Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wonderful Wild Dogs

One of the most exciting sightings on any safari would have to be a pack of African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs. To see a pack of these big, black, tan and white, blotchy, rangy canines on the hunt is a spectacular sight.  Twelve months ago I was camping in Botswana's Moremi Games Reserve. It was a bitterly cold morning with a vast, pale blue dome of sky above the trees and a frosting of sparkling ice on my tent. The barking alarm call of an impala alerted us that something may be afoot. Then in one's and twos the graceful antelopes started running past our camp less than a hundred metres away.

Moments later the entire herd was streaming past us, oblivious to our campsite, obviously seriously panicked. Then the African wild dogs appeared through the trees, moving rapidly but still only loping along in a gait that they can keep up all day. They run down their prey over great distances, unlike the big cats they don't usually ambush their prey. They are the most successful hunter, with 80% of their hunts ending in a kill. A single lion has an average hunting success rate of only 15%. If two or more lions hunt together their success rate rises to 30%. Leopards - solitary animals have a success rate of only 10%.

Once the herd of impala and the pack of dogs had passed, we followed in the vehicle, hoping to see a kill. But over the rough ground we couldn't keep up and in any case the dogs split up amongst the trees in pursuit of the antelopes. Nevertheless it was an exciting chase, and such a tremendous privilege to get so close to these magnificent animals. Sadly it is estimated that only between 3000 - 5000 remain in the wild. They suffer from the diseases of domestic dogs transmitted when the two come together and they are persecuted by farmers for killing stock.

They have incredibly powerful jaws, with a bite force quotient measured at 142 - the highest of any animal in the order carnivora. They have 42 teeth, specially adapted for ripping and tearing to allow for a speedy consumption of their prey before larger and more powerful predators can chase them away. Two places where these wonderful animals can be reliably seen are Madikwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa and in Botswana's Okavango Delta, including the Moremi Game Reserve. If you do manage to get a glimpse of the African Wild dog remember to take lots of photos, there's a good chance that they won't be around in the wild for very much longer.      

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