Tracking Wild Dogs in Botswana


Wild dogs are one of the rarest mammals in Africa: there are only about 5000 left. They were never plentiful to start with, but recently their numbers have collapsed due to habitat loss, vermin extermination campaigns and canine distemper. If you have never seen one, imagine a German shepherd body set on spindly supermodel legs and a funky-colored pelt in blacks, brown and ocher, earning them the alternative name “painted wolf”.

When resting, they radiate a seemingly sweet disposition which says: “Take me home, I will make a perfect pet” but this illusion disappears when they yawn. Then you see a mouthful of vicious canine teeth, and these are meant for use, not ornamentation: Wild dogs are the most successful hunters on the African savanna. They run their prey (usually impala) to ground to exhaustion with a combination of speed, stamina, and well-orchestrated teamwork. Everything is over within minutes and it is impossible to follow a hunt on land from beginning to end. In fact, the first film of a complete hunt was taken by the Planet Earth team from the air in a microlight. Where? In Botswana, of course.

The wilderness lodge Kwando Lagoon in northern Botswana practically guarantees wild dog sightings, which is a big deal because these canines move frequently and fast: Here today, gone thirty miles tomorrow! In late May 2010, we followed a pack of 17 for three days. One day we surprised them resting (they do that a lot), the next day setting out for the hunt, as some command–inaudible to us, meant for dog ears–set them in quick motion and all sprinted in the direction of the kill made by the ace hunters in the pack. The victim was a warthog which was fractions of a second too late disappearing into its burrow and was dragged out and devoured right there and then in a confusion of muzzles, tails and legs. It was over very quickly because dogs don’t bother chewing their food–rather, they swallow it whole and carry it back to their den to regurgitate for the stay-at-home dogs and pups.

Next day we came across them again–and once more we had missed their killing of an impala bull. This time we watched the younger members of the pack play with the leftovers: The hide, the head, the legs.

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