Friday, 26 August 2016

THE VISIT TO SELOUS & RUAHA: Twice the wild dog fun in Tanzania

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.
Tented accommodation at Selous Impala Camp ©Pietro Luraschi
Tented accommodation at Selous Impala Camp ©Pietro Luraschi
I love the d├ęcor 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.
Vincent Horry ©Flo Montgomery
Selous Impala guide, Vincent Horry ©Flo Montgomery
A hyena mother and baby ©Flo Montgomery
A hyena mother and baby ©Flo Montgomery
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.
A wild dog relaxes on a mound ©Flo Montgomery
A wild dog relaxes on a mound ©Flo Montgomery
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.
The fantastic coats of the painted wolves in Selous ©Flo Montgomery
The fantastic coats of the painted wolves in Selous ©Flo Montgomery
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©Flo Montgomery
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!
Spotting wild dogs in Ruaha National Park ©Flo Montgomery
Spotting wild dogs in Ruaha National Park ©Flo Montgomery
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.
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Wild dogs cool down in Ruaha ©Flo Montgomery
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A large pack of wild dogs relax in Ruaha ©Flo Montgomery
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.
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Wild dogs rest in the shade of a tree in the Mwagusi riverbed ©Flo Montgomery
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