While thoughts of the Big 5 tend to dominate the minds of most visitors to safari lodges in the Timbavati Game Reserve, Kambaku Lodges have an even more spectacular secret to share with you. The African Wild Dog, a shy and critically endangered species, also calls the Kruger home, and you have a chance of making a spectacular sighting during your stay at the Kambaku Lodges.
The story of the African Wild Dog is a somewhat sad one. They’re a little-known African predator, with the more popular big cats often overshadowing them, and their pack hunting style and similarity to the domestic dog has led to a lot of misunderstanding and conflict in areas where humans are encroaching on wildlands. There’s only five or six thousand of these beautiful, remarkable animals left in the wild today, and very few chances to spot them outside of the Greater Kruger area.
It’s easy to see where they came by their Latin name, ‘painted wolf’. Their striking mottled coats are unique to each individual dog, making identification much easier for conservationists. A lean build sometimes leads to them being under-estimated, but their powerful bite is more than capable of bringing down their prey and shearing through bone.
African Wild Dogs are team players, hunting together as a pack to bring down remarkably big animals. They have a complex, structured society led by an Alpha Pair. They’re social animals, and love their family- we’ve even seen them aid ill and hurt pack members. Pups are cared for by all pack members, and you’ll see lots of touches and ‘talk’ happen in the pack. The Alpha female holds the pack together, and on her death, the males and females will split from each other and form new bonds elsewhere.
The hunt begins at dusk or dawn, and you’ll see pack members gather together to ‘talk’, twitter and sniff at each other before setting out to track their prey. Their low chatter and sharp ‘hoo’ call are icons of the African bush. Very occasionally, packs will hunt at the full moon, too, a fact that has led some to be superstitious of these remarkable animals.
The pack fans through the bush to hunt prey. When a target is spotted, a ‘scout’ will isolate it from the herd before the lead male takes over the chase. The pack will coordinate the hunt, driving the prey towards other pack members. When a kill is made, the babies eat first, followed by subordinate pack members, while the Alpha pair can snack as they will. Subordinate females will ‘carry’ food back to nursing mothers at the den by stuffing meat and regurgitating it for them to eat.
Their uncanny pack coordination, and their ability to work together to tackle even the largest of prey (up to and including wildebeest), mean farmers often fear for their stock when the African Wild Dog is present, part of the current conflict between man and nature. Coupled with some easy zoonotics (diseases spread from domestic animals to the African Wild Dog more easily than other wildlife), and a nomadic nature that means they need big territories, the reason for their population decline is clearer.
Game lodges in the Timbavati are very lucky to have the opportunity to still play host to these remarkable, unique and irreplaceable members of the canine family. Lewis Marroquin, the source for the gorgeous photos in this article, had some remarkable encounters with these retiring, fascinating African animals. If you, too, are lucky enough to come across them during your stay at the Kambaku Lodges, you’ll know you’ve had a lucky encounter indeed!