Encountering African wild dogs on a game drive is about as exciting as coming across a lion or a leopard. These animals are endangered and it is a rare privilege to see them. They travel in packs of between six and twenty, so one is always going to see more than just a lone wild dog.
We saw our first African wild dogs at the Harness Wildlife Foundation in Namibia, an ex-cattle farm now dedicated to saving endangered wild animals. The orphaned animals that they rescue are housed in large enclosures so they maintain the appearance of living in the wild. All the proceeds taken from tourism are ploughed back into the project and into helping the surrounding local communities.
Excited to be able to observe them being fed, we climbed up to a lookout platform above their feeding area and were amazed by their strange behaviour when they sensed food was in the offing. The dogs started to run around each other making strange high-pitched growling noises that sounded decidedly eerie. Within minutes they were in a feeding frenzy and soon gulped down the food that was thrown into the enclosure.
They are formidable hunters and their strong jaws make short work of their prey. In the wild they tend to go for the weak and sick animals. They work as a team to down their targeted prey and never show aggression towards each other during the hunt.
No two dogs have the same markings, which makes them quite unique. Unlike domestic dogs that have five toes, wild dogs only have four toes on each foot. They have magnificent mottled brown, yellow and black coats and bushy tails with white tips. Their hearing is enhanced by their large bat-like ears.
We came across a pack of wild dogs quite by chance in the Mdumu National Park in the Caprivi. We’d had a dismal day of animal spotting and the birding wasn’t offering up much either, when we rounded a bend and saw the dogs lying quite near the road. The excitement that this generated made up for the disappointing hours before and we left the Park later feeling like we’d hit the jackpot!
The Mdumu Park has the typical habitat for these dogs – woodland – where they are able to prey on young buck, warthogs and any other small animals, birds and rodents.
There is usually only one breeding pair in the pack. The rest of the group consists mainly of male dogs, as females tend to leave the group in search of their own packs once they pass the nurturing phase. Occasionally there will be a secondary breeding pair, but this is rare. Female wild dogs give birth to between ten and sixteen pups (usually more males than females) and these are reared by all the males in the pack.