VOLUNTEER TRIP SOUTH AFRICA
Mkuze Game Reserve
Wednesday, 18th January 2017, 4 AM
Bright and early, a warm morning, the rain thankfully has left us for a while, although Zululand just had the worst draught in 100 years, so they can still use it. The smell of death just lingering over us with a dead impala in the back of the truck, to be used as bait and reward for the dogs when we find them.
We got greeted by another white rhino crossing the road this morning. When we finally arrived at the other game reserve, we scanned for the dogs and the signal came from all around us, it was like we were surrounded, which is impossible as the beep comes from one collar. Ursula, my roommate from Switzerland, nudged me and said calmly,’ look… here’s a dog..’ I look to the left and yes, one of the African Wild Dogs, PJ, our wildlife monitor stands at the other side of the truck and hasn’t heard or seen anything and keeps on scanning for them. So I whispered that the dogs were on the other side of the truck.. We counted 6 of the 15, they came and found us, because of the smell of blood we were carrying.
After following them for a while, we went back to the fence and got the impala out. After they cut him up, they tied him at the back of the truck. I say ‘they’, as I did not join that mission. The first dogs came out and we also saw the dominant male coming out. We counted 14 dogs, so 1 is missing. We also saw that one of the dogs got snared, she got a big cut under her front leg, over her chest, cutting in her neck on the other side and her mouth got cut open, most likely from her biting through the snare. She’s one lucky creature, she could’ve easily been killed, probably nº 15s fate. Last week they found 10 snares in a small area of the reserve. Bastards! I’ve got no good word for cowards, killing innocent animals for profit.
We managed to drag the corpse quite a few kilometres towards Mkuze fence when the dogs got too tired to run and it got too hot. We let them feed once in a while to entice them to keep on following us. We’ll go back this afternoon, hopefully they’ll be still in the same area, as we left the rest of the corpse.
On our way back, 5 minutes before we reached camp, my hat blew off on the road. We stopped, reversed and Ursula, offered to go and pick it up, it was 5 meters behind the truck, she was at the hat, was about to pick it up when I hear a big ‘ROAR’, damn, a lion was hiding in the bush, just next to the track. So we ushered her to hop in the truck and leave the damn hat. I saw part of his body just 2-3 meters from the road.. lucky Ursula, she could’ve been lunch. We backed up and saw 2 lions, mother and her semi-adult son of approximately 16 months old.
My lucky hat, made us discover 2 lions.. The hat is now safely recuperated and I thank the lions for they ‘roar’ as a warning sign. Nothing better than a bit of excitement to finish the morning session.
We went back around 15.30 to the spot we left them, see if we can lure them to another adjacent property so they’ll make their way back to Mkuze. After ‘who’-calling them without much success, we went to find them. There is always 1 or 2 bold ones, and then the rest of the pack will follow. Gompie, who is collared and we can track is one of those. He’s very recognisable as he’s got a floppy ear and a collar. There are 11 pups and they love a good meal. With a lot of patience we managed to lure them close to the property adjacent to Mkuze. The dominant male kept his distance and he’s powerful, if he is not following, the rest of the pack will turn back after a while, which has happened more than once during our retrieving session. He refuses to come close and indulge on the impala behind the truck. It was lovely to see the dogs, playing, feeding, and twittering. They look so cute, but they are predators, however there hasn’t been a case yet, where they have attacked a human. Just keep your distance.
Why are African Wild Dogs endangered?
Some of us have never heard of African Wild Dogs, they are gorgeous looking dog-like animals who live in packs. They’re fur pattern is like a fingerprint, not one is the same, this way they are easily identified. You have one dominant male and a dominant female. These can be a pair or can be related. When pups are born, when they become semi-adult, the females disperse and go looking for a male to form their own pack. This is very cleaver as it means they keep them free of inbreeding and the associated health issues that come from inbreeding. However, because they are very affectionate and they are constantly playing, play-biting, laying on top of each other, if someone of the pack becomes seriously ill, it can spread through the whole pack and they can be wiped out. Another reason why they are endangered, the most of Africa is impoverished, these dogs love to roam, dig, escape. When they get out of a reserve, they eat man’s livestock. As you can imagine, if you don’t have a lot, you want to protect what you’ve got and to the community anything that kills their food or livelihood is a threat. So they’re getting killed through being shot or ensnared. They’re not thinking about what it will do to the ecosystem if the African Wild Dog is extinct, like the other predators they are vital to keep the herbivores from overpopulating. If they overpopulate, the grass, shrubs and plants will all be depleted, which again has a knock-on effect.
Interesting Wild Dog Facts (excerpt from Wildlife Act)
- Its scientific name means Painted Wolf, another common name for the African Wild Dog.
- Packs of wild dog have an Alpha male and female. The Alpha female is the only female to breed and can give birth to litters of 15 puppies or more.
- The entire African wild dog pack shares responsibility for protecting the pups, with both males and females babysitting the young.
- Wild dog prey can weigh anywhere from 2x to 10x more than their own body weight.
- African Wild Dogs primarily prey on large mammals such as Warthogs and numerous antelope species (especially Nyala), supplementing their diet with rodents, lizards, birds and insects.
- Unlike other dogs, African wild dogs have four toes instead of five.
If you want to learn more about the African Wild Dog, you can read this article of WildLife Act. http://wildlifeact.com/about-wildlife-act/wildlife-species/african-wild-dog-lycaon-pictus/
At 20.00 we called it a day, it was dark, we were all tired of a long day and we still had an hour’s drive back to camp. Make that 1,5 hours, as we ran a flat tyre, in the middle of a game reserve in the darkness. I had flashlight duty whilst Ursula helped PJ to change the tyre, making sure nothing suddenly materialises out of nothing as this reserve has got buffalos and we didn’t want to pick a fight with them.
We finally arrived back at camp around 21.30, dead on our feet.