Text: Adi Stander | Photographs/Video: Dave Landey
Any sighting of the charismatic, cape hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus), is a special one. Repeatedly seeing these animals, over a relatively short period of time, during the latter half of the autumn months gets every game ranger’s attention. This is due to the fact that cape hunting dogs usually look for an suitable place to den leading up to the winter months, which they will utilise during the birthing and initial phases of the puppies upbringing (whelping).
During early May, a pack containing 13 were seen in a number of times in relatively short succession, towards the north western parts of MalaMala. During one afternoon drive a few weeks later, two rangers were following up on very fresh tracks of a number of cape hunting dogs, yet again in the same area. They turned south off Maphonyoleni drive, into a very steep drainage line. The edges of the tracks were still sharp, even in the coarse, dry sand – a telltale sign of freshness. Not too long after they headed off the road, both rangers stopped abruptly. They both heard the undeniable deep bark of a cape hunting dog offering them a warning, while alerting the members of the pack to presence of the trespassers. That was all the sign they needed, quickly turned around and headed back to their vehicles, parked on the road in some shade.
It is one thing walking through the bush and finding something of interest, the next challenge is relocating it in a vehicle without creating too much disturbance, especially if the potential of a den site exist. Through the thickets of terminalia and combretum, one silver raisin bush towers over the rest. Spreading from a large termite mound, well out of elephants’ reach, it overlooks a dust cloud – one which is erupting from an old aardvark burrow. The source of this ever growing cloud is the Alpha female of the Maphonyoleni pack of cape hunting dogs, who is preparing a suitable den site to whelp.
The sightings we had of the Maphonyoleni pack of 13, during April and into May are on the rise, in and around the north western parts of the property. Some of which include these vivacious individuals interacting with; one another (a process which includes a vast array of bird-like twitters/chirps and various body postures) as well as many other animals, in a number of cases their interaction with these highly efficient hunters resulted in a few antelope species being captured in close sight of a number of rangers and guests. Full and satisfied the cape hunting dogs head west from the Mlowathi River, in the direction of their proposed den site, before the sun’s gaze becomes direct – back to that same termite mound, beneath the silver raisin bush.
We all wait with baited breath for the first signs of the pack making a final decision on this spot, and seeing the faces of the newest additions to the Maphonyoleni pack peeping out of their den.