Going To The Dogs

16 12 2008

wild-dog-1-mw

“Fetch? What do you mean, fetch?! I’ll show you fetch!”  (Chobe, Botswana)

 

The yap of a dog was some distance away but quite distinct. Being a city boy, it meant nothing to me, but Mark motioned for me to be quiet as he listened intently for an encore. Within seconds there was a second bark.

 

“Wild dogs,” he said with a huge smile. “Come on, let’s find them.”

 

I was on a three-day walking safari in the remote Gwayi Valley of western Zimbabwe. Mark was my professional safari guide and constant companion for the time we spent in the bush. We slept in clearings around the campfire, and set off early each morning following sometimes barely discernible game trails. Mark had years of experience – and a loaded rifle – to keep us safe from the wild animals that surrounded us and he was sharing all his knowledge with me in a way that you simply can’t get from a vehicle or in an expensive lodge.

 

We had heard the wild dogs on our second morning. The dogs, one of nature’s most efficient and ruthless hunters yet notoriously inquisitive and generally gentle to humans, were wiped out almost to extinction throughout much of Africa. Living in complex family systems, the dogs were trapped, shot and poisoned by ranchers and subsistence farmers and devastated by diseases borne by domestic pets. After concerted efforts their numbers had gradually recovered although any sighting – no matter how fleeting – was always a cause for excitement and jubilation.

 

Mark led us in the direction of the sound. We moved quickly but carefully watched and listened for any indication of the the fleet-footed predators. Mark had explained that they had been seen on neighbouring property, but not in this particular area. Every few minutes we would stop and listen again, hoping for further indication of their whereabouts.

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For hours we tracked those dogs. We saw fresh tracks but never caught so much as a glimpse of a tail or ear-tip. At one point we stood on a slight hill and watched the tops of very tall grass swaying as something dashed around below. We were startled when a large kudu antelope dashed from the grasses right before us. His eyes were wild and saucer-like, while foam flew from his mouth. He barely broke step when he saw us and continued to race away quickly, clearly deeply disturbed by something life threatening. With Mark in the lead, we waded into the meadow completely blinded by the towering grass.

 

My bare arms and legs were soon lacerated by thorns and razor-sharp grass blades and leaves. Blood trickled down towards my boots but the thrill of the hunt spurred me on. 

 

As the shadows grew longer and the brutal heat began to ease, we finally had to give up our pursuit and return to camp. Apart from a few birds and that single kudu, we hadn’t seen any wildlife at all that entire day, but the thrill of the hunt – with only a camera and our eyes with which to capture our prey – had been better than any game drive spent with the Big Five.

 

I have been fortunate to have spent many weeks on safari in game parks and reserves. I have been in vehicles surrounded by lions and buffalo, in canoes chased by elephants, boats surrounded by hippos and on foot within a cat’s whisker of leopard, but that day spent tracking an elusive prey that I never actually saw, will always rank amongst the greatest days I have ever spent in Africa.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

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One response

3 01 2009
Anne Sewell

Thanks for an excellent and interesting article!

Best regards
Anne

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