The African wild dog, sometimes known as the African Hunting dog or the Painted dog (due to its beautiful colored skin pattern) in the African continent are today classified as one of the most endangered mammals in the Planet Earth.According to the information available, once there were about 500000 wild dogs, but today, the numbers have been drastically reduced to 7000 in Africa. Human activity and diseases were the main threats to its survival. My first sighting of the wild dogs was in 1998 at Kruger National Park in South Africa. Subsequently, National parks in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
During the recent school vacation of our grand Children in August 2014, I together with Lilani along with our daughter, Dushani, her husband and their four sons visited Kruger NP for seven nights mainly to see the big five and in search for the wild dogs. With my past travel experience to Kruger, I was confident in spotting the big five at the park. But finding the Wild dogs, need a lot of luck and search. It is estimated that there are only 400-450 dogs left in the park and finding them in an area of the size equivalent to that of Sri Lanka was not an easy task.
We spent our first two nights from the 27th August, in the south of Kruger at Lower Sabie camp facing the beautiful Sabie River. Thereafter, we drove towards the north of the park for the next two nights at Olifants camp overlooking the Olifants river which was the best look-out point of the camps that I have stayed at KNP, while the last three nights were at the Satara restcamp, where the surrounding bush and the savannah are famous for the big cats. Also the sightings of Wild dogs are possible in Satara especially in the early morning hours when they are active in hunting.
During our seven nights stay at Kruger, we managed to see the big five and there was an instance in one morning Safari at Satara, within an hour we saw the big five ie: Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Buffalo and the Elephant. Grand children were busy with their cameras. Although, I drove the VW, 9seater on many routes of Kruger in search of the wild dogs, my attempts were unsuccessful.
On our last day at Kruger, we were out of Satara camp by 6am; while driving towards Paul Kruger gate, suddenly a pack of Wild dogs were sighted far away on the road moving towards our direction. What a great exciting moment for the rest of us when I voiced dogs, dogs!. The dogs were in a hunting mood running on the road looking for a prey. They can run up to a maximum of 44 miles per hour. Suddenly, a dog from the pack ran off the road and caught an Impala by surprise from the back of the prey. The antelope could not escape when the rest of the pack joined for a good breakfast. It was not a happy moment to watch when the killing machines of Africa were using their razor sharped teeth to tear off the Prey while it was alive. It lasted only a few minutes when the dogs moved away after a good meal. Generally, the wild dog always feed on a fresh kill. They are highly social animals while there were times when the pack sizes were from 30 to 60, but today, I have not heard of sighting a pack size exceeding thirty. The pack we saw was seven. During our stay at Kruger, we also had many sightings of the endangered white rhino apart from the sightings of a few prides of Lions, five leopards and three cheetahs.
After Kruger, we boarded a domestic flight from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to Capetown for four nights with a night in Hermanus; the famous whales city where the sightings of Southern Right whales at very close proximity from land could be observed. Thereafter, Dushani and her family returned to Sri Lanka from Capetown, while Lilani and I extended our expedition on wildlife to Greater Kruger at two private Camps, Kirkman’s and Mala Mala for Seven Nights followed by further four nights at Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natalin of South Africa.
The guide/driver from Kirkman’s who came to pick us up from Skukuza airport gave us exciting bush news of the sightings at Kirkman’s concession which included wild dogs which I did not expect. During the four nights stay at the camp, we had two great sightings of the dogs, the first was in the morning of the 8th September where a pack of 12 including 7 puppies feeding on a female Impala on the Sand River while the other was in the late evening of the following day on the same river but different location of the same pack.
Our jeep was just in time when the pack killed an Impala in the late evening on the Sand River bank, but the puppies were not there. While keeping the prey on the riverbed, the dogs ran to the bush to call the puppies. What a surprise! A leopard from the other side of the river saw the prey crossing the river hurriedly to grab the kill. But the dogs came back running and chased the leopard that ran for its life and climbed a nearby tree. What an exciting moment of action in the wild? The following day, we found that the same leopard on the same tree with the carcass that was killed by the wild dogs. During our stay at Kirkman’s we also had great sightings of eight Leopards at close encounters including a mother with a tiny Cub of one month.
During the three nights at Mala Mala, once again we had a sighting of a pack of wild dogs of 10, which was different from the one we sighted at the Kirkman’s. These hunters travel almost an area of 130 sq km in search of food when necessary. Sighting of leopards were frequent in Mala Mala. When compared to the two camps, the Kirkman’s Kamp would seem to be better managed with personalized service.
On the 14th September, We were transported to Phinda GR by air from Mala Mala airstrip. During our four nights stay at Phinda, the sightings of white rhinos were more frequent. We also had the luck to see a black rhino with a calf of an year old. It was surprising to note that the lions favourite prey in the south of the park were the warthogs, while in the north were the Nyala that belong to antelope family, where we witnessed on two occasion of their chase on the prey that were successful. This may be due to the small number of bigger prey such as wildebeest and buffalo in the park. Since off road was permitted at the private camps concessions in both Greater Kruger and Phinda, I managed to capture excellent images, especially the big cats and the wild dogs during my expedition into the South African wild.
We spent further two nights in Johannesburg before retuning to Sri Lanka. There is a bird sanctuary named Marievale, one-hour drive from the OR Tampo airport where we spent a few hours in bird photography on both days, especially on the water birds.