An Exciting Wild Dog Sighting in the North of Kruger

Apr 19 2016
“One of the places I most desired to see in the Makuleke concession, far north of the Kruger National Park was Lanner Gorge. And I know I was not the only one from our group! Our group of birders were ready and waiting for the guides and drivers 15 minutes prior to departure. Of the birds we were keeping a close eye out for, included: racket-tailed rollers, black African swifts, Lanner falcon and maybe a peregrine falcon,” says  Gerhard Delport, wildlife photographer.  And just a reminder to all of you reading this that a great way to share such rare bird sightings is through the Latest Sightings crowdsourcing app  (iPhone/iPad or Android).

Duncan McKenzie, consulting ecologist and lecturer environmental services stopped the open game viewer just after they moved onto the Pafuri main road. He heard a striped kingfisher calling! But while looking for the kingfisher they heard another bird call, and Gerhard says,  “Just by looking at Duncan’s eyes pop wide, we knew something special was in store... and so it was.”

“At that moment we were spoilt by not 1 but 2 racket-tailed rollers flying over us whilst calling. Unfortunately it did not allow for a great photo opportunity but it was a privelage to see and hear them,” says Gerhard. It’s estimated that in South Africa there are maybe 10-20 breeding pairs found only in the northern Kruger Park. However they do become more common as you move further north into Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

“Again, I was amazed at the diversity of habitats between the Limpopo River in the north and the Levuvhu River in the South. As we stopped to look at a small-leafed rock fig I was fortunate enough to get a photo of a plated lizard before he dove back into his rock crevasse. Then as we stopped at the parking area at Lanner Gorge there was a smell of rotten meat in the air,” says Gerhard. 

'We were puzzled but it was rather interesting when Duncan and Johna explained to us that it was a flower responsible for the smell! Actually, they had to point the flower out to us before we completely believed them,' says Gerhard. The flower is called the carrion (quite a rare flower in the Kruger Park) and interestingly it uses the pungent odour to attract flies to assist with pollination.

“With anticipation we walked towards Lanner Gorge from the parking area,” says Gerhard. The Levuvhu River carved the Gorge over 2 million odd years ago and in places the Gorge is up to 150m deep. Dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the walls of Lanner Gorge and surrounding areas. As the Levuvhu River is in the summer rain fall region it is prone to flooding during these wet seasons, and flood debris is evident, including large fallen trees.

Due to steep terrain and rugged area it remains largely unspoilt, and access is limited to a few walking trails from both the Makuleke in the north, and Kruger Park in the south. 
“I was one of the first to get out to the viewing point, and as usual I walked forward towards the edge as I wanted to see the river. Looking over the river I was able to spot a Peregrine falcon drifting on the thermals! And then I looked down…” says Gerhard.

“My heart skipped a beat or two… There on the sand bank on the southern side of the Levuvhu River were a pair of “Painted Wolves” or better known as African wild dogs!! Wow! Even the guides, some of them having worked in the area for close to 5 years have never seen Wild Dogs,” says Gerhard.  

“I called out to the guides and told them what I had seen! And at first they didn’t believe me. And then they too saw them. The dogs were looking for a place to cross the river and appeared nervous. But with good reason because about 50m upstream two humungous Nile crocodiles were lurking in the Levuvhu. The male moved downwards and then suddently gunned it,” says Gerhard.
“The male looked over his shoulder as if he was saying to the female, ‘What are you waiting for?’ The female dog was exceptionally nervous! The rule of the bushveld is, if you do cross a river with crocodiles, do not cross at the same point as the crocodile. More than likely the crocs will be watching, and set-up an ambush,” explains Gerhard
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'If you do own dogs, ensure they do not learn to swim in rivers, or other open water of the lowveld. Dogs are quickly and regularly taken by crocodiles. 
“So with my heart in my throat I watched in trepidation as I expected another lowveld tragedy to unfold before me,” says Gerhard. 

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“This was it!! I was awestruck with the manner these wild dogs communicate, not only by sounds, but also with their body language and physical contact. It was amazing to observe. And they had made it, I could breathe! I watched as they dogtrotted into the big wide north! We were spoilt silly in just a few hours of what the African bush can offer,” concludes Gerhard.  
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Written and photography by Gerhard Delport
Edited by Tracy Burrows
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