The African wild dog, also known as the Cape hunting dog or painted dog, isn’t an easy animal to spot in the bush. Perhaps that’s because only about 6,600 survive in the wild and packs can cover 900 square miles of territory. Francois van Heerden, Senior Game Ranger at Mateya Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa has been fortunate enough to encounter the African wild dog in the bush several times, and he shared his favorite experience with us.
Madikwe has gifted me with many great African wild dog encounters over the years and it is very hard just to pick a top five, never mind the best encounter, seeing as each encounter with these fascinating animals is to be treasured and appreciated.
One that does come to mind, which I will probably never forget, occurred on a morning drive. We set off early in the morning to try and find a pack of dogs in the north of Madikwe and we were in for a surprise! As we approached a waterhole we saw the dogs surrounding it and when we got closer we realized the dogs were busy hunting. Prior to our arrival the dogs chased a kudu that fled into the water in desperation to escape the snapping jaws of the dogs. Wild dogs are relentless when it comes to hunting and a few of the dogs went in after the kudu and tried to herd it closer to the edge where the rest of the pack was waiting.
While we sat in awe witnessing this amazing spectacle, out of nowhere a female lion comes walking out of the bush. The dogs immediately abandoned the hunt and rushed to the other end of the waterhole while alarm calling. The lion was not too phased with the dogs and did not give much interest in what was happening. I am not too sure that the lion even saw the kudu in the water but she walked to the water’s edge and had a drink of water. At this point the kudu used this opportunity to escape and ran out of the water with the dogs on it’s heals; the chase was on yet again!
Now if you have never been in a sighting with wild dogs on a full blown hunt it’s rather difficult to explain the adrenaline rush one experiences while trying to chase after them through the bush. More often than not you end up losing them and only see the end of the hunt or them feeding already. But on this day as we chased through the bush after them the kudu soon realized he wouldn’t make it and turned back to the waterhole. The kudu crashed into the water and of course all the commotion at this point really interested the lion. The dogs stayed on the other end of the water and watched their quarry swimming away from them. For a brief second we thought the kudu might escape but unfortunately the kudu did not see the lion on the other end and swam right to the lion. As the kudu emerged from the water the lion took her opportunity and pounced…it was over within a few seconds for the utterly exhausted kudu at this point and the lion dragged her almost free meal into cover with the dogs watching. Their meal and hard work was taken away from them.
In my opinion any African wild dog sighting is a great sighting but to see them hunting is amazing. To see them interacting with other species and hunting all in one was just out of this world!
It’s important to remember that you can’t guarantee anything in the bush and spotting the African wild dog is rare since they roam over huge ranges. But to increase your chances, we recommend travel during the dry season. Consider Mateya, along with some of our favorite camps.
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Francois van Heerden’s story was edited for clarity. Images courtesy of Francois van Heerden.