It’s not every day you get to see an African wild dog – but what a sighting when you do!
I recently had the privilege of getting up close to the newly established pack on The Greater Mabula Private Game Reserve in the Waterberg region in Limpopo, and I’m still reeling from the experience. Here I got to see, first-hand, the incredible work being done by the conservation team to protect these fascinating predators.
I even got to help out!
A safari with a difference
It all happened very suddenly. I was glamping at Safari Plains, soaking in its luxury surrounds, when reserve manager Ivan Killian invited our group to join the ecology and reserve management teams for a unique opportunity to help replace the tracking device on one of the alpha males in the pack.
Wild dogs have extremely good hearing
It was late afternoon when we headed out with vet Andy Fraser to the southwestern side of the reserve where the pack has been denning with new pups. As we got closer, Ivan explained that the pack would be skittish if too many vehicles approached their “home” suddenly. This meant we would need to move very cautiously and quietly into the area so as not to frighten them off.
Wild dogs only remain in one area when denning
Our vehicle held back while Andy and the Mabula Reserve Ecology Team moved into the area to locate and dart the alpha male. A fresh impala carcass was used to lure them away from their den to a clearing closer to the road.
Once they had the alpha male safely immobilised, we got the thumbs up to join them. The rest of the pack had moved back to the den to keep their young pups safe.
Wild dogs are different to domestic dogs
Being able to see one up so close I could really appreciate these predators – its long legs, large, round ears, and multi-coloured coat with its unique splash of patterns.
Wild dogs are still considered a threat
I was invited to assist with the collaring – under the supervision of the team, of course. Removing the old collar and replacing it with the new one wasn’t difficult, although it was heavier than I thought it would be. The tracking device is crucial in enabling the team to monitor the pack’s movements, as well as to gather other vital information.
Wild dogs are social animals
At the same time, vaccinations were administered and DNA samples were collected for analysis. Once the necessary work was complete, a reversal drug was injected to mobilise him again. He was a bit groggy when he came to, but it didn’t take him long to get steady on his feet again. He circled our vehicles a few times, lost interest and then joined up with the rest of the pack, who were waiting for him a short distance away.
What an extraordinary experience! And how honoured I feel to have played a small part of the initiatives ensuring the survival of these fascinating endangered animals at Mabula.