HELLO AGAIN EVERYBODY!!
You know… working out here in the bush and going out everyday for 8 hours at a time, you think that this can become a little mundane. How wrong you can be !!
Every now and then something very special happens to you, and it rekindles your passion for the bush, and makes you sit back and realize how lucky we are to actually spend the time we do here in the Madikwe Game Reserve.
Every year, around June, the African Wild Dogs are running in crazy directions, and are being incredibly shy and clever, as they are looking for a suitable den site to have their pups, as they prefer to find an abandoned warthog or aardvark burrow in soft sandy soil which is big enough to give birth to an average of 10 pups (can be up to 20). In a pack of wild dogs, only the Alpha male and Female mate and she then becomes pregnant for a very short 60 days before giving birth to very under-developed pups which are born with their eyes still closed. The pups grow very quickly as they suckle on protein rich milk for the first 2-3 weeks, until they become brave enough to leave the hole for the first time. The other wild dogs of the pack are then brought into play, by becoming babysitters and food providers as they bring back food for the pups. The food comes in regurgitated form, as they get begged by the pups to perform what is a very special scene to witness. Chunks of meat are regurgitated for the pups, and a frenzy of puppy rivalry begins to get the best bits.
Anyway, so there we are as rangers everyday going out looking for the spot that the dogs have chosen to settle in, but every morning we are finding tracks everywhere, as they run the length of the southern boundary of Madikwe (35 km)…we locate a freshly made impala kill and loads of tracks moving away from the scene of the crime in a westerly direction, back to where we just came from !!
After some high speed tracking from the vehicle in the effort to catch up to them, the tracks start becoming super fresh, as one of them seems to veer off the road, and head for the mountain……Great, as I have a hunch as to where they might be denning. Then suddenly the tracks are gone and we have to get back to the lodge to check guests out……….
Damn….. this must have continued for about 2 weeks, as we tried hard every morning to pinpoint their movements, until one afternoon I decided that we (myself and colleague would take 2 of our guests for a walk in the area which I thought they might be in.)
After arriving in this area which is a beauty on its own between the Dwarsberg mountain range in the south of Madikwe, we set off in search of the elusive Wild Dogs.
After a short 10 minute walk we located on some really fresh tracks which were going both ways on a nice and sandy game path, and this is where I realized that we must have been very close now. After following the tracks for another 10 mins I stuck my hand into the air and signaled to my guests to look straight ahead……as a spotted hyena burst out of the bushes and scampered off before we could get a photo off him. It was not more than another 100 meters further when I heard a rustling in the bushes in front of me. I froze with the anticipation of a possible dangerous beast lurking. But as I peered over some bushes to get a better look, I cannot explain to you what feeling rushed through my veins as I saw 2 Wild Dogs looking at me with some very anxious eyes.!!
AT LAST !!
We had located them, but was this the den site or not? We quickly retreated to give them the space they needed to relax, and decided to get the vehicle to confirm our suspicions.
On arrival with the vehicle, we spotted another wild dog much more relaxed now, but there were no signs of the pups….Then suddenly all hell broke loose and the adults started chattering in a very excited manner, and then 1…..2….3…4…..5…6….7 pups crawled out of the burrow to our left and the adults greeted them with high pitched squealling, and then suddenly disappeared again into the den.
It is exactly this that I refer to in the beginning of this post….that something special, of finding the den of the 2nd rarest carnivore in all of Africa……
What a moment for me….something I will never forget !!