Wild dogs of Botswana
12 October 2022
One of the most elusive animals on the continent, spotting wild dogs is the top of many safari aficionados’ list. Our Botswana expert Anton is no exception – here he recounts his much sought-after experience while on a trip to Botswana.
Whilst there’s no doubt that spotting the Big 5 should be on everyone’s bucket list, on my recent safari in Botswana it was one of the most endangered animals in Africa that I was in hot pursuit of: the wild dog! Even the guides, who spend every day out in the bush, were jumping up and down in their Land Cruisers when we caught sight of one. It immediately transported me back to my days as a guide in the Sabi Sands. I was one of those excited guides too – after all there was never a dull moment when the dogs were about.
Given that they do not have the grace of the big cats, the power of an elephant or rhino, or the attitude of a buffalo, you may ask yourself why the hype? For me, it has to be their astonishing 80% success rate when hunting. If you are lucky enough to witness one of their hunts, you will be left in no doubt as to why they are one of the most exciting animals to see!
During my stay in the Khwai area of the Delta, I was told that the dogs had run through camp that morning and there was a good chance that we would see them that afternoon. I was so excited to head into the bush! Our guide, Leopard, took us on a stunning drive along the river’s edge, with the knowledge that if the dogs did come down for a midday drink, this is where they would be. Unfortunately we saw very few signs of wild dogs for the first hour and a half. Passing elephants, impala and warthog, disappointment was brewing, had I missed them?! Suddenly, we passed a hyena dashing through the bush. Knowing the dogs were still likely to be in the area, we headed inland and entered a huge grassy area dotted with thorn bushes and scrub. The hyena had vanished and the impala were all on high alert, as were all of us in the vehicle, scanning the bush for the large round ears or the flash of the dogs’ white tail. After 20 minutes of driving in circles following up on impala alarm calls and kudu barking, the tension in the vehicle was palpable… when would we find the dogs?
Finally, with the help of a sudden eruption of alarm calls from a concentrated area in the bush, we knew we would find them. Leopard raced round the block towards the river and chaos erupted. There was a pack of 7 wild dogs. Sprinting away from the pack was a mother waterbuck and her young calf, who leapt at full speed into the river. There was a very large splash as they entered the water – next I saw a large crocodile slide into the water without even a ripple. Standing nose to nose, the dogs and the waterbuck stared at each other – talk about tough choices! The waterbuck, realising this added danger, decided to face the lesser of the threats – the dogs! The dogs, realising that even if they made the kill they would lose the prize to the crocodile, left the dripping wet waterbuck standing in 6 inches of water!
Sitting in the vehicle, and in complete shock at what we had just witnessed, we did not see the elephant bull until his loud trumpeting made us all whip round! Unbelievably, we were in for more treats as the tables were now turned and the elephant was chasing the dogs. Having satisfied himself that the dogs were leaving, the elephant then proceeded to cross the channel.
A moment of calmness followed, but within 5 minutes the dogs were off again, back on the hunt. They had spotted a herd of impala and their tactic was to spread out and slowly surround them, before making a mad dash into the herd. Wild dogs have such a high success rate because of their stamina, but as it was getting dark they would need to be able to make a quick kill. Moments later, the impala were dashing all over the place as the dogs were running towards the herd. We were fortunate enough to be positioned perfectly to see two chases. Both times the dogs missed.
As promptly as all the chaos started, the dogs re-grouped and after their two unsuccessful hunts, they checked that all were accounted for before trotting off into the twilight. Whilst the stats were against us twice, with two hunts not ending in a kill, it was still extremely exciting to watch. The wild dogs never fail to let me down!
If Anton’s Botswana safari has inspired you to seek out wild dogs as well as the Big 5, check out our Wild Botswana itinerary .