“Hang on!” Our African safari guide, turned Formula 1 racer, roars with a glee filled tone. I am already white-knuckling the safety bar of the safari jeep, so attempt to curl my shoe covered toes into the floor mat. “You’re going to see an African wild dog!”
His excitement floats in waves, or possibly that is just the bouncing over dusty bumps of Greater Kruger National Park I am feeling.
A fellow passenger squeals exclaiming, “Fourteen safari drives in South Africa and I have never seen wild African dogs!”
Apparently today is the day.
The African wild dog is also known as the African hunting dog, African painted dog, Cape hunting dog and the painted wolf. Surely it must be confusing to the poor canine. Why one animal should have the burden of such a litany of titles seems unknown.
Whatever name you like best, all of them fall on the endangered species list. With only four remaining populations in Africa, one of those is here in Greater Kruger National Park. Estimates place 400 – 500 wild dogs here.
“It is an incredibly lucky day to spot one!” shouts the guide over his shoulder. Our fellow passenger nods emphatically.
I smile and seal my lips to the fact that I do not even know what an African wild dog is.
I shall forever more think of the wild dog as the one with four toes. The guide, while bellowing instructions to duck oncoming branches, goes on about the little seen African dog.
“All domestic dogs have five toes but the African dog has four.”
Perhaps the four-toed feet, along with long legs, help to make the wild dogs the most efficient hunters of the large carnivores. Once a pack initiates a hunt, prey have little chance of escape.
With their massive jaws, long muzzle and bat-like large ears they are highly intelligent animals.
“If you ever are being eaten by an African animal the last one you want is the African wild dog!” calls our savvy tracking guide.
In all honesty I hope to avoid being eaten by any animal thanks just the same.
The wild dog has a cruel reputation as it begins eating its prey while still alive. Necessary in maintaining a natural balance of eliminating sick and weak animals, the African dog attempts to shake off its harsh image. Even so, a frightening thought to remove from one’s mind.
So it is this morning our guide spots the tracks of an impala on the run from three wild dogs. How it is possible to find this dramatic story playing out in footprints of the dry dirt is beyond my imagination.
Nature is not always pretty in its story telling. The impala once targeted by the African wild dogs, which can run at speeds of 60km/hr for short distances, and 40km/hour for up to 5 kilometres, has little chance.
Although the African dogs are a chatterbox bunch with a range of sounds and long distance calls, while hunting they are silent.
African Wild Dog Facts
Occasionally attacked by lions and hyenas, animals are not the reason the species is endangered. Farmers hunt the dogs fearing that they will prey on livestock. Drastic decline of natural habitat for large packs has forced the dogs into small pockets of land. Almost all remaining wild dogs are found within National Parks.
No two African wild dogs have the exact same coat. Their markings are as unique as fingerprints. Why the patterns develop and what purpose they serve being different remains unknown.
The wild dogs are usually on the move over a very large area, up to 250 square kilometers and 50 kilometers in a single day.
The long intestine of the African wild dogs allow for more absorption of moisture from their food. This allows them to go for long periods without water.
Have you heard of the African wild dog?