The 10-year challenge

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There is a saying that we find is always true about your luck on safari “ you have to leave something out for next time”. Going at nature’s pace makes you slow down and remind you that certain secrets are only revealed to you with much effort and patience, and – even when you tick seemingly everything off your list – you will always leave feeling that you need to come back for that one sighting, that one experience. Undoubtedly, if your heart long for adventures, you will add more and more “wishes” to your safari bucket list making it grow longer each time. All of our guides and safari specialists, despite having spent a considerable amount of time in the wilderness, have that one sighting that they’ve gone searching for, but that has thus far has eluded them. For Tristan it’s finding a Caracal in the Sabi Sand, for Tayla is seeing a real wild Pangolin, for Ale is seeing a Pel’s Fishing owl and for Astrida it’s been seeing wild dogs.

Astrida is one of our safari specialists and she has been in search of wild dogs for the last 10 years over her travels across Africa. As luck has had it, the one creature that someone really wants to see is the one everyone else in the team has already ticked off their list. Our private guides have all been lucky in having lived and worked in wilderness spaces across the African continent for years and so they have been able to add to their list more sightings of wild dogs than what they can count, from dens to puppies to adults hunting (or sadly being hunted too). Astrida on the other hand had never had the opportunity. It had become a running joke for the team that she was in fact the wild dog repellent.

Wild dogs or Painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) can seem physically unassuming – just a medium-sized dog with big ears – but they are quite impressive in their home range size, their unique social structure, and the beautiful patterns that make them stand out from domestic dogs (to which they are not related to, despite being in the same Canidae family). 

 

Unlike lions or leopards though, they don’t hold territories and, because of a great amount of stamina, they tend to be on the move and cover more ground than other predators, making them harder to follow and track. Because of the size of their average home range (from 50-260km2 1), the spread of disease from domestic dogs (such as rabies and distemper virus), and the habitat reduction across the continent, they have now become one of Africa’s most endangered carnivore, second only to the Ethiopian wolf (2). Although countries like South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe still host healthy wild dog populations, seeing an animal that moves through areas as much as the wild dogs involve a fair amount of luck.

Over the years many efforts were made for her to view them, from exploring to specific areas such as the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Mana Pools in Zimbabwe to driving to known dens in reserves in South Africa, but for over 10 years, all these efforts didn’t yield any fruit and the repellent nickname stuck.

In March this year, during a recent safari “Dog Repellent” Astrida headed to explore the Manyeleti Game Reserve from Pungwe Safari Camp. Expectations about seeing wild dogs were low for our group, after all, the nickname had tested true year after year. We headed into our first afternoon safari with low expectations but with a good sense of purpose. Astrida wouldn’t go down another year without putting up a fight (-after all it was practically tradition!), and so the group headed to one of the last known positions of the -appropriately named- Pungwe Pack.

This year’s summer rains were playing a part against our group’s quest as the grass and vegetation turned into the bush into a lush green but thick environment. Animals can be easily lost or hard to spot when these conditions are combined. Thankfully, elephants and buffalo have a good way of clearing up these areas by trampling on the grass and breaking trees while guides and trackers, with a knowledge of the area and of the tracks and signs left behind by wildlife, are able to interpret nature and take educated guesses as to where an animal might be or head off to.

A guess and a rough idea of the area was what we were armed with when trying to head into the last known position of the dogs. The grass surrounding the Acacia thicket was long and just about when we were ready to give up there it was: the unmistakable twitch of a large ear, barely noticeable at first. Suddenly the owner of those ears shot up and revealed itself before settling in another spot. On the corner of our eye, we spotted another one lying under a tree, and then another got up and approached the vehicle until one by one they all revealed themselves. After 10 years of searching and nearly giving up Astrida had at last found the wild dogs!

 

“Their ears are so big”

“The markings are so beautiful”

“Just…wow”

After such a long wait to find these animals, we decided to then spend the rest of our afternoon waiting for them to become a bit more active. It was a cool summer afternoon and so we patiently waited. As if on queue, when the golden light hit the horizon and transformed the landscape into a fairy-like scene, the pack decided to get up and start moving, coming into the road before heading off in search of their evening meal. Not only did we get a superb view of the dogs running around, playing, but all along they were in the most stunning light (and we think we might have caught a glimpse of Astrida’s one or two sneaky tears of joy too!).

 

Eventually, the dogs moved off into a difficult area to follow and so we decided to leave them and celebrate what we had finally managed to make this dream come true.

 

That evening, after a delicious dinner under the stars and hearing lions hunting buffalo in the distance, we all went to sleep with a full heart. The 10-year-curse had finally been broken. The best part? We got to  do it all over again the following afternoon when we found them close to the camp access road.

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If you’d like to head to Pungwe for a rustic safari experience, check out our 3 Night Rustic Manyeleti itinerary. SADC rates available.

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