‘Ah-oooooooooooooooo. Ah-ooooooooooooo.’ A mournful, low wail pierces the air. We’ve never heard this sound before and if we didn’t know exactly who was uttering this haunting, heartfelt song we might have ventured it was a bird rather than a mammal. But, just there, right in front of our game-viewing vehicle, to the delight and excitement of everyone on board, is an African wild dog, head bowed low, scraping the red earth.
‘Ah-oooooooooooo. Ah-ooooooooooooo.’ Like an ‘X-factor’ hopeful this pack member is ‘crooning’ for all he’s worth. He’s somehow got separated from the rest of of his pack and is contact-calling plaintively to get back in touch – a bit like sending an urgent SMS or desperate text message when you quickly need to relocate family members or a bunch of friends in a crowd…
Getting this close to such a rare and beautiful animal – just check out those marbled coats and rangy, marathon runner legs – is always a special treat, but it’s even better when you get to discover another little piece of the jig-saw about their fascinating social and co-operative behaviour.
On our next morning drive, we get to catch up with the reunited group of 14 dogs ( just one of the packs on the reserve) and follow them hunting – bumping along in the wake of the pack as they fan out through the bush at top speed flushing out their prey. We’re certainly feeling the Madikwe magic…
It’s about 20 years since the first six wild dogs were introduced to Madikwe game reserve, in South Africa’s North West province. Now here we are a couple of decades later closely following this holy grail species which is doing remarkably well on the reserve. Such conservation success stories are rare and certainly something to be celebrated.
When we ran into the wild dogs on our visit last month we’d already notched up excellent sightings of the Big Five just half-way through a five-night stay. Three leopard sightings on successive afternoon drives, many photogenic elephant encounters and an alert lion or two along the way had more than kept our cameras clicking, but were we going to see the critters that make visits to this malaria-free reserve that extra-bit special? We were getting more than a little anxious we might not be as lucky as most and that catching up with one of our favourite animals on the planet might prove impossible on this occasion.
Guides confirmed the dogs had been giving everyone the runaround in recent days, but assured us that it definitely wasn’t time to panic. How right they were. This was our very first visit to Madikwe, South Africa’s fourth largest game reserve – but something tells us we’ll be back… Ah-ooooooooooo!