Wild dogs

200905_Luangwa_710201202_Kwando_2456201304_Botswana1008201304_Botswana1137Kanga CampZambia, Liuwa Plains National Park, wild dog201005_Tamaris_057Zambia, Liuwa Plains National Park, wild dogZambia, Liuwa Plains National Park, wild dog and vultureNorthwest Province, Madikwe Game Reserve, wild dog. From Safari in Style Southern Africa © David Rogers

Wild dogs and where to photograph them

Wild dogs are energetic and great fun to watch and photograph.

The shot

When there are wild dogs about there is usually a lot of excitement in safari camps among photographers and guides – especially if they are denning and have pups.  At this time, everyone is extremely anxious not to put pressure on the pack or to draw attention from other predators. So expect sightings to be carefully controlled. At other times, wild dogs are pretty relaxed and in some areas, usually outside national parks, it’s possible to get out of the vehicle and photograph them from a low angle.  It is best to get a very low angle, so they are proud against the sky. Dogs can look a bit dopey, so wait for the ears to be erect and the animal to be looking alert. On the run and in packs, it’s often great to go for wider shots to show the environment they are in.  The greeting rituals, which are accompanied by plenty of squeaks and yowls, also make excellent video material. With wild dogs, there is never a boring moment, and if you are in a reserve where its possible to go off road – hold on tight as it’s often a very bumpy ride.

Wild dogs

African wild dogs or African painted dogs are found only in sub-Saharan Africa and are classified as endangered. There are various subspecies including the Cape wild dog (large amounts of orange-yellow fur) and the East African wild dog (very dark with little yellow) although there is some debate about whether they are genetically distinct. They occur in most major national parks and especially in the Selous in Tanzania; Laikipia and Samburu in Kenya; South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, Liuwa and Kafue in Zambia; Mana Pools, Matusadona and Hwange in Zimbabwe; Moremi, Linyanti and Chobe in Botswana; and Kruger National Park,  Sabi Sands and Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. In some private reserves in South Africa, such as Zimanga, it is possible to photograph wild dogs on foot.

Hunting

The dogs hunt as a pack—usually scattering and then moving stealthily through bush while they try to flush animals. They are able to pursue prey at up to 60 km per hour for 10 minutes or more and thus exhaust them. They are diurnal hunters, like cheetah, and have an 80% success rate. Once they have made a kill – and a pack of 20 animals is likely to kill twice a day – the animal is devoured extremely quickly. Watching a wild dog pull an animal apart when it is alive is not for the fainthearted. They have special sheared cusps on their lower teeth, which help them consume food at a very rapid rate.

Social bonds

Wild dogs have extremely strong social bonds and live in packs which range from 2 – 30 in size including pups. There is typically a dominant Alpha male and female, which monopolise breeding. The dogs in Southern Africa typically have their pups during the period from May to July, but this cycle is not as readily observed in East Africa. They have an average of 10 pups at a time, which requires a great deal of meat.  The other den members hunt at dawn and dusk and regurgitate for the female. The pups usually emerge from the den after about 3 weeks when they suckle outside, being weaned at about 5 weeks. At 8 – 10 weeks, the pack, including the cubs, leave the den. For the first year or so, the pack will usually allow the cubs to feed first.

Threats

They often have an extremely wide range roaming for hundreds of kilometres. This can have dire consequences if it brings them into contact with people and other domestic dogs that might be carrying rabies and other diseases.