It was a cold and chilly afternoon as I, together with my wife and a couple of other guests, waited patiently for the dog pack to ‘arrive’. Although they are a completely wild, free-roaming pack, Reilly Mooney, the project coordinator for the Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative is trying to get this pack used to the sounds and sight of a single vehicle when(if) they come in to partake of the carcass that has been left out for them. To date, only 7 adult animals have been seen and identified, and 3 of those are have been fitted with tracking collars. The 7 pups have been seen on camera traps but have not been seen by the researchers as yet.
The vehicle that took us on a rather bumpy 10-minute drive to the viewing site was older than me, but it had such character that I needed to publish this image of the dash. I was told that only one of the gauges works and sporadically at best. But do you really need any more information than this is you are only driving in the bush? I don’t think so…
Eventually, the first dog makes an appearance. After waiting for over an hour, she came in so quickly and silently that it took me a moment to register her presence.
She was quickly followed by the rest of the pack. Although they ignored us, they were aware of the vehicle and by extension of us inside, You can see the tracking collar on the dog in the picture. The collars could be seen as a necessary evil and are used to keep track of the pack in order to inform the local land-owners should the pack traverse or end up on a different property to where the den site is currently.
From the WWDI website: The Waterberg Biosphere is home to some of South Africa’s last free-roaming African Wild Dog population. African Wild Dogs are an Endangered species, with fewer than 6000 remaining in Africa. They are South Africa’s Most Endangered Carnivore. To put things into perspective, there are 20,000 white rhinos in South Africa but only 550 wild dogs!
The pack does hunt for itself, the carcasses that are left out for them are not done on a daily basis and this encourages the pack to fend for themselves and not rely on human intervention. I was told that there have been occasions where a carcass has remained uneaten as it was ‘delivered’ late and the dogs had already gone off to hunt for their own food.
It is amazing how fast the pack can strip a carcass. Usually, all that is left are horns and hooves and perhaps some of the skin. Once the pups start participating in this feeding activity, various body parts are used as chew toys to get them prepared to break down a kill successfully.
As far as the meat is concerned, nothing is left behind. The adults will regurgitate meat for the pups when they get back to the den.
They will also feed the ill, the injured and the infirm back at the den site. Much like the US Marines, no one is left behind and the social structure of each pack is well defined and therefore all are taken care of. Socialists rather than capitalists?
The dogs do not fight over food as lions and hyenas do, but every now and then one would wander off to finish their meal in peace. The striking feature of this pack is the amount of white that they have in their coats. A rather unique and unusual feature of this particular pack.
From the WWDI website: African Wild Dogs are a highly social species that is well-known for their caring and rearing ability and their devotion to their pack. Packs are led by an alpha pair, who are the only ones to breed. All members of the pack help raise the pups during the denning season by feeding, protecting, teaching, and playing with them. The last remaining breeding pack of African Wild Dogs in the Waterberg is currently denning on private property near the R33, between Vaalwater and Lephalale.
From the WWDI website: African Wild Dogs are threatened due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, disease, and conflict with humans. In order to protect them, it is critical that communities come together to conserve them on private lands. The Waterberg Wild Dog population is a free-roaming population that ranges into unprotected lands, often facing severe threats to their well-being. The Waterberg Wild Dog Initiative works to ensure that the wild dogs are safe as they pass through the patchwork of livestock farms, game farms, private and public nature reserves, and agricultural lands that make up the Waterberg.
Tummy full, it was time for the pack to retrace their steps back to the den site to almost 1km away and across various terrain with the light fading. It was also time for us to revel in the experience that we had just participated in.
From the WWDI website: This experience is only possible for a limited time. Outside of the denning season, the pack covers over 45,000 Ha, utilizing more than 40 different properties in the area. Once the pups are big enough, the pack will leave the den and resume their nomadic lifestyle through the Waterberg bushveld. Contact the Waterberg Wild Dod initiative via their Facebook page to make a booking to witness this unusual pack in the wild. Or click on the logo above.(this activity will end at the end of July or the beginning of August when the pups are ready to leave the den and participate in all the activities of the pack)
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