Warwick Hendry, an avid writer and photographer is currently based at our camps in Botswana. When he sent through his recent update, we were delighted and somewhat green with envy. This was the sighting of a lifetime!
Here is his blog :
The day started out normally enough: en route to Moremi Game Reserve, we had the usual elephant encounters, along with zebra, giraffe and other plains game. The drive was pleasant as always, but relatively uneventful in the grand scheme of things.
Then we had a chance encounter with another Wildside Africa vehicle, making the return trip from Moremi. As is customary, the two guides paused for a bit of friendly banter and to exchange information on the morning’s sightings.
Needless to say, our group received far better information than we gave. As we drove off, our guide informed me that we’d been given a golden tip-off. There was an active dog den ahead, not far off our planned route to the Island.
We made our way through the game reserve and followed the directions easily enough. Just as the day was beginning to warm up around mid morning, we rounded a bend, pulled into a copse of rain trees, and there they all were.
Scattered about in all the available patches of shade around an old termite mound were the better part of a large pack of African wild dogs. They sprawled lazily, entirely unconcerned the presence of our vehicle parked a respectful distance away.
With fewer than 6500 dogs remaining in the wild, this encounter was special enough in itself that excitement levels in the vehicle rose dramatically. Shutters clicked away as we sat and watched and waited – hoping that despite the heat and the indolence of the supine dogs, we might yet catch a glimpse of the pups we knew were hidden within the safety of the den.
And then there was movement! A dog suddenly emerged from the surrounding bush at a trot, or perhaps more of a waddle. Its belly was distended with what we could only assume was the remains of a very recent meal.
After giving us a few wary glances, the dog made straight for the den, where it was greeted by a chorus of high-pitched yipping and mewling. For the moment we had to content ourselves with hearing the pups as they were fed on freshly regurgitated chunks of meat underground.
At length the returned hunter emerged, followed, to our delight, by first one, then two, then an absolute flood of pups. By the time they’d all clambered out into the light, we counted sixteen of them, roughly six weeks old.
What we witnessed over the next few minutes will remain with me as long as I live. The pups were greeted in turn by the chief den guard of the morning. He seemed to check on each of them quite carefully as they passed.
As we looked on, the other members of the hunting party returned one by one. As they came up they were swarmed by the pups, clamouring for food. One by one they offered up the contents of their stomachs to the hungry, yipping little mouths and the meals were quickly devoured.
Wild dog are unique in that their digestive systems do not kick into gear until they stop moving. This means that a dog is able to return to the den with a stomach full of food, which can be shared with young or injured members of the pack – as long as it doesn’t stop for a rest along the way.
It is one thing to know about this behavior and quite another to witness it. As we looked on enthralled, the pups ate and played and yipped and romped around the den area under the watchful eyes of their mother and the other members of their large pack.
At a certain point the den guard seemed to decide that the proceedings were becoming unnecessarily, and possibly dangerously, loud. He stood, moved a little closer to the unruly youngsters, and emitted a single sharp bark.
The pups quieted themselves at once and ran for the protection of their mother, where they were received with reassuring licks and sniffings. Just seeing them was special enough, but I found this interaction extraordinary for the fact that it gave us a glimpse into the complex social organisation of these amazing animals.
As they were shepherded back to the den and we pulled out to continue our drive to the island, we knew we’d witnessed something incredible, something not many people are ever lucky enough to see. But that’s the way it is out here – you just never know what you might find around the next corner.