The wild dogs are in town – call the pup-arazzi!
It’s not every day that a pack of African wild dogs appears in the middle of your game drive. Bushwise student Lauren Noakes shares her incredible experience observing these endangered canines.
Camp manager blogs are written by our current students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week.
We have been treated to some spectacular sightings with Bushwise, but wow, have we had an incredible week!
To be perfectly honest, my purpose for coming out here was quite different to most of the other students. Having finished a zoology degree (with my final year spent researching Banded mongoose social behaviour) I travelled here with the aim of improving my communication skills and soaking up every possible piece of information about the African bush. But with every drive, I’ve fallen more and more in love with guiding. Getting to guide the spectacular sighting we had this week was what really solidified my intention to pursue this incredible career path.
It was halfway through my drive and I was making coffee at the drinks stop, congratulating myself on what I considered a pretty successful drive so far. Little did I know what was just around the corner! We set off again, and as we came up over the hill, I heard excitable chittering and chattering and saw a flash of white tails – it was a pack of wild dogs!
Following protocol, I quickly radioed my fellow guide: “All stations, we have a pack of wild dogs, just west of the 4-way junction, visual 5 out of 5”. Well, I say that. I think it came out more like: “HI, WILD DOG!!” Not quite as professional, perhaps, but I think it got the point across! My excitement only grew when we realised they were on a kill.
My radio procedure may have gone out the window, but my guiding skills did not! I quickly positioned the vehicle into a nice viewing spot in the shade, watching as the other students whipped out their cameras and began clicking away, capturing the carnage of the dogs tearing apart what was once an impala.
Wild dogs live in packs and are well known for their altruism and selflessness, allowing the injured, old or juvenile dogs to eat first, even before the alpha pair. We noted that the alpha female of this pack was pregnant, which was quite exciting as the denning season (the period when wild dogs give birth and reside in a den with the pups until they’re big enough to leave) is right around the corner. One of the dogs is easy to distinguish as it has droopy ears… we have creatively nicknamed this dog “Floppy”.
After the dogs finished, they moved even closer to our vehicle, sharing our shade and even scent-marking the front of our vehicle! Wild dogs are incredibly social creatures, reaffirming their bonds and hierarchy through play. We got a front row seat of this behaviour, with the dogs practically bumping into our car as they bounded about.
Once things settled down with the dogs, we soon got to view the next step of the food chain – the scavengers! White-backed vultures swooped in by the dozen, eagerly waiting for the dogs to leave the carcass. The dogs seemed to love this, leaving the impala’s remains only to charge back to chase the vultures away, scattering them into the skies.
Vultures may be smart raptors, but not smart enough to outwit the hyenas that had been lurking around the outskirts of all the drama. Two individuals dashed in and stole the carcass, leaving the vultures looking very disappointed! These guys don’t deserve the bad press they often get from TV and movies, as they truly are fundamental to an ecosystem’s health. This is because they act as the cleaning crew of the bush, even being able to eat diseased carcasses, removing them from the environment.
After spending a few hours with the dogs, and being very late for dinner (although surprisingly no one complained) we set off for home. As if the day couldn’t have gotten any better, we also found two male lions on the way back to the college!
For me, there really is nothing more satisfying and fulfilling than watching the faces of your guests light up at a sighting – whether it’s their first safari or their hundredth – the excitement never gets old. We are so lucky to be heading into a career where we get to be the interpreters of this incredible biome, unlocking the door to the natural world for many people.
Would you like to feel the rush of adrenaline at a wild dog sighting, sharing that experience with your guests? Apply today and soon you could be guiding a safari in the African bushveld.
All photos by Louise Pavid.