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Going to the dogs

Seeing painted wolves, more commonly called African wild dogs, is guaranteed to raise your pulse. They’re beautiful, rare and fascinating to watch, particularly on the hunt when they work as a pack to catch and dispatch their prey. This feature begins with Brian Jackman’s description of encountering them in the wild. Next, Nicholas Dyer gives us a detailed insight into what he learnt during five years following them on foot. And ffinafly, we explain how they’re adapted for survival, where they’re found and how they are being conserved for future generations. Photographs by Nicholas Dyer
On the prowl: Members of the pack adopt a stealth-like stalking technique to approach their prey. However, in this instance, they were ambushing their pups for fun

Thrill of the chase

Brian Jackman
reflects on the joys of pursuing painted wolves in the wild, perhaps the most exhilarating sighting on safari

From a red granite whaleback in northern Kenya, I scanned the surrounding bush with my binoculars and picked up a sudden movement over half a kilometre away. Even from so great a distance, silhouetted against the early morning sunlight, there was no mistaking those Mickey Mouse ears, and I was filled with a surge of excitement as a pack of painted wolves, or wild dogs, came loping into view.

Wherever dogs are found, their presence is guaranteed to raise the pulse of any true safari aficionado, and I marvelled at the way they covered the ground, moving at an effortless trot until, without warning, there was an explosion of movement. The alpha male had grabbed a dik-dik, an antelope scarcely bigger than a rabbit. In seconds, it was dismembered and gobbled up at ravenous speed in a frenzy of high-pitched yelping and twittering before the hunt continued.

We followed them for an hour, during which time they caught two more dik-diks and a scrub hare, all dispatched and consumed with the same brutal efficiency until at last they vanished as quickly as they had appeared, and peace returned to the bush, as if the sudden violence of their passing had never been.

What extraordinary creatures they are, with their long slim legs and wolfish grins. Despite their unsavoury reputation, they have held a special place in my affections ever since I saw my first pack in the Masai Mara with the photographer Jonathan Scott.

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About Travel Africa

Special Wildlife Issue, celebrating Africa's fauna • Big Cat lovers • Understanding elephants • In praise of primates • Painted dogs • Snakes • Birds • The wildlife in forests, deserts and rivers... and much more!