A tale of two packs

Sabi Sand | July 2020

Winter in the Sabi Sand sees the woodlands turn into something of a wonderland. Emerald greens change into warm rustic hues, and what was an impenetrable hedge now allows for well-worn game paths, and the setting sun to filter through to the dry leaf litter. For wild dogs this is their time to den.

Over the past four consecutive years Othawa, north of the Sand River, has played host to the formidable Othawa pack, which consists of 12 adult wild dogs, denning in abandoned termite mounds amongst the deciduous bushwillow trees. This year in late June the pack welcomed 11 new puppies. The alpha female of this pack has shown preference to the area between Ingrid’s Dam and Tom’s Dam possibly due to the protection of the heavily wooded surroundings. She has been well supported by her fellow pack members in keeping her and her puppies well fed. There have been a number of sightings of them, and plenty more that have been unrecorded, of them hunting along the Sand River with great success, even with the guaranteed presence of trailing hyena.

Last year saw all puppies make it to that all-important age where it was time to leave the den and learn the skills to survive. This is surely due to the adults of the pack with records showing that larger packs have greater success in raising puppies to independence.

Not all stories are as bright. We too witnessed the harsh reality that ensures Mother Nature is not taken lightly. A pack of two wild dogs, which denned elsewhere in the Sabi Sand, miraculously had raised a litter of nine puppies to two-and-a-half months when they first were sighted on Singita. The pair had earned themselves somewhat of an admirable reputation on social media, and they certainly deserved it. We watched as day after day they continued to provide for their young which saw them moving from den to den on almost a daily basis. This differed to the Othawa pack which had four dens in 2019, over three to four months. This would prove to be a disadvantage for the two and only adult dogs of the pack, as dens were not as secure as those that were amongst the woodlands, and puppies would often wander around without any adult supervision.

Photographed below was the last time the remaining seven puppies were seen altogether. We found them running unsupervised down an open road looking for the two adult members of the pack. They have not been seen since, but we still remain hopeful that they are roaming elsewhere around the massive 2,2 million hectare area which is the Greater Kruger National Park. Many parts of the park remain unexplored due to the restrictions on tourism in the area but the tenacity that wild dogs are renowned for keeps our beliefs for their future positive.