Tracking wild dogs in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
On a hot day at the end of October in Mana Pools National Park, I was still trying to come to grips with just how picturesque a place I was in, when word came through that one of the families of African wild dogs (also known as painted wolves or hunting dogs) were in the vicinity.
I have to be honest and say that, having grown up with domesticated dogs at home in Shropshire, the call of painted wolves didn’t excite me as much as, say, a leopard or lion. I have seen Australia’s version of the wild dog, the dingo, chasing kangaroos in the Outback, and while quite the scene, it was still just a dog chasing another animal, not so dissimilar from my terrier chasing rabbits.
However, I was to be surprised. We hopped out of the safety of our trusty Toyota and headed out on foot to track down these elusive creatures. Our guide, Dave, reeled off facts about them as we went, and once I realised how intelligent these animals are, I quickly started to segregate them from my loyal pets at home.
After 20 to 25 minutes, we walked around a bush and there they were. Around 100 metres ahead, hiding in the shade of a small tree, was a pack of around 10 to 12 wild dogs. They were fresh off the back of an impala kill and were in need of a siesta. We managed to get about 20 metres away from them but Dave held us there, not wishing to disturb them.
This remarkable species is the most successful hunters of all Africa’s predators, mainly due to their high intelligence and teamwork. It is said that in parts of Kruger National Park in South Africa, where electric fences are erected to keep wildlife within the reserve boundaries, the group will corner their prey against the barricade to leave them without anywhere to run.
For those who have seen the BBC series, Dynasties, I am sure Sir David Attenborough will have enlightened you on many more fascinating details about these painted wolves. The whole episode was filmed in this very park and, who knows, these photographs that I captured, could well be of the same family.
As we watched them drink from the river, amid the backdrop of the Zambezi Escarpment, Dave informed us of just how fortunate we were to have seen them. They so often evade the human eye, and encounters between us and them are few and far between. These animals never present a threat to humans; it is, in fact, the opposite, and they normally scatter on seeing or hearing a human. We were lucky. This pack seemed too full from their feast to move on, so we watched for a further 10 minutes.
African wild dogs are, sadly, one of the most endangered species on the continent, so to say that I have tracked these incredibly rare creatures on foot, and was able to get so close, is something that I will treasure forever. Mana Pools is almost in a league of its own when it comes to raw and wild experiences. At every turn, there is something exciting to see. With tourism in Zimbabwe now returning to well-deserved heights, I fear that this exceptional park may become slightly busier, so go now before you bump into five vehicles a day instead of just one.
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