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Scouting Africa's wild dogs

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

A sighting of African painted wolves (wild dogs) is one of the most exhilarating safari experiences and a guaranteed highlight for guests. From their frenetic hunts to playful pack time, these lithe and athletic predators present true poetry in motion. But, unfortunately, they are also one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores.

Looking for the best place to see them in the wild? Here’s a list of our top six favourite painted-wolf destinations:

Wild dogs in Mana Pools

1. Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

The wild dogs of Mana Pools National Park recently rose to prominence as the star characters in the BBC series, Dynasties. Yet, for those in the know, the national park and surrounds have long been recognised as one of the best places in Africa to see these charismatic canids.

What makes Mana a particularly fabulous destination for viewing painted wolves is that visitors can walk without a guide. Regular encounters have ensured that the painted wolves are unusually comfortable with people on foot.

It is important to remember that this is a privilege, not a right, and the African painted wolves should be treated with absolute respect. Keep noise to a minimum, set up a comfortable distance and enjoy the magic of this truly unique experience.

Wild dogs in Mana Pools
The low-angle photographic opportunities in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe, are difficult to rival

2. Northern Botswana’s

Most of Northern Botswana, including Khwai Private Reserve, Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, is prime habitat for wild dogs and a vital population stronghold for these carnivores. The combined landscape of protected areas provides these ever-moving hunters with the space they need. As the river systems ebb and flow, painted wolves charge across the flood plains to chase down their abundant prey.

Painted wolf in Khwai
A pack photographed in Khwai Private Reserve, northern Botswana

3. Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Since their translocation to Madikwe Game Reserve in 1994, African painted wolves have become the unofficial mascot of this arid, malaria-free reserve tucked away in northern South Africa, close to the Botswana border. Though their path to success has not always been easy, the wolves are now well established, and the sparse Madikwe vegetation makes it easier to keep an eye on their antics.

Wild dogs in Madikwe
The frenzy after the hunt in Madikwe Game Reserve

4. Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Home to the largest painted wolf population in Zambia, Luangwa Valley stands out as a conservation success story where these tie-dyed predators are concerned. During the dry season, Luangwa’s multitudinous herbivores gather around the life-giving Luangwa River and painted wolves take full advantage of the buffet on offer. The floodplains set the stage for thrilling displays of athleticism as the energetic canids hurtle after antelope or reaffirm their pack bonds with a game of tag and tumble.

Painted wolf at Luangwa River
A wild dog on the banks of the Luangwa River above a colony of carmine bee-eaters

5. Greater Kruger, South Africa

Bucking the overall population trend, the Kruger’s painted-wolf population is not declining and may even be steadily increasing. In Kruger National Park, use the sighting boards in camp and chat to park guides to get up-to-date information on recent reliable hotspots. Alternatively, a stay at one of the private reserves and lodges in Greater Kruger during the denning season (typically winter: June until August) will ensure unbeatable sightings of the pups emerging to take in their new world, much to the joy of the rest of the pack.

A painted wolf in Kruger National Park
Feeling playful in Kruger National Park

6. Laikipia, Kenya

Known for its exclusive safari experiences and exceptional record for protecting endangered species, vast Laikipia county is almost entirely covered by private and community conservancies, creating a large habitat for painted wolves to roam.

The Kenyan conservancy model gives its visitors glorious freedom, allowing any visit to be tailored to specific interests. Want to tag along with a research team tasked with monitoring the painted wolves? Though not always a guaranteed option, Laikipia is an excellent place to start.

Africa Geographic Travel
Photographing the canids in Laikipia
Photographing wild dogs up close in Laikipia

Never a dull moment

Given their fast-paced lives, keeping up with painted wolves can present something of a challenge, but the reward is well worth the effort involved. With their boundless vitality, astonishing altruism and unmistakable wet-dog smell (with a tinge of something vaguely goat-like), there is never a dull moment when African painted wolves come bounding by.

Resources

Read more on the rebranding of ‘wild dogs’ to ‘painted wolves’.

For more on their biology see 5 facts on wild dogs and read about 11 fascinating canid species.

For more on African painted wolf conservation, read about a new pack released into Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and about their return to Gorongosa after decades of absence.

Read about a proposed theory of change that could increase painted wolf populations across Africa.

For more photos of the three packs of painted wolves featured in BBC’s Dynasties, check out the book Painted Wolves: A Wild Dog’s Life by Nicholas Dyer and Peter Blinston. The book can be purchased here.

Tell us about your favourite wild dog destinations:

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