The African painted wolf or wild dog has and will always have a special place in my heart. Not only are they one of southern Africa’s most efficient hunters, they are also one of its rarest and, in my opinion, most beautiful. Wild dog sightings in any part of the Africa can be very few and far between and that is if you can actually keep up with them as they float through the bush, effortlessly ranging from grasslands to thick woodlands as seamlessly as a bird changing direction in the open skies. Their hunting strategy is the very pinnacle of collaboration, with the pack working intuitively with one another to wear down their prey, which can range from antelope as small as steenbok to fully-grown kudu bulls.
In the last month at Singita Sabi Sand, we have been extremely fortunate, in that a pack of eight adult wild dogs have been denning in the northern parts of our property, allowing for an insider’s view into one of the greatest privileges of my life, to be allowed to view and watch seven tiny pups grow.
The structure of a pack is very similar to that of the wolves found throughout Europe and North America, with there being an alpha pair who lead anything from 2 to 30 other individuals. The alpha pair is usually the only breeding pair in the pack and whatever young they produce are raised by the entire pack as their own. The size of the wild dogs makes it difficult for them to drag back sizeable chunks of meat to the den for both the pups and their minders, who would stay behind to guard the youngsters while they are too young to join the hunts, but their ingenious solution is to devour their prey and then regurgitate ready-made take-away portions!
Watching these sublime predators interacting with the animals around them has provided some of my most spectacular sightings as they punch far above their weight with the pack structure and their incredible speed and agility allowing them to out-compete and out-manoeuvre all but the largest and most powerful of Africa’s predators, the lion. On more than one occasion I have witnessed packs chasing leopards up trees or fighting hyenas far larger then themselves into submission.
Many guests arrive not knowing the occasion behind a sighting of these magnificent carnivores, but most that do get to share our delight in such a viewing, leave with a memory as haunting as the call of a pack member lost and trying to find his way home.