals or those who live in the area are not privy to some of these more rare sightings. They are as excited as the guests are. We followed those six dogs until they led us to their clan of about 30 or more dogs. Talk about speechless. We all were. Dogs doing everything, sleeping, playing, fighting, young dogs, older dogs; what a joy! Not only did we spend hours with the dogs, we left them and returned in the evening to see if we could follow them hunting. Unfortunately, they weren’t hunting, but they put on a show for us and we took it all in. Love those dogs.
Just months after that sighting, in May of 2012, I found myself in Botswana with two of my travel agent partners. On this particular day, the driver drove us to a small area surrounding our camp. As we were seeing everything imaginable en route, seeing wild dogs wasn’t even on our mind. Then, as if the dogs were just waiting for us, we drove right into a pack of 19 of them sleeping under the shade of a very large tree. They were beautiful, painted dogs of all patterns and colorations. Many were playing, pups were feeding, and many were sleeping.
Once again, as if in unison, the continuous click of the camera takes over. To spend hours with some of these magnificent animals is not unusual, and this is especially true when we are a group of travel agents, having seen all the ‘regulars’ now drive upon the more rare sighting of wild dog. WOW!
One never knows if you will ever see a scene like this again, so it’s not uncommon to take hundreds of photos. Wild dogs would be considered a rare sighting in some areas, while less rare in others. It doesn’t matter though, we don’t miss out, we never miss out. Personally, I average 3,000 to 3,500 photos on every trip, and that’s less than many take. Believe me, each of those photos tell an incredible story.
Little Known Fact about Wild Dog: Only the Alpha Male and Alpha Female reproduce.
The only way to experience even the possibility is to join me in Africa. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to join one of the upcoming safaris. If you’re budget conscious, then the March 2016 is definitely for you.
Be sure to visit my Upcoming Safaris page for more information.
Is there an animal you’d love to see in the wild?