The African wild dog is known to be a highly social animal. Pack sizes range from just a few animals to upwards of 30 dogs in the most successful packs. However, at Mombo camp, deep in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one wild dog is living a very different lifestyle.
This particular female dog was part of a pack of three that were seen fairly regularly in the camp’s game-drive area. Sometime in August 2008 the two male dogs in the pack disappeared, leaving this female dog all alone. At first she would spend hours calling for her missing pack mates, but after some months she gave up, and we assumed she would wander further afield in search of new mates.
This didn’t happen, and in the early part of 2009, the lone female dog was observed greeting and touching muzzles with spotted hyaenas.
As if this wasn’t unusual enough, the wild dog began associating herself with several family groups of black-backed jackals. Mombo guides Peter Myburgh and Simon Byron recounted how they had watched the wild dog coming to the jackal’s den site, where she would call to the pups that were hidden underground. When the pups responded and came out of the den, the wild dog regurgitated meat for them (both wild dogs and jackals feed their young by this method). Initially the adult jackals tried to chase off the wild dog by biting and attacking her, but once the dog started feeding the pups, the jackals accepted her.
Wild dogs and jackals are normally competitive and intolerant of one another – wild dogs have even been recorded killing jackals.
On a recent visit to Mombo I was able to photograph the wild dog and the jackals. The jackal pups have grown up and are no longer being fed by their parents. However, they were all resting close together with the wild dog just a few metres away. In the late afternoon, when the wild dog began searching for prey, she was accompanied by four black-backed jackals.
Over the past few months, the camp guides have seen the dog standing guard over her impala kill while the jackals feed. They have also seen her chase off a young hyaena that was attempting to steal food from the jackal pups. There have been occasional sightings of other wild dog packs passing through the area but, whether by accident *or* intent, the female never came into contact with them.
This unusual companionship has likely come about because of the wild dog’s strong social instinct and the jackals’ opportunistic nature. For now, visitors to Mombo have a rare chance to see something most extraordinary.