Why Head to South Luangwa for Wild Dogs

By Peter Geraerdts

South Luangwa National Park is famous for its untamed atmosphere. But did you know it’s a top destination for wild dogs? Photographer Peter Geraerdts shares an update on the painted dogs.

South Luangwa National Park could be called the Valley of the Wild Dogs. In 2018, the Zambian Carnivore Programme announced that the Luangwa Valley is home to the country’s largest wild dog population. When I started guiding for Track and Trail River Camp in 2010, I didn’t witness nearly as many sightings. But the period from 2017 up to now has seen a noticeable increase.

From our camp just across the Luangwa River from the park, I lead regular game drives into this pristine environment. I have fallen in love with the beautiful landscape and its ebony groves, mopani woodlands and leadwood forests. The Luangwa River, which we often admire from the camp’s elevated pool, is the lifeblood of this ecosystem. It draws high concentrations of game, particularly during winter and spring. And where the game go, so do the predators.

South Luangwa wild dogs TrackandTrails Camp Peter Geraerdts 1
Photo via Peter Geraerdts
South Luangwa wild dogs Peter Geraerdts 1
Photo via Peter Geraerdts

In fact, it’s been an action-packed season as far as wild dogs are concerned. A pack of 20 wild dogs shows up regularly in the open areas of Mfuwe towards Chichele Hill. It’s such a pleasure to see these dogs do what they do best, completely oblivious to the spectators.

Wild dogs are extremely efficient hunters with a success rate of about 75%. The female puku in the photograph falls in the 25% that got away. She was too quick and too smart for the dogs. She even leapt over the attacking dogs a couple of times to get away.

South Luangwa wild dogs Peter Geraerdts 4
Photo via Peter Geraerdts

Recent wild dog sightings

Winter is denning time for the dogs and most pregnant females have settled in at a burrow. The Alpha female can give birth to over a dozen pups at a time. One caretaker always stays behind with the pregnant female while the other pack members hunt and bring back food to the burrow.

We find that pack formations change every year. Some packs are joined by members from other packs, even crossing the Luangwa River to join a new pack in another territory.

South Luangwa wild dogs Peter Geraerdts 2
Photo via Peter Geraerdts

Hyenas and wild dogs are not the best of friends, to put it mildly. First of all, hyenas can be a threat to the young pups. Secondly, hyenas are the ‘pirates of the bush’, always ready to steal a kill from other predators. But if the hyenas are outnumbered, they risk a painful nip or two. The dogs are quick to snap away when a hyena is trying to escape. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a few of these hyena vs wild dog sightings.

South Luangwa wild dogs Peter Geraerdts 3
Photo via Peter Geraerdts

How to prepare for a wild dog encounter

Lots of travellers no longer bother bringing fancy cameras and heavy equipment on their holidays. Nowadays smartphones can get good results if your subject is not too far away from the vehicle. What does make a difference is catching that specific moment in the right light. Wild dogs are mostly active in the early mornings and late afternoons as this is when they hunt. Fortunately, this is the same time when the light is most interesting for pictures.

South Luangwa wild dogs Peter Geraerdts 5
Photo via Peter Geraerdts

Courtesy of Tracks4Africa – read full article here.

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