Last week was very exciting in magical Mashatu. They released a pack of eight wild dogs onto the reserve! Mashatu has had wild dogs before but unfortunately they didn't manage to survive. These dogs were released just before the downgraded cyclone Dineo hit the reserve, in the hopes that with the rivers raised and all the rain they would stay put and not run away (this can be an issue as wild dogs are renowned for roaming large distances).
We were unable to be at the actual release but apparently they ran from their cages, played in the water and then ran back for a snooze - right near the cages. Clearly very excited to be free? I don't know about you, but if I had been couped up in a cage for a while I would be running far away from my prison the second I could! Obviously these dogs had been well looked after.
The day after their release it rained almost the entire day so there were no activities. However as the Trails course had finished, all students had been assessed and the next navigation course was not due to start until another two days - we were able to go out on a drive in search of the dogs the following day. HOORAY!
There were some chores to do in camp that morning and so we could only set out at about 11am – a bit later than our usual game drives. Fortunately it was not nearly as hot as it has been, there were some clouds about and we took the covered vehicle, so it was not too bad. It does feel a little like finding a needle in a haystack when you have 25 000 ha of ground to find eight little dogs in, but we did have a little help from Lazarus's friends who work on the reserve and knew the general area we should search.
You still need a lot of luck in those situations because if the dogs are not near a road, you have no chance of seeing them. Plus the chances are they are fast asleep in the middle of the day, so they have to be sleeping near the road and you have to have eagle eyes to spot them. Luck was on our side because they were both close to the road AND we had a few pairs of eagle eyes in the car - namely mine (of course - we all remember my spotting skills back from a lioness, 5 cubs and a kudu kill ) and Lazarus' - we both spotted something sleeping under a tree and what do you know ladies and Gentlemen…. IT WAS WILD DOGS.
There were four students on the vehicle who had never seen wild dogs before. It was very cool to see their excitement… although I think some of the South African students may have been even more excited even if they had seen them at least once before in their lifetimes! Perhaps they better recognize how special wild dogs truly are to see.
It is moments like these when I realize how lucky I am to have seen amazing animals like wild dogs numerous times in the wild. They are highly endangered and there are plenty of South Africans who have visited Kruger Park each and every year and never had the privilege to see them. Let's hope that this pack thrives in Mashatu and can provide many other visitors with their first wild dog sighting! Once again I am so thankful that we continue to have places like Mashatu in the world that contribute to conservation and the preservation of threatened species like wild dogs. It's awesome that EcoTraining gets to be part of it all and continue contributing to their mission of conservation as well.
Hopefully it won't be the last time I get to see these amazing animals in Mashatu but even if it is, it is pretty damn cool to be one of the first people EVER to have seen them here!