During the afternoon game drive we headed west towards the Chiredzi River, hoping to catch up with the pack of wild dogs we had left there from that same morning’s drive. As we drove along the river bank we were delighted to spot the whole pack of 15 dogs. They are eight adults and seven puppies, and all were relaxed and napping in the riverbed, under the shade of the Natal mahogany trees.
We viewed them for close to an hour and, as the temperature cooled, the puppies started to become restless. The energetic youngsters played and begged for food from the adults and we knew that anytime soon the adults would be pressured into going to seek a meal. It looked as if the hunters wanted to cross the river and try their luck on the eastern side in an area where prey is more abundant. We worried if this was going to be safe for them and the pups as the river is infested with crocodiles.
The adults, led by one of the alphas, in a spearhead formation, crossed the shallows to an island area. Suddenly an energetic game of tag erupted and they darted back and forth nipping each other playfully. This went on for about ten minutes until they crossed the deeper channel.
All the while the pups watched and stayed in the riverbed with one of the adults who was on babysitting duty. Then tentatively, and again led in spearhead formation by the babysitter, they crossed the shallows and then the deeper channel, in a mad splashy dash, exactly where the rest of the pack had crossed.
It was phenomenal to watch such a spectacular sighting and to see all the precious members of these critically endangered wild dogs reach the other side safely!
The order of the images:
The adults enjoy a wild game of tag.
This sort of play forms an excellent warm-up and stretching session for the hunting forays that follow.
Tentatively, and in spearhead formation, they cross the shallows led by one of the alpha dogs.
The adults play in the shallows, convincing the puppies that all is safe.
The puppies follow the babysitting adult, in spearhead formation.
The babysitter leads the pups in a mad dash across the deepest part.
We were on an early morning drive on the Bhanyini plains and were watching the two cheetah brothers scouring the area. There were lots of wildebeest with their young calves about and nearby was a bachelor herd of zebra. As the cheetahs took up positions to hunt a calf one of the zebra stallion kept blocking their view.
It was during our morning drive that we came across fresh tracks of the wild dogs in the Nhoro area, on the northern side of the reserve. The tracks told us they were moving in a southerly direction, and with the sun already heating during this time of the day we knew that it would not be long before they would take a rest in an area that has some water and shade. The tracks kept on heading south and we thought that with plenty of water at Sosiji Dam this could be the area they were heading. But, to our surprise, there was no sign of them there.
The temperature was very high, above 40 degrees Celsius, and so I decided that afternoon to sit and wait quietly in the shade with my guests at Lojaan Dam. Lojaan is one of my favourite places on the property. The scenery is amazing, and this area with its hills, drainage lines and thick bush is the right habitat for buffaloes and black rhino.
Sitting in Hwata blind (our sunken photographic hide) is an incredible way to wait for animals to come and drink, especially when the heat beats down on the earth and scorches the last bit of moisture out of almost everything. At this time of the year one can sit in the blind and always have something to watch, from the endless amount of doves that just seem to keep coming to drink, to the almost resident impalas around the open areas of the pan. It’s always great to see this action, but of course the action that we all hope for is the arrival of the bigger pachyderms.