I must confess that while researching and deciding to sign up for Wildlife ACT in South Africa, I never fully grasped the significance of conserving African wild dogs. Of course, the elephant, giraffe, cheetah, and lion were all much bigger areas of interest when one has to travel across an ocean to see such wild beasts. It did not take me very long to see the fun and justification in the conservation of the African wild dog.
At the crack of dawn we were off in search of the wild dogs. As this was my first morning I had no idea what I was in for, or the difficulty involved in finding an animal in the thick brush of the African landscape. After using our tracking devices, we were close but had no visual confirmation of their existence. Passing by the silhouettes of giraffes and other game, lingering behind the trees, we first spotted the wild dogs by a water source. Off in the distance we saw a crocodile approaching. I thought our work was complete for the morning, but in a flash the wild dogs were off again. We were back on the chase.
We saw the wild dogs a couple more times in the general area where we first encountered them. They traveled as a pack with no real sense of direction or purpose. We had taken down our coordinates and the status of the wild dogs and we were done for the morning. The rest of the day I felt as though finding the wild dogs was going to be relatively easy, it had only taken us a half hour to first spot them. How hard could it be?
The next day was when my appreciation for the conservation of wild dogs set in. Again, we were up at the crack of dawn, but this time it wasn’t so easy. Zigging and zagging across the game reserve we chased the signal for the wild dogs. Off in the distance one would dart across the road, but there was no sign of the other three. It felt as though we were doing circles as they were on the hunt for an early breakfast.
Eventually we did spot them, all together with an impala, or what was left of the poor impala. Sitting in the sun like your average domesticated dog, these animals sat and rested on full stomachs. It was then that I realized how impressive these animals were. Where they were situated was a great distance from where we first spotted them. The amount of ground they had covered in such a short time was mind blowing. Their hunting techniques for working in a pack were calculated and efficient, something to be impressed by.
As I sit here at our base camp in Zimanga Private Game Reserve on this beautiful winter afternoon, I can see across the reserve in every direction. The reserve is surrounded by the presence of people. Farms, highways, and houses are scattered around the reserve and it is here that I realize that us humans are in the way of the natural livelihood of these animals. The wild dogs need room to run, to hunt, and to live, and it is people that prevent them for doing this. I now can add the wild dog to my personal list of animals to consider “worth saving”.
I can’t wait to get up early and be back on the hunt with the African Wild dog.
Written by Chris Hartman
Photographs by Chris Hartman
Conservation volunteers: Remi Perrin, Chris Hartman, Marion Calandra, Coral Castillo and Ninochka Guzman