Field guide and wildlife photographer Ross Couper was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in the Matopos National Park, so he has a special connection to the country and its fauna and flora. Here he shares his knowledge and memories of the local African Wild Dog population with us:
Singita Pamushana Lodge is located within the private Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Zimbabwe, which shares its southern boundary with Gonarezhou National Park. The park’s rich wildlife consists of 500 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, more than 116 species of reptiles, 34 species of frogs and 49 species of fish.
Painted Dogs, also known as African Wild Dogs, are unique to Africa and they are among this continent’s most endangered species. It is estimated that less than 7,000 remain in the wild. One of my favourite experiences seeing these animals at Singita Pamushana was one winter’s morning when we drove out past a rocky section of the concession; a piece of land that would make an ideal location for their dens.
As the land rover came to stop, above the early morning chorus of several birds, we could hear the distant calls from a hyena. It was a frantic scene; three hyena were moving in various directions, whooping and calling. Suddenly a flash of white appeared amongst the tall grass followed by three or four more – it was the wild dogs’s tails. Before we knew it, several pack members had arrived as if they are reinforcing the movement towards the hyenas. The scavengers beat a hasty retreat and the wild dogs feasted on the unfortunate impala ram that they had hunted earlier.
Observing these precious animals in their natural habitat from the comfort of a game viewing vehicle is such a privilege, as is the ability to provide them with a safe, natural habitat in which to flourish. The 130,000-acre reserve was specifically established to conserve and protect this significant wilderness region; something it has done with great success since 1994.
All proceeds from the management of Singita Pamushana Lodge benefit the Malilangwe Trust, and its numerous conservation and community outreach programmes. This Zimbabwean-based and -managed Trust was set up to develop a blueprint for creating harmony between conservation initiatives and community development in villages that neighbour wildlife areas. You can read more about the Trust and Singita’s work in the area on our website.
In the June edition of the guides’ diary, we announced our exciting discovery of a wild dog den site on our property in the Sabi Sand. Since then, we have been following the progress of the pack very closely and during August we noticed that the various den sites have been abandoned and the pups are now running with the pack. Although this means that we may not have the regular sightings we had when they were at the den site, it is exciting news as it means that the pups are more able to defend themselves and are becoming less vulnerable to predators. In other words their chances of survival have increased greatly, which is fantastic news for the wild dog population.
There are four surviving pups, with three having fallen victim to lions, which increases the pack size to ten. The pups are providing fantastic sightings as they spend a great deal of time playing with one another, which is usual among the young of predators. Also this practice of play aids in their development of coordination and muscle mass, which becomes vital as they start to join in on the hunting activities of the pack. On the day we followed the pups with the pack, they were located close to the lodges on the Sand river. From there, they were followed as they ran all the way to the southern sections of the Singita property, a distance of about 10 kilometres. Although the pups were noticeably tired towards the end of this mission and spent the majority of their time trying to keep up with the pack, this is an important step in their development and it won’t be long before they cover even greater distances as part of their daily existence.
To read more, visit our August Guides’ Diary, Singita Sabi Sand
Article contribution by Singita Guide, James Crookes
Everyone in Singita Sabi Sand has for the last few weeks been waiting in anticipation to find out where, if at all, the wild dogs decide to den.
Yesterday, after some exceptional and intensive tracking, we discovered all six adult wild dogs and at least four charcoal black pups in their new Singita Sabi Sand home. These pups, complete with the characteristic white tips on the end of each of their tails, spent a brief amount of time greeting the adult female outside before they returned to the security of their den.
We’ve estimated that these wild dog pups are just one week old and, due to the sensitivity of the situation, we’ve decided to give the pack a few additional days to establish themselves before we open the site for viewing. This means that we presently don’t have any pictures of the wild dog pups to share with you but, once we do, you’ll be the first to see them!