Witnessing a Wild Dog Collaring
We crossed over the Crocodile Bridge, where the faint glimpse of pastel pinks and orange hues was beginning to light up the sky, the sun was just beginning to rise, and the mist was slowly ascending off the placid river below. The iconic railway bridge in the backdrop, and the occasional spurt of water from a hippo, made for a picture perfect moment.
My good friend and neighbour, Stef, and I were off to Kruger for the day, and we couldn’t have been happier. This is one of our absolute favourite things to do in winter together.
I greeted all the happy, familiar faces at the gate, and off we went. We turned on to the S25, and minutes later came across a cheetah mom, with two cubs happily bounding about in the savanna grass, playing upon an old dead tree that had fallen over.
We looped back on to the main road, and as we were coming up to the S82 junction, when we came across a Sanparks and state vet vehicle, they seemed to be looking for something. And then we heard the familiar chirping and chattering.
“Wild dogs,” I exclaimed!
We drew the conclusion that they were trying to collar one of the wild dogs, so we turned back and carefully parked where we were out of the way, to witness this incredible moment.
The wild dog popped out on the road, looking slightly drowsy (it had already been darted at this point), the state vet vehicle edged forward to block the dog so it wouldn’t run on to the main road, and then it flopped down just a little ways off the H4-2/S82 junction on a dusty patch of sand, and the vet began his work, drawing some blood and preparing the collar for the painted dog.
To our surprise, we ran in to two of our very good friends there, Dave and Ankia, who had been lucky enough to assist them in locating the dog.
Dave and Ankia explained to me, that earlier in the morning, the vet and his team had collared a dog from another pack (S108 pack), which is where they ran in to them.
Dave and Anks also mentioned that it is easier to find dogs now, as they are denning (which means they are having pups). Wild dogs usually den in May, June, and July. However this year, they said they even saw a pregnant female in April, which is probably owed to the high amounts of food available due to the big rains this year.
The alpha female will usually stay at the den, with the pups, and sometimes “helpers (guards)” as well, while the rest of the pack hunts. Upon returning to the den they then regurgitate (bring up food) for the alpha, the “help” and the pups.
After collaring the S108 female, the vet and his team were then going to try and find the Gomondane pack, as they had not collared a female in that pack yet.
The team had been on the S130, with no luck, and had just started heading back on to the S82, when Dave and Anks heard 3 dogs, and saw 1, on the H4-2 tar.
Without cell signal, they then drove back on to the S82 to inform the vet.
The vet got in to the right position, and managed to dart the dog, which is the point where we arrived on the scene.
There were quite a few members of the public in their vehicles watching this, and a very kind Sanparks gentleman, from Scientific services, asked the public not to park in the road, but rather to pull off on to the dirt road out of the way, and informed us that he would take 4 people at a time to see the wild dog.
But why do they collar wild dogs (A question many ask...)?
Wild dogs are an endangered species. To give you an idea; there are less than 5 000 wild dogs on the entire African continent, which means they are even more rare than the rhino.
It is believed that there are less than 300 wild dogs in the Kruger National Park. And with Kruger being over 5 million hectares, and wild dogs being able to roam anywhere between 200 and 1000 square kilometres per pack, it just goes to show how rare it is to see them, and what an absolute privilege it is, if you do.
Roaming huge areas, means they are sensitive to the loss of their habitat, and therefore often end up in areas that are not protected, and may be persecuted because of livestock or even come in to contact with domestic dogs that could potentially carry disease.
The collar allows for monitoring of the packs in real-time, as they are able to see where they are roaming, and are able to alert conservation authorities should there be a specific threat to the pack.
Although wild dogs are extremely successful animals; in terms of their great “family dynamics” and incredible hunting skills, they sadly still remain a minority because of other predators, like lions, hyenas, and leopards. With Kruger especially having so many other predators, this puts strain on the population, and they often don’t make it through to adulthood.
By collaring a female within a pack they are able to locate and monitor them, but also can do research on them such as their movement patterns, behavior, and prey selection.
If for instance, one of the wild dogs in a pack is reported to have a snare, then the pack is also easy to locate with the female being collared.
They specifically choose a female within a pack, because they do not breakaway as often as the males, which tend to move to different areas.
All of the data which is gathered, then goes on to a global animal movement data repository, this means that it can be used by future researchers, thus reducing the need to collar even more animals unnecessarily.
The collars are UHF (Ultra high frequency) and satellite; therefore they are able to track with both. The collars are battery operated, and can also last for a long period of time.
Once the collar was on, the vet took some photos of the dog, and then moved her further in to the bush (to give you an idea, a wild dog weighs plus minus, 30 kg, so they aren’t very light).
The vet injected the dog to wake up, and then he made his way back to the vehicle, to give her space. Her breathing began to quicken, and just over a minute later, she was awake, and dashed off in to the bush, like nothing had happened.
It was sheer luck, that Stef and I came across the collaring, and we loved every moment of being able to witness the good work being done in Kruger.
It was an incredible privilege, to be so close to a wild dog (although I have to tell you, they don’t smell too great;), and also being able to see these conservationists at work. Eternally grateful for these heroes; for without them, I am not sure where our wildlife, or our precious Kruger would be.
Here's the vid of the wild dog waking up :)
We all headed to Lower Sabie, where we enjoyed a much needed delicious breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, as we looked out over the Sabie river, and recounted our experience again. What a beautiful day it was in this perfect paradise!
This story is in no way affiliated with Sanparks, we were not part of the collaring, but were simply at the right place at the time.
My blog is merely to share my experience with you, and to raise awareness as to why it is so important to collar wild dogs. A lot of my research and information comes from Boucher Legacy, to read more, click on the link below: