27th March 2013 – 6.10am
“we hear erratic splashing coming from the water in front of tent 4”.
“In the cool of the early morning our guests had been watching the moon set from the main deck. When there is a full moon you can enjoy its last hanging moments reflecting off the Zibidianja lagoon before the sunrise takes over the dominance of the sky.
Whilst enjoying a freshly ground “Zarafaspresso” and cheese on toast from the open fire, we heard some erratic splashing coming from the water in front of tent 4. There are only few situations that could make such a frantic sound. It was not heavy enough to be a hippo and certainly not a bird like an egret fishing. Then came the grunting sounds of an Impala’s alarm call which gave it all away – it must be Wild Dogs hunting.
We scuttled along the pathway from the main deck to tent 4, with wild fever berry trees providing cover we reached the surrounds of the room. It was indeed a pack of Wild dog, Painted wolf, Lycaon pictus and they were in the motions of killing an Impala right in front of our eyes. Reuben our guide made sure we were all safe, although Wild Dogs are incredibly relaxed around human beings. It is something to behold and very difficult to describe in words, the feeling of seeing something like this is just raw nature and your emotions can be left raw as a result. It is was over very quickly though with the whole impala devoured in a matter of minutes”.
More on the Wild dogs of Selinda Reserve below in our Wild dog special this month.
Highlights of March 2013
Weather – Cooling in the evening to 20 degrees, slights drizzles or rain but nothing in the latter parts of the month. The area is becoming very dry already. During the day 25 to 33 degrees. Mosquitos becoming marginal. Little to no winds. Cirrus cloud in the afternoon providing outstanding sunsets.
Although Wild Dogs have taking the centre stage this month we have also enjoyed quite a variation in other wildlife experiences, notedly Lions.
The Selinda Pride comprises of seventeen lions including two roaming males. One of the mothers is nursing some small cubs presently. To the north near Selinda Camp there are four other females, we call them the Wapuka pride. One mother has just had two tiny cubs which she continues to hide away from the other females, they are only eight weeks.
The Selinda pride have been dipping in and out of the Zarafa area all month. A highlight was on the 21st March.
“Just as we were enjoying out post dinner Amarulas on the deck of Zarafa, we heard roaring from a number of Lions in the direction of the solar panels, Zarafa is 100% solar. Reuben, one of the Zarafa guides, fetched a car and despite it being well past bed time we drove to the source of the roars to find eleven Lions calling to the rest of the pride. They were fairly stationary, and not in the hunting mood, so we retreated to the comfort of our beds until the morning.
The next day the Lions split up and were on the hunt. Three of the females came across a large female hippo we call Metsi, which means water in Setswana. We often see Metsi coming in and out of the waters of a morning and evening just by the main deck of the camp. Metsi must be from between 2500 to 3000 kg’s, the weight of a small car. For three Liona to tackle a Hippo is ambitious at best. Metsi opened her colossal mouth and this alone was enough to deter the Lions back into the confides of the bush.
They Lions did not go hungry for too long as they came across a warthog later in the morning. The lions decided to have a rest and in the midst of yawning and cleaning their paws, just as you would see in a domestic cat, a warthog trotted towards them. The Lions spread out and using the waters of the Zibadianja lagoon cornered the warthog and sealed its fate. You may think a relatively small warthog would not be able to put up a fight but in its last moments it inflicted a severe wound on the underside of one of the females (pictured below). Warthog have sharp tusks on the end of there faces, we ahem witnessed then fight of leopard before. She will not forget that warthog for some weeks as she carries a gash of 30 cm’s / 12 inches or so. She will heal in time, lions repair surprisingly well”.
Fred is back. Last year we had an elephant, who was named Fred by Willem and Nienke the managers, who spent quite a bit of time in and around Zarafa. He would spend hours devouring the lush leaves of our trees and eating the fruits of the sour plums from the deck. He disappeared around November as that is when the rain arrived but returned this month. Wild amimals are wild amimals and Fred is by no means a petting elephant. Despite that he is quite happy spending time next to our decks flapping his ears to keep him self cool and just idling his days away. We are convinced this familiriaty would not have happened seven years ago. When Great Plains Conservation took over the area we banned all forms of hunting. We all love Fred and he really signifies our mission as a company which is to conserve and and expand natural habitats.
