It was a crisp winter morning; birds were slowly warming up and beginning their sunrise song.
Keenly observing a termite mound in the distance had become our twice daily ritual.
We waited for movement. A tiny black head cautiously appeared, closely followed by 7 more and Jejane’s new wild dog generation showed themselves to the world, well at least to the privileged Jejane family.
Thus, began the story of the most observed wild dog pack in the Lowveld.
Their story is one of drama, murder, companionship, tenacity and a lot of luck.
Previously a small pack of Wild Dogs had established a den on Jejane, an old Alpha male, a pregnant female and 3 young adults.
Shareholders witnessed the Alpha male nicknamed Limpy, bravely luring a lion away from the den. Michelle’s observations: “the lioness chased Limpy who was barking and attracting her attention so that he could lure her away from the den site. Every now and again he would stop to see where she was and would bark again enticing her chase him again. Thank you, Michelle and Terry, for the photos.
The small black scraps never knew their father, he was killed by Hyenas. Their life touched again by misfortune when two other pack dogs were also killed.
The pack of now three, the mother and a sub adult male and female were now at risk with eight new members to care for. But the ultimate tragedy occurred, their mother disappeared when they were 5 weeks old, still nursing and very dependent on her. She had begun to travel on hunting forays with the two young dogs and one day just didn’t come back.
Experts predicted doom, it was not a strong pack, the mother had apparently chosen a badly situated den and the puppies now had little chance of survival with two young, inexperienced dogs to raise them.
Their Jejane family watched and waited as the two sub adults returned to the den each day and fed the prematurely weaned puppies.
The puppies grew and seemed to be thriving, now down to seven after one disappeared. But this little family had others close by. Two warthogs shared the same termite mound, emerging each morning from a different entrance, the two families managed to co-exist, either giving each other disdainful looks or totally ignoring each other.
Over the next few weeks shareholders continued keen surveillance of the little family. The adult dogs moved the puppies to a new den and by luck it was spotted close to the road on another termite mound. Their antics were observed as the pups grew stronger and more adventurous.One day reinforcements arrived in the form of four adult dogs. By some miracle they had found this little family.
The two young adults were identified by the experts as:
“two females that have been ranging over Kapama, the AFB, Amsterdam and HWE. The one female is the aunt of the pups i.e. sister of the alpha female. The remainder were from the pack of 6 introduced onto Balule last year. One was killed by a crocodile on York, one was killed by another pack of 8 dogs on Jejane, one was snared near Hippo Pools and a fourth has simply disappeared”.
There were now individuals from three different packs uniting to form a single pack.
The dogs and puppies soon bonded, the two sub adults who had cared for them so diligently now taking a step back. Whether by choice or design the two dogs who by now had, lost a lot of weight and were in poor condition, had little to do with the puppies.
The puppies were thriving with the extra care and sustenance as all the adult dogs would return to the den and regurgitate meat from the last kill.
They thrilled shareholders with wonderful photographic memories during their playtime up and down the road and testing the electric fence.
Sadly, more tragedy was to occur when shareholders found three pups dead near the den. A terrible blow after overcoming so many challenges in their short lives.
The rest of the group were observed on many occasions on forays further and further from the den. One evening the pack had been off exploring and as the sun set, they rested on top of a termite mound quite far from the second den. This was the last time they were seen.
At least we think so.
Some months later a small pack were observed on the railway tracks, one of whom was identified as the alpha female with the long white tail.
As the Jejane packs third birthday approaches in June we hope that this special, much observed group is thriving somewhere out there and carries the tenacity that enabled them to survive against all odds.
Visit our gallery to view additional images of the Wild Dog family.