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Wild Dogs at Pilanesberg, March 2014

We spent four days last week at Madikwe, a large game reserve a few hours from Pretoria. That wasn't enough for Heidi, who found a last-minute deal at a small lodge in the Black Rhino concession within Pilanesberg (non-descriptly named Pilanesberg Private Lodge). We drove up Saturday morning, did two drives, and came back Sunday afternoon. The lodge was small and friendly (one driver, one full-time manager) and we were paired up with Jono and Kirsten from Joburg, the only other people staying at the lodge over the weekend.

The two of them had seen a sighting of African wild dogs Saturday morning, before we got there. They usually move fast (up to 50 km/day), so we didn't have much hope of seeing them again. But then we went out Saturday afternoon, and...

NB: Black Rhino is a 2500 hectare concession within the larger 55,000 hectares of Pilanesberg National Park. There are about 20 lodges within Black Rhino, mostly small (some are just private houses). For the most part the game drives stick to the small corner of the park, rather than go on the tarred roads within the main Pilanesberg. Since we just went up for one night, I just took one camera and one lens, rather than the cargo-load I usually bring.

Thanks to Warick for the excellent game-finding, and Jacome for running the lodge and taking care of Astro when we were chasing animals. And good luck to Jono and Kirsten, who got engaged just before our drive.

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Driving around Black Rhino just before sunset. On the radio, we hear some discussion but don't pay attention to it, since we were talking with our safari companions Jono and Kirsten about the wild dogs they'd seen that morning.
Our game driver Warick heads down a road only to see an impala tearing across the path and through the grasses. It's going fast, and animals in motion are always cool, so I take a few shots.
And then, hang on -- wild dogs! They are running back and forth, not quite sure which way to go.
Then another impala goes across, with a dog in close pursuit...

The dogs really leap into the air! I mean, the impala do what is called 'pronging' when they run through tall grass, which is where they basically jump up to see what is around them when they are running. But I had no idea the dogs the same thing. This dog was probably a good meter or so off the ground, taking 3-meter long jumps as it tore through the tall grass.

Then the dogs start cooing and talking -- not barking, but more of a cackle. A week ago, we'd heard nearly the same thing in Madikwe, so we knew they'd taken down the impala.

But at Black Rhino there is no off-roading (unlike many of the smaller private lodges, where it is allowed to follow predators). The dogs are about 100 meters into the grass. But hang on -- we're right next to a lodge (you can see it in the previous photo), so Warick calls over to that lodge and we get permission to go on their driveway. From there, we can pull right up to the kill site -- about 10 meters away in the grass.

One dog emerges pulling the impala's backbone.
NB: To keep things from getting out of hand ("I think they said lions! You must take us there now now!"), the safari drivers use the native Tswana names for the animals when talking on the radio. Makanyane = wild dogs, mala = impala. Bumbo is the word for a kill. Tlou = elephant, Nkwe = leopard. Now you can be a game driver!

Kudu are just kudu (sorry), and the word for rhino is unknown, since drivers don't radio those sighting in to avoid tipping off potential poachers.

Another has ripped off a leg.
Here is the alpha female -- see the tracking collar. It's not a GPS, but a simple radio transmitter. The pack is tracked occasionally in order to monitor its health. It's a fair amount of work, involving listening with short-range directional radios, to figure out where they are.
And another leg! This leg had been stashed for a few minutes after the kill, and then the dog came back for it.
Meal over, the pack regroups and soon moves on...

The park's first wild dogs were introduced around 2007 as a pack of 13. Lions slowly took them down to 3, but they've built themselves back to 14 now. It's a single pack, which covers the entire 55,000 hectares (550 square km) of the Pilanesberg park.

Dogs are Africa's rarest predator, so why not have more? Says our guide, "the park just can't support it. You'd totally put the bok population out of balance. This pack probably takes down 2 or 3 impala a day. And they are extraordinarily successful: 99% of the time they chase, they will kill."

We've seen the wild dogs at Madikwe (similar-sized park, with one pack of 14 and a much smaller pack), and at Sabi.

Lilac-breasted roller. Common but cool.
Rhinos. Pilanesberg had poaching under control for a long time, but now has lost 8 rhinos so far this year, including 5 this month.
Just as we are leaving, a group of mongooses from under a drain (?) near the exit.


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Henry Throop

Last modified Mon Mar 31 13:07:27 2014