The cheeky honey badger of Zarafa – In 2012 we installed a biogas plant in Duba, Selinda and Zarafa camps. We feed it all our vegetable waste so as to produce gas and reduce our carbon foot print even further. Once the vegi matters starts to digest it puts out quite an odour, something we have found Hyena and now Honey badgers really love. The entrance to the unit is at ground level to so we have found this little guy trying to stick his head into start chumping on the rotting matter. The smell is horrific so how he can find this to be a delicacy who knows. It does provide some pretty good sightings of this farely rare and sought after animal that some say is the most ferocious animal in Africa! Maybe that is because he has such bad breath…
Willem and Niencke
We bid a sad farewell to Willelm and Nincke, our relief managers, who have been spending quite some time at Zarafa over the recent months. From the Netherlands “W&N” have spent a year with Great Plains and they are returning with some incredible memories of their stay here. Thank you to you both for all the support you have given the company in 2012 and we hope that you will return to visit soon.
The Wild dogs of the Selinda Reserve
From the diary account above we can see that Wild dogs devour their prey very quickly indeed. This behavior has evolved due the competitive battle between the dogs and other predators. Hyena, Lion and even Leopard will often look to claim the dogs kill as they have the greater power so they need to eat as quickly as possible to prevent them stealing.
Zarafa, which is in the southern part of our concession becomes a hot spot for Wild dog throughout the wet season, certainly as the trend has shown for the last three years. Dogs need space to run as they chase and tire out their pray by chasing them over large distances. Their specialty is stamina and they can cover upwards of 50 km in a day. Throughout the rainy season the Selinda Reserve transforms many of our open spaces into lush grassy “pastures” for the abundant antelope to flourish. Surrounding Zarafa there is a stretch of pans we call Shumba, which also means Lion. The Impala like to drink at the pan waters as they are free of crocodiles and also very open so they can see predators from a far. Their miscalculation is in the Wild dogs ace card, not it pace but it Olympian style characteristics and persistence. It is ideal for the dogs during the green season because it remains so open.
Selinda Reserve is one of the best places to see Wild dog in Africa. It is possible to see four separate packs on the concession, which for such a relatively small area is unusual. There are two resident packs, the Selinda or Zibidianja pack which consists of thirteen animals who follow an alpha female. We were particularly nervous last year as this pack had reduced to only six. The Alpha female fell pregnant in March or April and at about the same period was attacked by a Hyena. Her back left leg was seriously damaged, and still today causes her some discomfort, although she can now run all four legs. We followed the pack very nervously for two further months until in early June of 2012, not 2 km’s from Selinda Camp, the alpha gave birth to nine puppies in an old Aardvark den. The first month was incredibly precarious for this pack who were on the balance for survival.
One morning in early August a female lion from the Selinda Pride stumbled into the den by complete accident and caused a premature evacuation of the puppies. The female Lion would have killed them all. The puppies were too young to leave the den, and many of the guides thought the female had chosen a poor location for her den as she was quite young to be a mother. The pack moved north to safety and returned after about a week later to reclaim the den. A gut retching survey of the puppies showed that two of the young had gone missing, most likely due to Hyena although one guide thought one had been bitten by a snake. Today the pack are back to healthy number and hunting as one.
Although the figures do vary the rough estimate of Wild dog numbers left in Africa are between 2,500 to 3,500. It is critical that the areas of Zarafa and Selinda are protected. In 2012 we built a new camp in the west of the concession called Selinda Explorers camp. This is in an area of complete widerness and after only a short period we found a pack five very dark wild dogs which we have named the Explorers pack. Our presence in the area now allows access to researchers and for us to protect the surrounding areas. The other two packs to the north and south are the Kwando and Savute packs. Their territory just overlaps into the Selinda Resreve and we occasional see them if the Selinda pack is to the opposing north or south.
So back to the Selinda pack. This should be mating time now and we are just waiting on reports from the guides if and when this activity will occur. Then we begin the nail biting cycle of the denning, birthing and bringing up of the puppies begins in June. Viewing a species which is on a knife edge like the Wild dog is a privilege. Their behaviors can be so comparative to our domestic dogs despite splitting from their evolution thousands of years ago. They are the rarest mammal in Southern Africa and most likely the rarest species that you might see on any trip to Africa. The more people that come to see them the more we will be able to protect them.
Great Plains Conservation