June 2024

Marching into Battle

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Marching into Battle

Again the Binya Road delivered this surprise. We’d been searching for wild dogs for over a week and coming up empty-handed. I headed far south-west and found their fresh tracks on the bank of the river and despaired that they may have crossed over. Heading back towards the main road we came across an enormous fallen tree that blocked the path, and there was virtually no way around it. The detour back the way we came would have been so long, that I decided to off-road around the tree and pick a path through, which was easier said than done, but we were elated when we popped out on the southern section of Binya Road to find the whole pack of dogs resting and playing in the middle of the road!

I radioed the other guides who were quite far away to let them know, and then we spent the better part of an hour watching the wild dogs / painted wolves / hunting dogs interact. In due course they started rallying for their evening hunt. It was fascinating to watch as they marched up the road, sometimes in single file, looking nonchalant but listening intently for any audio of potential prey. Their satellite dish ears moved constantly. If something caught their attention a few of them would bound off in that direction, with high leaps to try and get a visual on the animal. If nothing came of it they would return back to the road and continue their at-ease march.

The latest news update with the wild dog packs is that the smaller pack of adults have denned on the southern boundary, west of the Chiredzi River, and have been seen with five pups.

We have a very strict and entirely appropriate rule to not to disturb any wild dog den-sites to ensure that the pups have the maximum protection and chance of survival, so we only view dogs with their pups when the pups are old enough to leave the den. (By viewing pups at a den-site other predators like lions and hyenas learn the whereabouts of the dens from the regular vehicle presence and the track left behind by vehicles regularly accessing the site. These predators can and will kill pups in a bid to eliminate all competition. Also, adult members of the pack that have been out hunting are more reluctant to return to the den to regurgitate the meat they have swallowed for the pups, if humans are there, and therefore the pups become starved or malnourished and do not grow into the healthy strong specimens. Another problem is that more hunting dogs may stay behind to babysit pups if they are being viewed by humans at a den-site, and this lowers the success rate of hunts resulting in less food for the pack and pups.)

The larger pack (photographed in this story) are possibly denning in the north at the moment, but as per protocol we have left them undisturbed and are therefore unaware if they have pups yet.

Aren’t these the most beautiful creatures ever? Their coats are the epitome of camouflage chic, and their long legs, wasp waists, coal-black muzzles and chestnut eyes are mesmerizing. That is to say nothing of their cerebral intelligence and unrivalled, tight-knit, family social structure. Every single sighting of them is extremely special and not to be taken for granted. Being one of the world’s most endangered animals who knows, if ever, we or our children or grandchildren might see them again?

By Jenny Hishin
Author / Guest Guide