Tracking Wild Dogs in Zululand

It’s 4 am on a cold morning and I’m on an early morning game drive (I seem to be making a habit of these cold morning rides). I made sure that I was dressed warmly and have tightly wrapped the blanket, provided by our friendly Rhino River Lodge ranger, around me but the cold still seeps through. So, I sit extremely still and try meditate for the duration of the 50 minute drive to the northern part of the reserve where we will be tracking wild dogs with Wildlife ACT.

As cold as I am, I’m also very excited because we are camping, hiking or just driving in a reserve that is said to have wild dogs, we always joke about this being the time we see them. We joke because we know how extremely lucky we would have to be to spot one. The African wild dog is the second most endangered wild dog and there are less than 550 left in South Africa. This time the odds are largely in my favour, leaving my friends green with envy.

Rhino River - Water Hole
A view of a watering hole while on a game drive Rhino River Lodge in Zululand.

As part of their conservation projects, Wildlife ACT tracks and monitors endangered species with the help of volunteers. Starting from the last general area the dogs were seen, we used an antennae to listen for and follow  a signal coming from the collared animals. It was a dark and bumpy drive and it was still a couple of hours before sunset. I was somewhat unsettled by the eyes in the darkness, my imagination does its own thing in these situations.

We found the wild dogs still asleep among some shrubbery. I was so excited to finally get the opportunity to see them but as some of you might know, my track record with spotting wildlife is embarrassingly poor. The rangers point out the sleeping dogs, “just by those trees,” they say. It’s dusk, I look at the area and see …. Branches. So, I take a picture of the branches. Maybe there will be something there.

Sleeping Wild Dogs
Sleeping wild dogs spotted among the shrubbery. You can see how I missed them, right?

One of the dogs is taking a snooze apart from the others in an area free of branches. This was my saving grace because when I saw him/her (I can’t remember), I was so happy and thankful.

Wild Dog
Snoozing wild dog slowly awakened by the sun

We spent the morning watching the dogs as they slept and learnt more about their habitat, demeanour and sadly how few are remaining.

Waking Wild Dog
Waking wild dogs

Then had a lovely breakfast coffee and snacks while we waited for them to slowly wake up as the sun rose. This gave me a better opportunity to see them clearly. So, when I tell the story about the time I saw wild dogs… it’s a true one.

Waking Wild Dog 2
Wild dogs in Zululand

I’m glad they indulged us for a while before going off to start their day…being elusive and all.

Roaming Wild Dogs
Starting the day

“Fun facts about African wild dogs:

  • Its scientific name means Painted Wolf, another common name for the African Wild Dog;
  • Packs of wild dog have an Alpha male and female, the Alpha female is the only female to breed and they can have up to more than 15 puppies;
  • The entire African wild dog pack shares responsibility for protecting the cubs, with both males and females babysitting the young;
  • Wild dog prey can weigh anywhere from 2x to 10x more than them;
  • Unlike dogs, African wild dogs have four toes instead of five on their feet.”

(From the Wild life Act website…you can learn more about Wildlife ACT here.



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