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Wild Dogs Dig a Den at Chitabe

We’re back at Chitabe this week to round up the second part of our recent safari there. Sightings included following a large male leopard hunting by day and seeing a pack of 19 wild dogs digging their dens (plural) for TWO pregnant females.

On our first morning game drive we were following the distant roars of two male lions. While tracking them we went past a hyena den where one individual was just returning from the night’s foraging efforts. We couldn’t locate the lions and instead headed into a different part of the concession where we managed to find a large male leopard on the move through the open acacia veld. This leopard was fully grown, far bigger than the young male of the last episode and an absolutely beautiful cat. We were able to watch him for several hours as he patrolled his territory scent marking. The Okavango is very flat -this is in part how it has come into existence – and the leopard used various different vantage points to look around and scope out his route. Vantage points included termite mounds as well as dead trees and fallen over trees. As it was mid-morning, the light was ideal and we had some great photographic opportunities of this male in action. We could see that he wasn’t full and, though he would stop and take short breaks on the termite mounds and logs, he would never lower his head, always looking around. After a while, it seemed he had spotted some zebra in the distance. He stalked them a bit before realising that the wind was not in his favour and there were only adults in the group, therefore no easy opportunities.

The male in a fallen over tree

Next he spotted a small herd of giraffe, which included several very young individuals. A young giraffe is by no means easy prey to bring down but also not impossible. Unfortunately for the leopard, giraffe have excellent awareness and eyesight and some of them spotted the leopard as he tried to move into a better position. Hunt spoiled, the leopard nonchalantly continued with its journey through the bush. Eventually he settled down on a termite mound and we left him after having spent 2+ hours with him. I can’t remember having a longer sighting of a male leopard by day– the beauty of going on safari in the Delta was once again evident.

Taking a break in a termite mound to scan his surroundings

The following day we were intending to go to the Gomoti channel, a perennial water channel that separates the Chitabe concession and the famous Moremi game reserve. While en-route there, we heard about another sighting over the radio and this was the only time we really made a concerted effort to respond to a sighting, driving about 20 minutes to get to an area where a pack of 19 wild dogs was on the move. Dogs are so incredibly few and difficult to see that when the opportunity arises, we normally try to seize it. As is so often the case, when we got close to the area the dogs were in, there was widespread panic and chaos amongst the other animals. A group of kudu were deep in a thicket, looking nervously around. Far away on an open flood plain, the dogs were moving at speed. We drove in their direction and found them moving onto an island. There was a lot of noise… giddy chattering of the dogs as a large cloud of dust rose from within the island.

My first thought: they’ve caught something! As we drove onto the island though we noticed that the dogs were in fact digging in an old aardvark burrow. One or more of the pack members were down the burrow and excavating in an attempt to make it bigger. This is common behaviour when dogs are close to giving birth but behaviour that is not commonly seen as it only happens once a year. The dogs were definitely thrilled with the discovery of this aardvark burrow, many of them running around, chatting with each other animatedly. We also noticed within a few minutes that there were more dogs digging in another burrow pretty close by and soon discovered that two females were heavily pregnant.

While this is definitely not unheard of, it's also by no means the norm when it comes to painted wolves, where normally only the alpha female breeds. It was non-stop entertainment. We watched different pack members return from faraway hunts, heads covered in blood, regurgitating food for the alphas to eat. When females are this pregnant, it’s exceptionally difficult for them to keep up with the pace of the hunt and they are very reliant on other pack members to feed them. There’s quite a distinct ‘begging for food’ vocalisation they make that isn’t heard in any other situation. The pack was so large, consisting of 19 adults, that many had gotten separated during the morning hunt and we could hear a few making their distinct, almost haunting contact call in the distance in an effort to relocate the main pack. We eventually left them as they started to settle in for the morning and we had a bush brunch to get to. Exciting prospects for Tank and the other guides though. With two pregnant females and an already large pack of dogs, there could be a huge group forming over the next year.

The dogs dig a new den for their next litter by expanding on an aardvark burrow

That afternoon was our last afternoon at Chitabe and we decided to go for a slow local bumble, just to enjoy the bush. While it was our quietest drive at Chitabe it didn’t disappoint one bit. We initially watched an elephant bull just after we had left camp. He shook his head against a palm tree and it rained palm nuts for a few seconds. The elephant then picked up palm nut after palm nut, feeding quietly and systematically. On our way home, we found a few lions sleeping on the road. We drove around them and left them to their own devices. Just five minutes further down the road a female leopard was walking steadily in the road ahead of us, patrolling her territory. It was the mother of the young male we discussed in last week’s podcast episode, the male we had seen just a few days earlier.

There were many other sightings we had at Chitabe and we did eventually make it to the Gomoti channel the following morning, which was and always is a remarkable place to visit in its own rite. Join us again next week for more stories as we move across to an old favourite camp, Vumbura Plains.

One of the alpha females monitors the burrow closely

What an incredible few days at Chitabe it has been. Join us again next week as we return to the Delta and Vumbura Plains, where more wildlife surprises were in store for us.

Tune in! You can listen to the Safari Stories podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, our website, or wherever you listen to your podcasts! Links below.


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