Collaring wild dogs
The other day I ran into my first pack of African wild dog and it was an experience I won’t forget. These highly endangered species are extremely rare, but we are fortunate to have a pack of 14 near camp at the moment and they are amazingly entertaining to watch. They behave exactly like any dog would (very playful, always running around and jumping on each other) but what intrigued me most was how they work in a team, especially when hunting. The group dynamics were almost hypnotizing as I stared and watched them run through the thick bush and trees, fanning out strategically and surrounding the impala that they would soon catch. It was an amazing sight, and once they had made the kill the excitement of the pack was baffling. The pups were throwing chunks of meat around and wrestling each other for scraps, the adults were playfully chasing each other around, jumping over one another and having what looked like a grand time. That was by far one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen thus far in Africa, and I spent several hours afterwards following the dogs and watching their behavior as they moved around and finally found a place to rest.
There is currently an ongoing research project studying population dynamics and home ranges of wild dogs, and once the supervisor got word that this pack was found near our camp, we made arrangements for him and a vet to come up and radio-collar two of the dogs. This was great news for me because it meant I was in charge of finding the pack and following them all morning until the researcher and vet were able to fly up and meet me. I was lucky in that a few minutes after driving out of camp, the pack of dogs ran feverishly through the woods and right in front of my car, before disappearing on the other side. Great, now I would have to drive through the thick bush to keep an eye on them, but at least I knew where they were and wouldn’t spend hours searching for them. I was able to keep up with them until ten, at which point the heat of the day is an unbearable 110 degrees and the dogs finally calm down and rest until evening when it cools down again. I radioed in the position and waited (aka cooked) in the car for about three hours until the other two finally arrived.
Once we figured out which two dogs were the best candidates for the collars, we darted them with a dart gun and got to work. Blood samples were collected, various measurements were taken on the dogs and their overall health was analyzed, then lastly we fitted each one with a collar. As we were working, a few elephants were curious as to what we were doing and wandered towards us. Unfortunately this posed a serious risk to the sedated dogs (elephants hate wild dogs and may try to trample them, especially if they are unconscious) so it was my job to jump in the car and ‘push’ the elephants away. One may think that elephants are friendly giants, but let me tell you – wild elephants are not something to be messed with. They are actually extremely dangerous animals - mainly because of their size - and although they look big and slow, they are actually very fast when they want to be and can easily squash a car, and the person inside. In other words, knowing it was my job so approach some curious elephants in the landrover and try to move them back where they came from wasn’t exactly the most comforting feeling. As I got within five feet of the leading big bull who dwarfed the vehicle (he must have been four times the size of the landrover), my heart was racing as I eased ever so slightly on the gas. He shook his head and violently shook his ears as made his threat display. I took a big gulp and could only hope he wouldn’t crush the car with one step as I continued on. Finally he had enough of my big metal box moving just feet away from him as he turned around and walked off, the others following behind. Few, what a relief that was. I headed back to the researcher and vet and we continued working on the dogs. Overall the process took about three hours, and once the two were awake we followed them for another hour or so to make sure there were no problems, then headed back to camp. What an exciting day, there’s nothing more exciting than trying to follow a pack of wild dogs through the African bush for a mornings work then scaring off elephants in the afternoon!
Living and working in the Okavango Delta
I have been in the Delta for a little over a week now and it has been hands down one of the most amazing weeks of my life. Every moment has been absolutely unforgettable. I am volunteering with the environmental division of a safari company and basically we fly out between camps in the Delta and assess the environmental impact of each concession, as well as make suggestions for improving the sustainability of each camp. Not only that, but we are also responsible for assessing the amount of game that surrounds each camp, therefore part of the job is to go out and run a number of transects where we identify and quantify the animals in each area.
Living in the Delta is not like living in the city. In fact, it’s not even like living in the woods… It’s like entering a world where man has not conquered and nature still has the final say. There are literally things that could kill you around every corner, whether it be the venom of a snake, the poison of a spider, the claws of a lion or even the jaws of a hippo. And believe me, there is no lack of diversity up here. If anybody ever dreamed of a place as wild, exciting, and dangerous as imaginable, the Okavango Delta surely fits the description. Just now I hear two hippos fighting not ten meters from my tent. I fall asleep to the distant sound of roaring lions and barking wild dog (and the funny part is that I’m not even exaggerating). There is a pack of warthog that live under my room at the moment, and boy can they make a fuss when a leopard walks past. It truly is unbelievable, there is nothing more that I can say about this place. I am incredibly excited to continue working with this company over the next few months as I will get to see more and more of the Delta while we move from one camp to another, and I am even more excited to say that even though this past week has been one of the best of my life, that this is only the beginning of my stay here! What an exciting journey to come!
And now, some pictures from my back yard!