The African wild dog, also going by the nickname ‘Lycaon pictus’ or ‘painted dog’, is extremely rare to see during a safari. Once found throughout Africa, these wild mammal species are now endangered according to IUCN status. About 6,600 adult wild dogs are estimated to remain around the world today.
This threatened species has a fluctuating population due to various causes. These include vulnerability to diseases such as rabies, competition with other predators like lions, displacement by rival packs, and cooperative killing. This is why spotting wild dogs in their natural habitat is a special occurrence.
A wild dog has distinct coloration and regular patterns of black, white, and reddish-brown tan. This makes them easily distinguishable from other animals, and thus they appear as painted wolves. Another striking feature of wild dogs is their large, round ears, often referred to as Mickey Mouse ears.
Wild dogs are one of the most successful predators because they have a keen intelligence, excellent hearing and vision, fine cooperative skills, and exceptional speed. They are always found in packs consisting of 2–27 adult dogs and their pups. The wild dog pack works together to raise a litter of pups, confirming their strong bond.
Wild dogs are found in Southern Africa, or the Eastern coast of Africa. Since their territory is vast, it is important to choose the right safari destination. Here are some of the places you can spot the rare and elusive wild dog in Africa:
Okavango Delta -Moremi Game Reserve
The vast and open northern part of Botswana is filled with luscious landscapes and diverse species. The Okavango Delta is the world’s biggest inland delta. Wild dogs are also spotted here, as the delta is known to act as a magnet for a variety of wildlife. The Okavango Delta provides a sanctuary for a number of wild dog packs. Wild dogs living in the delta prefer to inhabit drier camps rather than those surrounded by water.
Moremi Game Reserve is part of the central Okavango Delta. As it offers year-round water resources, the reserve manages to attract animals from far and wide. Moremi Game Reserve is considered to be the best place to spot wild dogs in Botswana, as it houses 150 to 200 of its population.
In the eastern sections of the game reserve lie two strategically placed lodges where one can catch sight of the wild dogs. The Xakanaxa Camp is located on the Khwai River and overlooks the Xakanaxa Lagoon. The Khwai Lodge, set near the North Gate of Moremi Game Reserve, also offers good sightings of wild dogs.
In Northern Botswana lies the Linyanti, an area nestled between the borders of Namibia, Savuti, and the Selinda Channel. The Linyanti Swamp features a landscape of open floodplains and scattered woodlands, making it one of the most productive regions to spot various wildlife species. It is home to several roaming wild dog packs as well.
The Linyanti Bush Camp is the perfect base to stay and increase your chances of witnessing wild dogs in their natural habitat.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe Game Reserve may be small in stature, but it has successfully captured sightings of the wild dog species. The reserve underwent a massive change in the 1990s when diverse wildlife was introduced after experiencing failed and unproductive farmland. Due to its success story of rehabilitation and conservation, there is a healthy population of wild dogs in the Madikwe Reserve.
This malaria-free reserve is famous for its small yet feisty wild dog predators. They are almost regularly seen along with the Big Five animals. The Tuningi Safari Lodge is a good accommodation option in Madikwe Game Reserve, where professional guides strive hard to track down wild dogs among other animals such as leopards and lions.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park in South Africa is the most popular and largest game reserve in the country. This renowned wildlife area has a remarkable diversity of animals, plants, and bird species. It covers an area of 7,576 sq. mi., where the population of wild dogs is widespread in the region. The Greater Kruger area, which not only includes the Kruger National Park but also certain private reserves like Timbavati, Manyeleti, Sabi Sands, and MalaMala, has packs of wild dogs residing there.
The best place to stay is at any of the Sabi Sands lodges, as they are a collection of private safari lodges and offer an intimate experience. Guests can enjoy off-roading for special sightings, which are usually reserved for wild dogs and other predators.
Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park
Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park is one of the lesser-known national parks, located in beautiful KwaZulu Natal. It is the oldest proclaimed protected national park in South Africa, dating back to approximately 1895. Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park is a Big Five reserve but is also home to a substantial population of wild dogs. It has reintroduced wild dogs and monitors them on a daily basis. Over the years, their numbers have grown, as multiple packs have been seen in Hluhluwe Imfolozi.
