The other side of the fence

Pamushana | March 2019

Early one morning Jenny and I were out scouting in different vehicles to help the guests’ game drives locate key specific animals, like lions, leopards, cheetahs, black rhinos and wild dogs. At about 7 am we received a sighting update from Bravo 2, which is the main southern boundary gate that links us to Gonarezhou National Park, informing us that they had seen wild dogs frantically location calling and running backwards and forwards along the boundary area.

Jenny was first on the scene and managed to see two wild dogs calling and running around. Once I arrive the dogs had momentarily disappeared west. I decided to move east along the boundary fence to look for tracks and see what was going on, on that side. I discovered, on the Gonarezhou National Park side of the fence, a third wild dog and it became very apparent to us that this satellite group of dogs had split up and become separated. There were now four on our side of the fence and at least one outside in the park, and this was the reason for the frantic location calls!

Further along this high fenceline, in an easterly direction, is a section of fence spanning about 8 km long that is only 1,2 m high. The reason for this is to allow free movement of elephants between our reserve and the park. It’s low enough for the elephants to simply step over it. It also allows movement of other animals such as kudu, eland and impala, to mention a few. These animals simply jump over the low fence.

Back to the story… So, travelling up the fence we located tracks from the dogs earlier and came across a part in the fence where it had been compromised by animals such as warthogs that are known for digging open burrows under fences to keep from getting zapped by the electric strands. These hollows are used by other animals such as porcupines, lions, leopards, cheetahs, bushpigs and, of course, wild dogs. The dogs we were following had indeed entered through this open burrow. It was interesting because taking a closer look at the fence we discovered there had been movement of lions through the fence since we found long dark mane hairs caught on the bottom wires.

After about half an hour of watching and following the dogs, they started moving along the fenceline in an easterly direction, with Jenny in close pursuit. I waited about 30 m past the hollow under the fence at the entry point. What was great about this is that Jenny kept a close enough distance from the dogs not to frighten them but just to keep a little pressure on them moving in the right direction towards the part of the fence they had entered by, while I secured the far side as a buffer. Eventually the dogs recognised their entry point and raced under the fence into the park where we heard them joyfully reacquainting with the rest of their pack.

Wild dogs are nomadic and can traverse 50 km in a single day. As a result, their territories can range between 400 and 1 500 square kilometres which often extends beyond the boundaries of wildlife reserves.