A special encounter with African wild dogs
There are few sightings that are quite as magical as that of the endangered African wild dogs. As highly sociable and playful creatures, they can provide countless hours of entertainments for those lucky enough to find them. Discover one such occasion this year where guide Emily was left almost speechless by her favourite animal of all....
Setting out for afternoon game drive from Klaserie Drift, I was full of the usual eagerness to show my guests the beauty and magic of the Klaserie. Even after 3 years of living in this wild paradise, I still get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of what we might see on any particular day. On this occasion, luck seemed to be in our favour. We were slowly meandering along the lush riverine thicket when a call came in over the radio that always makes my heart skip a beat - African wild dogs! These highly endangered carnivores, also known as painted wolves for their exquisite coats splashed with black, white and tan as if from an artist’s canvas, are without doubt my favourite animal to encounter.
We were still quite distant from the sighting and, when it comes to these insatiable athletes, you never quite know when they might take off into the bush and disappear. With that in mind, I was keen to get there quickly. Without trying to give too much away to my unsuspecting guests, my right foot gently pressed down on the accelerator and my fingers gripped the wheel tight in a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The minutes ticked away. My guests realised something was up - I have a terrible poker face - and I confessed there was a potential sightings ahead that we were trying to get to.
Finally, after a tortuous 20 minutes of driving, I could hear the telltale twitter of playful dogs over the rumble of the engine. I tentatively pulled in to a local waterhole to an explosion of ears, tails and water splashing in every direction - a pack of more than 20 dogs were dancing wildly through the ripples in a dizzying display of pleasure. The deafening sound of joyous squeals and chirps filled the air like a brilliant concerto. For a few moments, I was rendered totally speechless. Wherever I looked, another dog was dashing and jumping for joy like a crazed bunch of 8 year olds at a waterpark. I was in heaven.
Recomposing myself, I turned to my guests to explain to them just how special this sighting was - but I quickly saw there was no need. They were just as enraptured by this moving performance as I was. Sometimes, it is best to let nature do all the talking. I allowed my focus to shift back to the dogs once more and pulled out my camera. For 5 minutes or more, I was at a complete loss for where to begin taking photos. Eventually, I focussed on a pair of dogs engaged in a watery combat and, cranking up my shutter speed to freeze the action, began clicking away.
With seemingly endless energy, the dogs continued playing for another half hour or more before one individual spotted a suspicious looking shape in the water. Always alert to danger, the youngster let out a sharp growl that instantly halted the entire pack. A moment of confusion quickly turned into a united front as the pack evacuated the pan and rallied round to expose the threat - which fortunately was nothing more than a nefarious stick. Suitably spooked, however, the dogs were now reluctant to re-enter the water and decided to settle instead in the shade of some nearby trees. On this cue we also took our leave, taking with us some unforgettable memories of a very special afternoon.
Photos and words by Emily Whiting