We’re flying, bouncing off-road over grass, avoiding aardvark holes and driving over a small mopane bush here or round a Kalahari apple-leaf there. We’re at Selinda in the Linyanti, Botswana, and we’re following an explosion of wild dogs.
This was our last early morning game drive before returning to Maun. It was so cold that our guide Donald Senase had packed ‘bushbabies’ with the wind-cheating ponchos – a hot water bottle to warm our lap and hands.
Determined to end our stay on a high Donald worked really hard to find the dogs. We returned to an area where he’d previously seen the pregnant alpha female cleaning out a den. We’d looked there on our first afternoon but found nothing. This time there were fresh tracks so he followed them until they disappeared into the thicket.
Another dog approached from the other direction and there was lots of excited yipping and greeting before they all set off together, travelling quickly through the long grass, trotting then jumping up in the air, all four paws off the ground to see where the others were, so they could follow.
We set off after them. At first Donald kept them in sight as he navigated along the sandy roads, where he could go faster than across the veld. Dogs can run at about 40km/h so it was a hectic Lewis Hamilton chase to keep up with them, not lose sight of their position. (Note that ’fast’ is a relative term on safari, top speed being only about 35-40km/h.) We were swaying madly on the back of the vehicle, hanging on with both hands and laughing, part hysteria and part adrenalin.
Then our road made a long detour away from the dogs and we lost them.
Our hearts dropped, fearful we wouldn’t find them again. Three or four long minutes passed while we desperately scanned the veld for any sign of movement.
Then Donald spotted one of the dogs and we bumped across the veld to get closer. We found them in a busy cluster around a kill. A photographer himself, he positioned the vehicle for the best angle, the best light on the action. And there they all were eating together, pulling and gobbling, white-tipped tails curved up from their backs.
I have no idea how much time passed as we watched, occasionally grinning at each other, smugly rejoicing in our luck, Donald’s good tracking and even finer chase-car driving.
High five to Donald for his tenacity in finding what turned out to be the most thrilling and prolonged wild dog sighting of our lives.
Note: I was a guest of Great Plains Conservation for two nights, but had free rein to write what I chose. I paid for all travel costs.
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