Written by: Flo Montgomery
I have visited Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania nearly every year since I joined Adventure Camps, and on my visits I always hope to see the elusive African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus),
which are commonly known as wild dogs. They are now one of the most
endangered species on the planet, with only around 6,000 remaining –
most of which are in Southern Africa.
I will always remember I trip I took in 2005 – I flew from Dar es
Salaam to Mtemere airstrip in Selous where the smiling pilot pointed out
the vehicle that would take us to Selous Impala Camp.
We soon rolled up to the spacious camp with its eight green tents on
platforms that were hidden in the lush bush, from which we could see the
sparkling Rufiji River.
I love the décor of this camp – it has a distinctly Out of Africa style,
with an emphasis on sturdy canvas tents furnished with kikoys, polished
wood, brass, and comfortable sofas and tables spread out in the
attractive lodge area. With its open verandas, it’s the perfect place to
dine under the stars with the mighty river just a few metres away.
We drove on further as evening drew closer and the sky darkened. All
at once I turned my head and there they were – the distinctive black and
fawn patterned heads with large rounded ears – two wild dog scouts
sitting on a mound.
We knew that there would be more of them around as wild dogs live and
hunt as a pack, and sure enough we counted 10 wild dogs in total,
peacefully resting and waiting for the cool of evening when it would be
time to hunt. In spite of the lack of rain and the dryness of the bush,
they seemed to be in really good condition; their pelts thick and shiny.
Some of the group had beautiful colouring – bright tan, pitch black,
fawn and splashes of white.
A few of the younger ones were restless and hungry. We watched them
for a long time and every so often some of them would jump up, start
chivying the others, touching noses and generally meeting and greeting.
Then they would all sit down again and appear to go to sleep.
We decided to leave them in peace and went to watch the sunset at the
nearby lake before returning in time for a candlelit dinner at camp.
“Watch out for elephants,” said the manager, as a Maasai guided me to my
tent, carrying a strong torch in one hand and a spear in the other.
Next morning we took off on a game drive – Malcolm had heard that
wild dogs had been seen not far away. I could not believe my luck when I
saw my second pack in two days, in two different reserves!
This group was larger than the one in Selous – about 29 were counted
altogether, resting in the shade of a tree in the Mwagusi sand riverbed.
It was magical. We watched them for hours and I felt I got to know them
quite well. It was very hot and they lay panting, a mass of speckled
furry bodies, half in and half out of a pool of water.
Every so often they would nuzzle each other, uttering occasional
‘yips’. A giraffe came to drink nearby but kept an extremely wary eye on
them. One youngster got up and attempted to hunt it, but received no
support from its brothers and sisters, so withdrew into the shade again
and went to sleep.
I stayed two nights at Mdonya and was sad to leave – the only way I
could bring myself to say goodbye was by telling myself that I would be
back there often. Little did I know that I would see the painted dogs
again in 2009 and 2012. But that is another story