African wild dogs are an endangered species of dog considered rare to see in the wild. The reason for this is two-fold: they’re notoriously nomadic and they cover a wide range with expansive territories. The best time of year to spot our twittering mottled dogs is for 3 months between May – Aug, during their denning period. And why is that? Wild dogs run as a pack, and for 3 months of the year, the pups will be reared by these co-operative breeders.
Wild dogs hunt together, hang out together and each dog has a role to play in helping to rear the pups. This means that when it comes time for the alpha female to produce her brood, she will need a secure den site. The pups are helpless and need to remain sedentary until they have grown. So this why, for 3 months, sightings of wild dogs increase.
There are local packs of dogs in various reserves, and when these dogs aren’t traversing far and wide, they may return to their previous denning ground to rear the new pups. Wild dogs act as a single unit, and individual dogs fall into a particular role when it comes to looking after the pups. Some will select the fierce den guarding role (sentry duty) which requires a warrior attitude, others will conduct expertly crafted hunts and bring the food back to the den.
Pups will call out for food while practising their high-pitched twittering which is the sound of a wild dog greeting ceremony. The hunting unit will regurgitate chunks of meat for the young pups, and if a kill is made close to the den site strips of meat will be taken back to the pack. The sentry roles are interchangeable with the hunting roles – wild dogs have such a sense of community!
The pup-rearing period is perfectly timed with the end of the impala rut (isn’t nature fascinating?). At the end of the impala rutting season, the rams are tired and make for easy prey. Packs might be at the top of the food chain in terms of predatory activity, but there are threats to the dogs’ safety in terms of other predators. This is why dogs will often move den sites during the denning period.
In the Kruger’s Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, the dogs have been spotted during the predicted denning period and outside the denning period. Local photographer, Rogan Kerr, managed to take a few pictures of the dogs while he was on assignment at Africa on Foot.