“I would love to see some wild dogs, they are my favourite” was a request that came from my dad on a recent family trip to the Kruger National Park.
Being fortunate enough to see the African Wild Dog (aka Painted Wolf) in the world famous park is truly something to be cherished. I have only had a handful of encounters with this canine species.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust has been studying and conserving African Wild Dogs since the 1990’s. With many of their partner projects, they have managed to raise the number of wild dogs in South Africa to around 550.
On one of our last evening drives in the park we decided to hug the H4-1 river road that links Skukuza rest camp to Lower Sabie rest camp. After driving a considerable distance and calculating the setting sun, I flagged down another vehicle and asked if there was any chance that they have seen wild dogs.
“Yes, we saw them earlier this afternoon close to one of the bridges around Skukuza”. This was the best news that we heard along the trip. Before I could ask which bridge it was, they were off. I decided to cross the big H12 bridge that leads to the Tshokwane road. I was hoping I might pick them up on the northern side of the river leading back to Skukuza.
Excitement was in the air and everyone had their fingers crossed. As we headed up the H12 we followed the deep bend in the road. As the we approached end of the bend I noticed some stationery cars. Then I saw the sign I was hoping for. A couple of fluffy white tails dashed across the road in supersonic speed. I knew what that meant. I could not contain my excitement and yelled out, “DOGS!”
We approached a really large pack and to my surprise we even got treated with some youngsters. The little ones were playing with a large piece of bark alongside the road. They seemed to have a great deal of energy during this time of the evening.
With the setting sun, there was a good chance that the pack might start moving and try their luck at a hunt. I decided to get ahead of the pack as some of the adults started walking up the road. I waited for a safe gap to move ahead of them and waited for them to join me further up the road.
We counted approximately 26 wild dogs as they weaved in and out through the grass and moved along the tar road. We simply could not believe our luck. The emotions in the car ranged from silence to excited giggles to high fives. This was certainly the highlight of the evening.
For some reason most of the vehicles were hanging back and enjoying the sighting with the puppies. I decided to try another walk by and headed a little further up the road again. I took my final position and enjoyed the show that the wild dog pack was providing us. Slowly but surely the entire pack including the pups made their way past our car.
It was a matter of time before the other vehicles would follow and approach in my direction. We got our last visuals and allowed all the cars to pass by us. Before I could look back and count all the smiles in the back seat, we noticed something else causally strolling along the road.
A single hyena trailed the wild dog pack. It was lagging a fair distance behind, perhaps hoping to rush in should the pack successfully complete a hunt. As much as I enjoy and love hyenas, this individual looked quite menacing with its damaged, blind eye.
We waited for the hyena to pass by us and then we eventually moved on for the evening. We noticed the rest of the hyena clan a little further on still trying to make their way towards the single hyena.
This encounter with the wild dog pack will be one that will for ever be etched into my memory and has so far been my most successful encounter with this species in the Kruger National Park.
Have you had any luck with Wild Dogs in the park before and what has been your favourite moment?