Rarely seen: the wild’s effective but endangered hunters - News - Gondwana Collection

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Rarely seen: the wild’s effective but endangered hunters

Avatar of inke inke - 26. June 2017 - Environment

The wild dogs ripped the springbok apart and, safe for its head, devoured it within just a few minutes.

Rain is pouring down at the Naye-Naye Pan in former Bushmanland, which now is the Naye-Naye Conservancy in the Otjozondjupa Region in north-eastern Namibia. It’s the end of January (2017), the pan is brimful of water and the grassy plain to the west is green. The bush savannah beyond the plain offers hiding places for hunters and the hunted. Late that afternoon several springbok are grazing on the open plain. From about one kilometre to the south a herd of blue wildebeest and their calves are eying us inquisitively. I get my camera with telephoto lens from the car and take pictures of the gnus. Suddenly Holger excitedly calls out to me to quickly come over to where he is. I join him and can hardly believe my eyes: three African wild dogs are chasing a young springbok less than 100 metres away from us!

Over the years I have visited Bushmanland many times but never spotted a wild dog. Although every now and then I heard about other people who had seen the multi-coloured canids, prior to this trip neither Holger nor I had been fortunate enough to encounter these fascinating animals in the wild. Only three days earlier we came across ‘our’ first wild dog on the floodplains of the Kwando River and had the opportunity to watch it for a few moments. We were crossing the Kwando River at Kongola, driving towards Bwabwata National Park when I noticed the single wild dog by chance. It was quite a distance away and even a 400 mm telephoto lens was not sufficient for a photo, but at least we had finally seen our first real wild dog – not an abandoned animal – in the wilds of Namibia.  

I keep pressing the shutter release as the first wild dog comes charging past, the second one running close behind, followed by the third one. Holger jumps onto the load area of his vehicle and detects the animals with wagging tails several hundred metres further away in the bush. We drive over to the spot as quickly as the grassy plain allows and stop some twenty metres away from the wild dogs. Our presence doesn’t bother them. Not much is left of the springbok – just bones, skin and the head. The three hunters have killed their prey, torn it apart and devoured it, all within a matter of minutes.  

The scene in front of our lenses is almost unreal. We can barely believe our luck and don’t even mind the myriads of mosquitos which are suddenly attacking us. Less than fifteen minutes later it’s all over. One of the wild dogs comes trotting towards us, sniffing the ground for any scraps of springbok among the wet green grass.

African wild dogs, also called painted dogs, are one of the three mammal species in southern Africa which appear on the IUCN Red List. Threatened with extinction, wild dogs became a protected species in Namibia in 2016. The situation was very different just a few decades ago when they were officially declared problem animals and mercilessly pursued and killed. Around the dawn of the 20th century packs of the canid hunters with the painted coat were even spotted at Rössing Mountain near Swakopmund. It didn’t take long, however, before they were wiped out on the commercial farms – suffering the same fate as lions and spotted hyenas. Nowadays wild dogs are found only in the national parks and adjoining communal areas in north-eastern Namibia. 

Regrettably, many people see wild dogs as brutal killers. But since they run down their prey and instantly pull it apart they are more successful hunters than lions, for example. They also kill faster than other predators, e.g. lion or leopard. Research shows that wild dogs kill their prey within four minutes whereas lions need an average of ten minutes to suffocate an animal with a bite to the throat. 

Wild dogs are highly mobile predators. According to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism they occur in Mangetti National Park and on the state-owned Mangetti experimental cattle farm, and occasionally on adjoining communal and commercial farms as well as in the Khaudom and Bwabwata national parks and the surrounding communal areas. The Ministry of Environment’s press officer, Romeo Muyunda, says that occasionally wild dogs are spotted near Okakarara in the Otjozondjupa Region, and also in the Omaheke Region. The ministry does not know their number in Namibia and no statistics are available on how many are killed by farmers. The Department of Wildlife Management believes, however, that more wild dogs are killed crossing trunk roads like the Caprivi Highway (B8) than by farmers. 

Wild dogs are excluded from any trophy hunting quotas because “alive they are a priceless asset for tourism”. According to the Ministry of Environment several research projects on wild dogs are being conducted at present.  

Dirk Heinrich      

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