Written by: Paul Slyer, head field guide at Jaci’s Lodges
Madikwe Game Reserve and Jaci’s Lodges is arguably one of the best places in Southern Africa to find and view the highly endangered wild dog. These predators are one of those most fascinating animals to watch, being active, having a very tight bond and ‘community’ spirit amongst themselves.
Being very social, the whole pack works together as one unit while hunting, chasing prey animals down before killing it very quickly and efficiently. Wild dogs are endurance runners – managing to sprint at 60km/h for up to 3km – normally running their prey to exhaustion. This makes them the most successful large predator with success rates around 80%, meaning they normally catch four out of every five animals that they chase. Their main prey is small to medium sized antelope but have been known to bring down antelope as large as fully grown male kudu and sable.
The whole pack is dominated by an alpha male and alpha female who are usually the only pair that mates. In winter they will normally find a den site, usually an abandoned aardvark hole, where the alpha female will give birth to litters of up to 18 puppies. The alpha female and other baby sitters will usually stay behind with the puppies while they are less than two months old while the rest of the dogs will head off hunting. Returning to the den to regurgitate meat to the dogs that have stayed behind to ‘babysit’ and until the puppies are old enough to leave the den, learning to become nomadic hunters as part of the pack and traveling long distances looking for prey.
When the pack become too big for them to hunt enough food, same sex individuals will break away from the main pack and meet up with opposite sex break away packs forming a new pack – this is also the best way to stop inbreeding amongst family members of the same pack.
Wild dogs are the second most endangered large predator in Africa with only around 4 000 individuals left in the world – Madikwe has at least 35 wild dogs, a fair proportion of the worlds population! The reason they are so endangered was because in the late 1800s and early 1900s in South Africa they were considered as vermin and almost hunted to extinction. In the rest of Africa they have huge home ranges and tend to leave the protection of the wilderness reserves heading into rural land where they often have conflicts with humans, either being caught in snares or killed because they prey on livestock.
So the next time you visit Jaci’s Lodges there is a very good chance you will be privileged enough to spend some precious time with these amazing wild dogs.