The wild dogs of Mkhuze Game Reserve
This blog and images are courtesy of Tyson Jopson of Getaway blog.
Most go to reserves to see. Some go to do. In December, I spent a few days with the do-ers: the sort-it-out-ers, the whatever-it-takes-ers and the not-on-my-watch-ers – the WildlifeACT rangers and volunteers at Mkhuze Game Reserve in Zululand.
The team dedicates hours upon hours of each and every day to tracking and monitoring the molecular pack of eight collared African painted dogs (wild dogs) on the reserve, making sure they’re safe and, more importantly, snare-free.
‘It takes a special kind of person to do this,’ I thought as I shifted my weight awkwardly along the wooden bench seat bolted across the back of an old Land Cruiser bakkie. We were five hours into a tracking mission, filled so far with only the static of a begrudging VHF receiver. I watched one of the volunteers stand up, probably for the 20th time that day, and systematically scan the horizon with the receiver. She strained her ears for the telltale beep of a wild dog pack at rest. More static. The dogs were out of range, hidden in a nearby valley. It felt as if they were miles away.
The bush is a cloaked vigilante which hides the creatures that depend on it. It also masks the villains who butcher them. Confined to the sparse arterial roads, even with VHF tracking equipment and solid guide knowledge, there’s still no guarantee of finding what you’re looking for. We followed the Cruiser’s dusty headlights home that evening without any idea if the pack’s members were all still there.
The following morning we set out again at 03h30, a time usually reserved for madmen and misanthropes. Two hours later we found the Mkhuze pack. We spent the next few hours watching, in awe, the pack dynamics of one of Africa’s most intelligent, highly social animals. It was incredible, inspiring even. To see one of the world’s most endangered predators up close was well worth the wait.
However, as I sat there watching the last of the painted dogs disappear back into the thicket, I thought about it again, ‘Worth the wait?’ I’d been there for just a day; the WildlifeACT team at Mkhuze and neighbouring reserves do this everyday. It’s hardcore, it takes passion and dedication and, as one of its T-shirts so eloquently puts it, the understanding that ‘This is Zululand, not Disneyland.’