Visiting the Linyanti Concession in late 2011 (based at Savuti Camp), leading a tailor-made southern African birding trip, we had some incredible encounters with African wild dogs as a definite mammal highlight of the entire safari.
“Wild dogs unusually communal and seemingly caring social structure endear it to human beings while it’s hunting style has been described as savage and cruel by people who don’t understand it.”
Over the course of our 4-night stay we saw the Linyanti Pack on several occasions, mostly operating in close proximity to the Savute Channel. We had so many sightings of these predators in action it was as if we had front-row seats to our own wildlife documentary! While we understand this is probably not the norm, visiting during the dry season certainly betters the odds for these types of encounters.
Wild dog packs are highly efficient hunting units. They do not employ the subtleties of the stalking feline counterparts. Instead they simply sight a herd of potential prey and then tear off after them, sometimes reaching speeds of 60 kph. The alpha male normally leads the hunt and packs have been known to chase prey for more than five kilometres at a time. They’re not particularly fussy eaters and will eat anything from scrub hares to wildebeest. That said, they like their meals fresh and tend not to eat carrion or rancid meat – unlike jackals, hyaenas and the big cats.
The Linyanti wild dog pups, now almost fully grown at the time of our visit, were travelling large distances with the adult members of the pack. We enjoyed how these dogs all interacted amongst themselves and observed them hunting as a unit on several occasions. The low whooping call of the alpha pair would indicate that a hunt was on with other pack members following mercilessly – both adult impala and fawns were the hapless victims. The hunts were mostly early morning or quite late in the afternoon. By the end of our stay we were saturated with memories of exciting interaction between the dogs and their pups and of dogs making kills. Other guests enjoyed territorial warfare between the different packs, and rivalry between the dogs and other predators.
On the final morning of our departure, as we were about to leave for the airstrip, the frantic calls of Helena Atkinson, camp manager at the time, had us all rushing to the game drive meeting point where she was waiting for us. The Linyanti Pack had just killed a right impala in front of Savuti Camp, only metres from them! We were met by a cackling cacophony of dogs as they tore another impala apart, with some of the pups seen running off with body parts. The trip had ended in canine bedlam!
Wild dogs used to be distributed throughout Africa but for the desert and rain forest regions of the continent. During the last century however, these incredible animals were been reduced to an estimated 5000 individuals. Their decline has been brought about by human persecution, disease and habitat loss. Most of the remaining dogs are concentrated in southern Africa with a small population in Tanzania, an isolated group in Senegal and there are confirmed populations in central Africa. There are also anecdotal reports of dogs from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Nigeria, Algeria and Mauritania.
The African wild dog is one of the most admired, detested and mesmerising animals on the continent. Hopefully they can be adequately conserved for future generations to enjoy and marvel at. It is Africa’s second most endangered carnivore.
“(the dubious distinction of ‘most endangered carnivore’ on the continent goes to the Ethiopian wolf – a reddish jackal-like canid that lives in the Afro-alpine regions of Ethiopia).”