A Dog Day Afternoon

Lycaon pictus , painted wolf, Cape Hunting Dog, African Wild Dog. There are almost as many names for Southern Africa 's most endangered large carnivore as there are controversies surrounding the conservation of this misunderstood animal. I find it ironic that “man's best friend” in a domestic setting is considered his worst enemy when the animal happens to be wild. Why is the wild dog despised so much? Have we really become that presumptuous as a species that we feel we can dictate the order of life based on our misplaced human sensibilities? I have heard more than one so called “nature lover” revel in the sinuous beauty of a leopard and, in the same breath, openly criticize in the most indignant fashion the “ruthless and blood thirsty” wild dog. Who gave us the permission to sit in judgment, to preside over nature as if our opinion counted for something? Is a wild dog really that hateful? Let us not forget that natural selection has fine-tuned its hunting modus operandi and made it the successful predator it has become. Eviscerating one's prey on the run is a sure way of eventually running it down. “I can't stand the fact that they eat their victims alive!” gurgled one particular safari client. This from a species who invented the concept of torture, the manipulation of bacterial spores for terrorism, landmines, hollow point bullets and the nuclear bomb! - Don't get me started!


Why am I spewing forth such antagonism from atop my soapbox you may wonder? Well, dear reader, I happen to have feelings on the issue that are a tad strong I admit, but who can blame me? I spend time with a free ranging pack of these beautiful canids at least once a week. How is this possible? Well, you see…it’s like this…There is a beautiful expanse of wild country close to Mopane Bush Lodge in the Limpopo Valley called Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve. Here you will find a research team who monitor a free ranging pack of wild dog using radio-tracking technology. They are also happy to host those of us who are interested in tracking, observing and learning about this most fascinating of social predators.

The open Land Cruiser stops suddenly as Kathy leans out with directional antenna in her outstretched hand and the receiver close to her ear. She listens intently before briefing the driver. “Richard, dogs are 4 bars ATT, at 10'o clock.” We all strain our dusty corneas in that general direction, searching for movement, for anything. Suddenly they materialize, will o' the wisps trotting through thicket and on to the track in front of us. Wild dogs…doing what they have done here since time immemorial, hunting, seeking and claiming what is theirs. The beauty of the scene is beyond my meagre ability to describe it, except that it leaves me feeling humbled by the sheer complexity and savagery of a place that has stolen my heart. Why am I here so often? I escort guests on these experiences and I watch the dogs weave their magic. It is in these moments that Africa speaks openly and all our insignificant questions and insecurities are forgotten as we marvel at something so much greater than us.

There is no better way to spend an afternoon…than on a dog day afternoon.

Andrew Rae
January 2007.

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