The wild dogs of South Africa were once the country’s least appreciated predator. As a result, their numbers sank perilously low. Wild dogs, which need vast areas to roam and hunt in, are now managed as a 'meta-population' and parks work together to prevent inbreeding.

Did you know?

Wild dogs are intensely altruistic, helping to feed old, very young and injured dogs.

The wild dogs of South Africa, as in the rest of the subcontinent, are some of the most endangered carnivores in the world. Count yourself extremely lucky to see a pack.

And don't mistake them for feral domestic dogs. In fact, they're barely distant cousins. These long legged predators with satellite dish ears, Jackson Pollock coats and plumy tails are unlike any other member of the dog family. But if you're ever close enough to smell one, you'll recognise the aroma − concentrated, gamey essence of hound.

There was a time when even conservationists persecuted them, and their numbers plummeted to dangerously low levels in South Africa and the subcontinent.

Wild dog conservation is tricky. They have high-rev metabolisms, hunting every day and roaming over enormous distances. As a result, your best chance is to see them in South Africa's largest parks such as the Kruger, Tswalu, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Madikwe national parks and reserves.

After a day of lounging in heaps on top of one another, sharing flies and shade, wild dogs will typically start to stir in the late afternoon. They get ready for a hunt by what can only be termed a pep-rally, with a 'cheerleader' egging them on until they're all making excited twittering noises.

Because a game reserve can typically only accommodate one or two packs, keeping the blood-line healthy is a challenge. Wild dogs are periodically translocated to prevent in-breeding.

Conservation of wild dogs in South Africa is boosted by captive-breeding at specialised facilities. 'Tame' dogs are being combined with wild-caught dogs to form successful packs in new reserves.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Madikwe Game Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)18 350 9931/2

Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve
Wild Dog Eco-Tours
Tel: +27 (0)15 534 2986

Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre
Tel: +27 (0)12 504 9906/7/8

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
Tel: +27 (0)15 793 1633

Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)11 274 2299

How to get here

You may be lucky enough to see wild dogs in Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal and Tswalu Private Game Reserve. But Madikwe Game Reserve near the Botswana border is probably the likeliest place to see them running free. Alternately, consider animal sanctuaries like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre or the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre.

Best time to visit

Wild dogs are very active and range widely. So while they are great animals to watch, it's very difficult to find them. The only reliable time is when they are denning (any time between September and March). They'll stay in one place for up to three months, and the rangers will almost certainly know where they are, so ask them.

Tours to do

Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, near Alldays and Mapungubwe National Park in the far north of South Africa, runs Wild Dog Eco-Tours. Some of the dogs are radio-collared, and you can go out with researchers to find them. There are no guarantees, but they say there's an 88% chance you'll see them − pretty good odds, considering how difficult they are to find. You also have an excellent chance of seeing wild dogs at Madikwe Game Reserve in North West province.

Length of stay

The longer you stay in a game reserve, the better chance you'll have. Consider at least three nights, more if you can.

What to pack

Your binoculars and camera, of course. But the dogs are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. Take something for the chill.

Where to stay

Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, Madikwe Game Reserve or Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve.