Land Rover

The Thanda Dogs

The past few month have been particularly exciting in the bush,  firstly winter is finally coming  to and end and the savannah sun is warming up Kruger’s Lowveld with afternoon  temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius  on a more regular basis. The excitement of not having to dress up as an Eskimo and head out on a sled in search of Wild Dogs every morning is one thing but what makes the months of August-September the best for a Wild Dog researcher is the fact that we are nearing the end of denning season. This means that Wild Dog pups are starting to emerge from den sites.

The location of four dens had been determined in southern Kruger and one on the western boundary in Sabi Sands. Of these dens only two were accessible to view the pups. A den on the Jock Safari Lodge private concession and one in the western sector of Sabi Sands. We were able to determine the exact location of the Jock Pack’s den site by a combination of following the adult dogs after a hunt with Rangers Pete Dippenaar from Jock Safari Lodge and by using the telemetry to track the VHF collar on the beta female in order to pin point the den. After spending many days waiting near the den site listening to the alpha female and the pups “squealing”, “chittering” and calling from within the den the wait was finally over.

One morning while the adults were out on the hunt we managed to attach a digital camera trap to a tree just in front of what is thought to be a main entrance of the den, at the time we had no idea if the pups were actually going to come out of this specific hole. Wild Dog dens generally have more than one entrance and exit point. The adult Dogs had been seen moving in front of the camera so it was hoped we would eventually get photos of the puppies. One early on particularly cool morning just after sun rise Pete and I slowly approached the den site on the only two track road in the area. The road runs approximately 50m away from the den but in clear line of sight of the front entrance to the den.

Looking towards the den with intense concentration I faintly saw three yellow/brown and white balls of fluff running around the rocks in front of the den. After closer inspection with binoculars they were indeed three Wild Dog pups approximately three months old. A sighting like this reminds you exactly why you dreamt of living and working in the bush since the age of 5. I look forward to the opportunity I have to watch these three little pups grow to yearlings and become part of the pack successfully hunting impala.

The Sabi Sands on the western boundary of Kruger National park offers a unique opportunity to monitor Wild Dogs as the dogs are extremely habituated to the safari vehicles used in the reserve. This allows for guides to approach the sogs without affecting their natural behaviour.  The resident pack of eight Wild Dogs in Sabi Sands is well known by the guides and rangers throughout the reserve. The fact that they are so relaxed around vehicles allows one to follow them while on the hunt, watch them sleeping and potentially get a glimpse of the puppies playing around the den at a young age.

I had received reports from the rangers saying that the adults had been observed digging in the western sector with a heavily pregnant alpha female so hopes were high for them to settle down to den in the same area they had previously. The pack was eventually observed hunting without the alpha female present, a clear indication that she had gone underground to give birth to the pups.

The area where they were thought to be denning was sectioned off from tourists to reduce the pressure on the pups while they were still young. Within a few weeks of the pups emerging from the den it was decided that it would be acceptable to approach the den site by vehicle. The joy of seeing the first sighting of six Wild Dog puppies playing on a termite mound is indescribable, their coat patterns only vaguely visible with short stumpy legs and fat little bellies . Seeing how quickly they have grown in just three weeks gives me hope that the pack will go from strength to strength and hopefully continue to grow.

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