sabi sabi ranger stories

painted dogs

As we left Bush Lodge, on a crisp Spring morning, the sense of the bush coming magically to life was overwhelming! The sun rose above the horizon to the raucous chorus of Francolins and Purple Crested Louries, somehow beautifully blending with the gentle purr of my Land Rover’s V8 engine. This morning’s game drive seemed to have an extra feeling of promise to it.

We headed off in a westerly direction, planning to make our way down to the Sabie River, with high expectations to find and view Hippo on foot. This would be the guests' last morning drive and Hippos, everyone agreed, would be the perfect end to their three days at Sabi Sabi.

As we approached the River, the setting was perfect. Early morning mists hung in the river valley, glowing a golden yellow. Suddenly my Tracker, Richard, alerted me to some fresh tracks on the road in front of us. His excitement told us that these were not the tracks of an animal we see often. I joined Richard who was crouching on the road intently having a closer look at the tracks. My excitement matched his, when I realized that we had found fresh tracks of the most endangered predator in the entire Kruger National Park area, African Wild Dog!

Also referred to as "Painted Dogs", due to the unique, richly mottled patterns of white, yellow, brown and black. There are less than five hundred individuals in the Kruger, living in packs 10 to 15 individuals, but packs as large as 40 individuals have been recorded. Each pack will range over an area of about 250 square kilometres, hunting as a team, relying on stamina and short bursts of speed up to 60km/h, making it the most efficient predator with a success rate of about 90% (compare to Lions' 30-60%). Their social structure is also unusual in that there is only one breeding pair in the pack (alpha male and alpha female), with the rest helping to rear the pups.

African Wild Dogs are very rare to see in this area and once we had explained this to our guests we set off with determination to track these elusive creatures. Our hopes were quickly destroyed when we lost the tracks in the long grass a short distance from the road. Tracking these small creatures through dense bush, even when they are in a pack as the tracks had suggested, was almost impossible. We returned to the road and to our relief found the Wild Dogs had come back to road and now the tracks were even fresher! When the tracks left the road again, it was onto a game trail that both Richard and I knew headed to a pan. We drove round to the pan with mounting anticipation.

There they were! Five painted pups obviously waiting impatiently for the adults of the pack to return from a hunt. I cannot describe the reward we felt at seeing our guests' appreciation over these five pups. As I stopped the vehicle at a suitable distance so as not to alarm the pups, we were enormously surprised by the pups approaching us excitedly as if to greet us! Chittering and yelping the pups ran towards the vehicle and to our joy, were joined by three adults, which had approached unseen, by us at least, from behind the vehicle. They had not been successful in their hunt, but this did not dampen our, or the pups delight. The greeting "ceremony" was beautiful to see and hear. It was a unanimous decision that the Hippo will have to wait until next time.

Satiated on the wonders of the African Bush, but stomachs groaning for breakfast, we returned to the lodge, safe in the knowledge that the only stamina required from us would be to fill our plates from the buffet!

Doriano Luzzatto

Ranger Bush Lodge

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