The Hilltop Camp, located in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, offers guided game drives and other safari options where witnessing wild dogs has become a real possibility.
Selous National Park is sprawled over 45,000 kilometers and is three times bigger than the bustling Serengeti. Home to around 100,000 impalas, predators in Selous are in abundance. Owing to this reason, approximately 800 wild dogs roam the wide and beautiful reserve as well as its stunning forest areas. Although Selous is 50,000 square kilometers in size, it is a less busy place than any other park in Tanzania, making sightings even more genuine. Due to its vast capacity, wild dogs have plenty of space to move around as well.
The Sand Rivers Selous overlooks the Rufiji River, where the wild dogs’ dens are seen towards the east of the camp. Selous Serena Camp is also one of the ideal bases to explore the remoteness of Selous and spot wild dogs.
Ruaha National Park
Located in central Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in the country. The Great Ruaha River is known to be a lifeline for the wildlife living in the park. Although rich in flora and fauna and huge in size, Ruaha is the least visited park in Tanzania. Hence, safaris here are more exclusive and remote.
A good population of wild dogs resides in Ruaha, but it is difficult to spot them as there are only a few camps set up in the park. Moreover, dense woodland and 50,000 kilometers of Baobab-dotted savannah make it impossible to catch their sightings. To increase your chances and luck of seeing wild dogs, the Mwagusi Safari Camp located in Ruaha National Park is a preferred accommodation option, as visitors are known to have multiple sightings of them.
David Attenborough’s ‘Dynasties’, a BBC series, featured Mana Pools in its Wild Dogs episode. Since then, Mana Pools National Park has become increasingly famous. Every year, wild dog dens situated in and around the national park provide exciting sightings for visitors. There are two main areas in the park where wild dogs are often seen.
There are wild dog dens close to the banks of the Zambezi River that travel through the northern boundary of the park. Additionally, the more remote area, Chitake Springs, forces wildlife to congregate during the dry winter months, which also attracts predators like lion prides and wild dogs waiting to hunt.
The best place to stay in Ruaha is the Vundu Camp, where the BBC team stayed during the filming of the series.
Hwange National Park
Hwange is one of the largest national parks in Zimbabwe, known to be roughly the size of Belgium. The national park is home to twice the number of wild dogs as Mana Pools; around 200 of these dogs live in over 30 packs. The park also has the longest-running conservative initiative known as the Painted Dog Conservation Project, which protects, rehabilitates, and reintroduces these animal species in the country.
The Hide is a luxury safari camp in Hwange. It has viewing hides located on the edge of waterholes and provides excellent opportunities to observe wildlife.
South Luangwa National Park
South Luangwa National Park encompasses the beautiful Luangwa Valley, which is exceptionally rich in diverse wildlife. It is mostly due to the flowing Luangwa River that the game concentrations in the park are among the highest. The area is also well-known for predator sightings, namely lion, spotted hyena, leopard, and the elusive Wild Dog. The Zambian Carnivore Program has boosted the population of wild dogs, which is now estimated to be around 300 in the Luangwa Valley.
A stay at the rustic Nsolo Bush Camp or Flatdog Camp not only offers exhilarating sights of the wild dog packs but other animals residing in Luangwa as well.
Laikipia lies at the end of the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and is noted for community-run conservancies. The semi-arid wilderness of Laikipia is known to be the only region where wild dog sightings occur regularly. In 2017, around 10 packs were decimated by canine temper, but they slowly started emerging in the Loisaba Conservancy in the following years.
Staying at Laikipia Wilderness Camp promises adventurous wild dog sightings as well as a look at the conservation programs run in Laikipia.
When to see wild dogs in Africa
The prime time to see wild dogs in Africa is generally during the dry winter months of May to July, as they establish their dens during this period. At some parks, they are often seen from September to October as well.
To witness wild dogs in their natural habitat, all the places mentioned above are worth a visit. Learning about and spreading more awareness about this endangered species can help support its conservation better.
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