Why we love to spot wild dog
Wild dogs are one of the rarer predators to spot, but also one of the most rewarding sightings. Because, unlike a sleeping cat or a leopard lazing in a tree, they are nearly always in action. They are constantly on the move, always seemingly alert, always on the lookout for their next meal. So where are the best places to see wild dogs in Africa?
The wild dog — which used to be called the hunting dog or African painted dog — has a colourful, patchy coat. Its large bat-like ears (for picking up on the sounds of prey) are distinctive, and its bushy tail has a white tip that serves as a flag to keep the pack in contact while hunting.
No two wild dogs are marked exactly the same, making it easy to identify individuals. If only they would stay still long enough!
Wild Dog Fast Facts
Population size: ±6,600
Life span: 10-11 yrs
Top speed: 66 km/h
Weight: 18-36 kg
Height: 60-75 cm
Length: 71-112 cm
Where to see Wild Dogs?
African wild dogs are native to sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in Southern Africa. As you can see from the map above, your best chances of seeing them are in:
- Botswana – Okavango Delta, Moremi, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Chobe
- Madikwe (on the Botswana border)
- Kruger National Park and its private game reserves like the Timbavati
- Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
- Caprivi Strip, Namibia
There are also small populations in Zimbabwe, Malawi and parts of Kenya and Tanzania.
African wild dogs are mostly found in savanna and relatively arid zones. They like open plains and shrubland, generally avoiding forested areas. They like a habitat where there is water as well as space to run down their prey.
How do Wild Dogs Hunt?
African wild dogs live and hunt in packs. Pack sizes range from six to twenty dogs. Unlike the aggression they show towards their prey, there is very little aggression within the hierarchy of the pack.
The pack uses the encirclement method to surround their prey and cut off escape.
African wild dogs hunt by approaching their prey silently, then chasing it in a pursuit clocking at up to 66 km/h (41 mph) for 10–60 minutes. Unlike other wildlife, such as cheetah or lion, they can keep up a sustained running attack for a long time. (It’s rather like the Bushmen of the Kalahari when hunting.)
The prey is chased by the pack and smaller animals are pulled down. Having witnessed a wild dog kill, I can say that it’s pretty gruesome. Larger prey may keep running while the dogs continue to bite and tear at it.
In both cases, the prey dies fairly quickly, usually from shock or from loss of blood. Wild dogs concentrate on ‘easy’ prey, mainly the young, sick and old. They hunt antelope, warthogs, wildebeest and their calves, ostrich, and even the calves of African buffalo.
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Every day is a day for a feast!
Since there are so many mouths to feed, wild dogs need to hunt frequently. They’re not like a lion pride who can take down a buffalo and enjoy a leisurely feed over several days! So, they typically hunt at least once a day and if pickings are slim, they’ll also go for smaller prey such as dik-dik, hares, spring hares, birds, and rats.
Covering vast ground
Nomadic by nature, wild dogs keep on the move. They cover vast ground in a typical day, often 20-50km. So, they like any game reserve where there’s vast open space, food is plentiful and fencing is no hindrance. That’s why you’re far more likely to see them in the larger National Parks and in private game reserves such as the Timbavati which has open borders to the Kruger National Park.
Wild Dogs Denning: Increasing your chances of seeing them
Wild dogs roam over vast distances. But there is one time of the year when you are much more likely to see them. And that’s when they are denning, or in other words, having pups!
MATING BEHAVIOR: Monogamy
REPRODUCTION SEASON: April-July (Southern Africa), so denning in July
PREGNANCY DURATION: Approx. 70 days
PUP CARRYING: 6-16 pups
INDEPENDENT AGE: 5 weeks
Packs tend to choose the same site for a few years, often in old termite mounds.
African wild dogs produce more pups than any other canid, with litters having an average of 10 pups. In other words, a single female can produce enough young to form a new pack every year!
During the first 5 weeks (July-August), the pack naturally stays close to the den site as they need to come back to feed their wild dog pups. Unlike most social predators, African wild dogs will regurgitate food for young pups. (And even for the mothers of the pups who haven’t joined the kill.)
By far, your greatest chance of seeing these canines is to head to a likely game reserve in July or August and hope that there are some wild dog dens nearby. However, at other times of year, you may encounter packs of wild dog on the hunt.
Where to see Wild Dog in South Africa?
Given their nomadic nature, this is ALWAYS a rare sighting. It can never be guaranteed. But the following reserves do see wild dog periodically:
- Timbavati – try Simbavati River Lodge or Hilltop Lodge
- Thornybush – try Thornybush Main Lodge or Royal Malewane
- Kruger National Park – especially in the central areas where it is more open
- Madikwe Game Reserve – try Madikwe Hills or Tuningi
- Pumba Game Reserve – Try Pumba Water Lodge
- Karongwe Game Reserve – Try Becks Safari Lodge
Where to see Wild Dog in Botswana?
Given their nomadic nature, this is ALWAYS a rare sighting. It can never be guaranteed. But the following reserves do have wild dog:
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve – try Dinaka or Tau Lodge
- Moremi Game Reserve
- Okavango Delta
Wild Dogs tend to keep a particularly good den site for a few years, but not forever. So, the game reserves mentioned above (at the time of writing) had wild dogs who often denned.
But there is no guarantee that this will continue.
Our Top Tips for Seeing Wild Dog in Africa
Unlike many other wildlife species, seeing wild dog has more of an element of luck than most. In fact, NO tour operator or game lodge will EVER guarantee that you will see Wild Dog on safari.
Having said that, there are still ways to increase your chances!
- Head to one of the game reserves mentioned above.
- Try to visit during the denning months of July and August as the wild dogs will be less on the move.
- Tell your ranger that you would love to see wild dog. Then he or she will potentially travel further than they usually do, if they hear of a possible sighting.
- So, naturally be prepared to cover ground! It may not be a restful game experience.
- Finally, DON’T get fixated on seeing them. Enjoy each game drive and whatever sightings come your way!
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“Best place to see Wild Dogs in Africa” – was written by Cedarberg Africa
Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and inquiring people. All of us have visited South Africa and most of us has visited Botswana and so we can chat to you about a possible trip from personal experience, weighing up the different options, to plan a trip that is just right for you.
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