"Roughing It" in Botswana
Big Kitties

Wild Dog Drama


When you think "safari," I doubt that African wild dogs come to mind.  But some of our most exciting adventures on this trip involved African wild dog drama.



Wild dogs are one of the most endangered species on the planet, with estimated populations at less than 5000 and still declining.  We were fortunate to see 3 different wild dog packs on this trip...1 in South Africa (which we only saw from afar, hanging around their den) and 2 (up-close-and-personal encounters) in Botswana.



I will try to tell you what I know about these fascinating animals.  (Brooks, if you're reading this, please email me if what I'm saying is not accurate)



African wild dogs live in nomadic packs and roam large territories of grasslands, savannahs, and open woodlands, temporarily using abandoned warthog or porcupine dens in the ground (like this one) or an old termite mound to give birth and care for young pups.  Each pack of wild dogs has one breeding alpha pair...the rest of the pack (which can be up to 20 individuals) helps care for the pups.  They are efficient hunters and killing machines, working together to run down their prey, usually one of the many varieties of plentiful antelopes like impala, small kudu, springbok, or bushbuck.  Most packs will hunt once or twice a day, in the early morning or at dusk.  They leave the pups behind with a babysitter dog and the rest of the adults go hunting, often covering several miles to bring down a meal.  Once the kill has been made, the dogs gorge themselves and quickly eat the entire carcass, then head back to the den where they regurgitate meat to their excited pups.



Our first morning at Duma Tau, we set out before first light and arrived at the wild dogs' den very early.  Brooks knew that the pups, at least, would probably be there and maybe we would be lucky enough to see some action.  None of us had any idea of the drama that was about to unfold...



This pack consists of 8 adults and 12 pups about 2-months-old.  Just as Brooks suspected, when we arrived the pups were hanging around outside the den...



...with their birth mother, the alpha female (identifiable by her damaged ear) and another adult.  The other 6 adults were nowhere to be seen, presumably out hunting.



We didn't have to wait long.  Brooks's sharp ears picked up the still-faraway sound of the adults returning,...



...and the youngsters started running to meet them, yipping excitedly knowing breakfast would soon be served up.

And I do mean served UP!  As in up-chucked!



One by one, the adults arrived and were greeted enthusiastically by the 12 pups....



...awaiting their regurgitated meat.



It was mass chaotic excitement, a flurry of wagging white tails and yipping pups...




Their tummies full, the pups enjoyed wrestling with each other over a piece of impala hide...



...and the adults looked for a nice spot to rest and clean themselves after their exhausting, bloody hunt.



And then, just as the wild dog family was settling in for their morning's rest, the mood suddenly and dramatically shifted.

Brooks was the first to notice the changed attitude of the dogs and then we all began to hear and even feel the low gutteral growls. 



We followed the glaring gaze of the snarling dogs and the pieces quickly fell into place.



Behind our Land Cruiser, slinking through the trees hoping to go unnoticed...



...the worst enemy of African wild dogs, a huge male lion!  And a hungry one at that, judging by its sunken abdomen and visible ribcage.


While two adult dogs growled and barked warnings to distract the approaching lion, the other 6 adults and all 12 pups took off in the opposite direction with faster-than-lightning speed.  One warning bark and they were GONE!  Lickety-split, 18 dogs completely disappeared into the sparse woods, running as if their lives depended on it.

They did.  That lion was hoping for some tender puppy chow....



Not one to give up easily, the lion continued his approach, walking right beside our Land Cruiser.



But he was not going to nab a wild dog pup that morning.

This is the face of a disappointed kitty cat...



We watched him change direction and walk away...



As the guard dogs eventually ran off to rejoin their pack, Brooks followed the lion with our Land Cruiser...



...and, as male cats like to do, he marked his territory with urine to warn other males in the area to stay away....



...before moving off to try for another meal.



WOW!!!  What a show, all before 9 am.



Brooks found the same pack early the following morning in another area of the reserve, having relocated their home base after the close call with the lion.



They had just made another kill...



...and were finishing up the carcass.  You can see this is the alpha female...not only by her clipped ear, but also that she's obviously been nursing pups.

Yes, it's brutal. 

Life and death hang in constant balance in the wild African bush.

Survival is the name of the game, and it's fascinating to watch how it plays out.

Wild dog drama.



Terri Chapman

Very neat...thanks for sharing all your knowledge and excellent photography with us!

Debbie Burris

That was very interesting to read and see. Thanks Terri for sharing a rare glimpse in to your early morning adventure.

Sue Myers

I had no idea. Very good write up, Terry.

Gerri Shewmaker

WOW! What a day... all before 9AM! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us all!

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