I don’t know who came up with expression “wild goose chase”, but in my opinion it should be wild dogs!
We’re volunteering with Wildlife Act, and there’s always something happening! On Monday while we were in town shopping, we got the call that 3 African Painted Dogs had been spotted on the Zululand Rhino Reserve. So we dropped everything, and hurried back to try to track them. One was a known dog, Nile, with a tracking collar, and the other two were believed to be her sisters Malika and Moon. They are about 2 years old and have dispersed from another reserve and are probably looking for males to start a pack with. We were getting signals with the telemetry system, and tracked them closer and closer, until the light went. We noted the spot and tried again the next day. On Tuesday afternoon we finally caught a glimpse of the three dogs and confirmed their identities. We followed them, and got another quick sighting of them playing. Then they quickly ran off into the bush as the light was going.
On Wednesday one of the drivers from a lodge told us they had been seen taking down a nyala, and also trying for a kudu. In the afternoon we found the remains of their nyala kill by the boundary fence, so anxiety is rising about the possibility that the dogs may have left the reserve. If they move into the community there is a risk they might be shot or snared, for fear they’ll take local cattle or sheep. We did get strong signals near their kill, but didn’t catch a glimpse before night fell.
Thursday and Friday were again long days with 5.30 am starts, out looking for signals, finding signals, both weak and strong. We followed and tracked, tracked and followed these 3 dogs for miles. It’s incredible just how much distance African Painted Dogs can cover in a day! There was a rumour that a dog had been seen on the main road outside the reserve – unconfirmed. We tracked through burned-out areas of grass, covered in rocks, that could have stood in for the Desolation of Smaug. We bumped our bones in the 4×4 for hours, we hoisted the telemetry on tired arms, searching for the faintest signal, moving around the reserve seemingly endlessly. It’s cold on the back of the truck in the early mornings and when night falls. It’s hard to keep the enthusiasm going when we get signals, and then they disappear. We go to bed exhausted and get up still tired.
Friday night the longed-for rain fell and fell, with thunder rolling around the camp. When we left at 5.30 am on Saturday, the skies were cloudy but dry so far. We drove to the area we had last found the signal the night before, and continued searching. With the low clouds, there’s always a possibility that the telemetry signals are bouncing off clouds and confusing our readings. Again, one of us climbed up onto the bench seat on the back of the truck, hoisted the telemetry, turned and gasped! A tail, maybe a dog! Yes indeed! We gathered up the equipment, got hurriedly back in the truck, turned round and followed. We saw 2 dogs for a brief few minutes as they ran about the brush on the side of the road. Then they were off again. And so we resumed our Wild Dog Chase….
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