African painted dogs are by far my favourite animal of the continent and I had exceptional views of them when I visited the Okavango two years ago (my blog post about those sightings is here). After reading the pre-departure information from the tour company I didn’t expect to see them at all during my recent trip to the Kalahari. This level of expectation was reinforced by our guide who who had only ever seen them twice in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve during all his trips into the area. He told us there there are only one or two packs in the entire reserve and the chances of seeing them very slim.
…and the chances of seeing them in the future is diminishing. In 2016 there were only 6,600 left in the wild with only 1,400 breeding adults. They are spread amongst less than 40 disconnected populations and Botswana, especially the north of the country is a relative strong hold; that area may hold around 10% of the word population.
However, one morning while on our way back to camp in the Passarge Valley we passed another vehicle whose occupants told us they had seen both painted dogs and elephants earlier in the day with the former at a water hole. It was too late in the morning to head over there but after our usual daily siesta we made for the water hole in the late afternoon. As the dogs usually rest up during the heat of the day, and one become active as the sun drops, our expectations were high that they would still be there when we arrived.
It took a while to get to the site through narrow, twisty, sandy tracks, being flicked by the spikey undergrowth as the truck brushed passed (I’ve still got the scars!). However, after the best part of an hour we turned into the trees surrounding the water hole and almost immediately found the pack, resting under cover by the water. There were seven in total and as we approached, some nervously got up and slowly trotted off a little distance into the surrounding bushes while the rest stayed lazing where they were. As another vehicle approached, a few more got up and they seemed more concerned about it and walked off a little further. However, as we waited and the other vehicle drove off, the dogs returned one by one to the water’s edge.
We sat watching them for an hour or so as they rested and relaxed, some standing around or wandering about, while others just slept. Eventually, with a night-time ban on driving in the Reserve and an hour’s drive back to the camp, we had to leave them – as much as we didn’t want to!
This was just a little extra doggy bonus to the trip – these unexpected events are what make wildlife holidays exciting and rewarding.
We never did see the elephants despite finding their tracks and a lot of fresh dung; they’re rare in the Kalahari and these were probably roaming males rather than maternal herds.