My wild dog chase had begun to feel like a wild goose chase. Guess where I got lucky? By Romi Boom
Wild dogs have been evading me for as long as I’ve been looking for them in likely places all over Africa. Approaching Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools, our friends remarked: “This is the spot where we saw them the last time we were here, three months ago.” This time there was no sign of them.
A few weeks later, the owner of Croc Valley Lodge in Zambia’s South Luangwa exclaimed, just as we were returning to camp late afternoon, “Did you see the dogs, they were not far from the gate?” NO WE DID NOT!
A Wild Card member, reading of my frustration, mailed to say that he had seen doggies on his last seven trips to Kruger. Seven out of seven!! Even though there are fewer than 500 left in South Africa, Kruger is a stronghold for wild dog conservation on the continent and has the only viable population in the country. The member volunteered info about his sightings and gave me tips about roads to drive.
My cup of contentment spilled over.
– Romi Boom
And so it went, year after year. Ever since researching the Painted Wolf feature for Wild‘s Winter 2014 issue, my quest became something of an obsession. I promised myself that 2014 would be the year, and when December loomed and I still had no luck, I decided to give it another go via Kruger’s private concessions.
The ‘Golden Kudus‘ offer the opportunity to venture off-road. This does not entail breaking the rules, but it allows rangers the leeway to improvise, for example to enjoy sightings from really close. If you have a particular tick on your wish-list, as I did, this is your best chance of success, as the rangers are in constant communication with each other and have intimate knowledge of animal movements on the concession.
So when I explained to our guide at Lukimbi Safari Lodge that I had been looking for wild dogs for more than a decade, Chris was all ears. He hadn’t seen them for weeks, he confessed, but would keep his ear to the ground. On our afternoon game drive, we hit the jackpot: a group of at least ten dogs, resting right alongside the road, playing and posing for photographs in the golden twilight. My cup of contentment spilled over.
Chris positioned the safari vehicle in a little dip and since I was seated in the front seat, alongside him, I was almost at eye height with the dogs, making for great shots.We spent about 30 minutes with them, watching, listening, in awe of their relaxed presence.
Lukimbi is situated in the very accessible southern section of Kruger, on the Lwakahle concession. About 50 per cent of the guests are South African. For me it had proven a very lucky destination indeed.
For the record: our sighting occurred on the public road S114, a little beyond the intersection with the S119, driving towards Malelane Gate. I have submitted my images to the sixth photographic census of wild dogs, conducted in Kruger from August 2014 tot April 2015.
Reserachers use the information, together with full body and side profile photos, to identify individuals from their unique coat patterns.
Email your sightings to [email protected]. Project updates are regularly posted on Twitter (@KNPWildDogs).