Every few days, I have decided to write about the animals which I have encountered. I will include a few photographs if I have been able to take any which are worth sharing. I will start the series with the Wild Dog.
In hunting terms, wild dogs are the business. Nearly 80% of their attacks result in a kill. Lions have a success rate down at 30%, and even leopards just manage 60%. They work together in a pack, usually between 8-15 dogs, ranging over a wide area. They hunt at dawn and dusk, when it is cooler, and during the heat of the day, they lounge around in the shade of bushes, snapping at flies and snoozing. They identify their prey by sight, so their preferred hunting grounds are open savannah.
They don’t really look like anything you would see at Crufts. They’re as big as a lurcher, but leaner and meaner. Some people call them “Painted Dogs” as though Jackson Pollock has randomly slapped them with black, brown and white paint. Their muzzles are black, and they have large rounded ears, like radar dishes. The tip of the tail is white.
I heard about the pack last night at dinner. I drove past their resting place twice without seeing them, even though I was within ten metres of their bushes. I took a few photographs through the branches and grass, but I was delighted to have made contact.
I returned to the same spot at 5pm, just as the sun was setting, but they had disappeared. I pottered along for about half a kilometre when I saw an open topped green Landrover parked off the track. The driver was wearing earphones (some of the wild dogs in the park have radio transmitters around their necks), so after a bit of sign language and gesticulation, I realised that he was observing the pack. I drove Phyllis slowly over the bumpy ground and pulled in behind the Landrover.
There were about five dogs in the pack, lying in the grass enjoying the warm sunshine. Two other dogs appeared from nowhere and did a bit of socialising, before one led the gang off into the bush. The tracker followed the pack over more bumpy ground, but I didn’t want to do any damage to the suspension, so I returned to the laterite road, and set off home.
If I had known more about where the dogs were likely to hunt, I would have realised that they were heading for open short grassland, not far away. I saw another safari vehicle pulling off the road ahead, so I followed it and watched the dogs for fifteen minutes as they got their act together.
They had problems getting over a stream with deep banks (wary of crocodiles, perhaps?), but once one had jumped across, the rest followed. At the tree line, fringing the paddock, baboons were patrolling back and forth, squealing and screeching whenever a wild dog wandered past. A platoon of male baboons perched on the lower branches of trees were being loud and aggressive. It reminded me of the antics of the home crowd at a football derby game when an opposing player approaches the touchline to take a throw in.
It was obvious that the dogs weren’t interested in baboon for supper. The leader of the pack suddenly moved off into the forest, followed by the rest. As I drove home, I was surprised by several impala running out of the bush across the road in a panic. The dogs were out a-hunting.
Footnote: I heard later that they had ambushed a puku antelope near the stream but while they were eating, two crocodiles claimed the carcass and a hyena stole the dead puku’s hide.