Do I know who you are?
It’s been a five year adventure of lying in the dirt, racing across the bush-veld and trekking through thick jess, not to mention the predawn hours and hours spent searching for the dogs….. until I learned that you never find the dogs – they find you.
My purpose in creating Africa’s Wild Dogs – A Survival Story is to alert the world to what extraordinary animals they are. I believe Africa’s wild dogs hold their own in the animal kingdom, that they deserve the respect and awe normally attributed to larger more fearsome predators. As research has started to show, these four legged, four toed dogs have a great deal to teach us humans.
Being long legged, the canines are generally on the move, running rather than walking and making headway with speed. Of course I wanted to catch them shoulder standing and dashing after each other in a game of chase or stealing a toy from a pack mate, but more than that I wanted a very special look for my book. My dream was to design a creation around portraits.
As my fellow photographers will vouch, capturing that special look is far from easy. It takes patience, something the dogs have taught me. An attention flicker off the subject and wham, the shot is lost. Together with patience grew my love for these enigmatic animals. Sitting for hours watching a family sleep, studying the patterns of their black, white and tan coats, the twitching of their satellite-dish shaped ears and their constant communication. They seldom sleep for long periods, rather they wake, walk over to a pack-mate to check whatever dogs check before collapsing in a shady patch to again enter the twilight zone called sleep.
Their curiosity for understanding is high – they want to know who we are. I learned to read their eyes, their look and to have them come up close, look me in the eye with a deep sense of knowing and then to personally investigate my toes. All research to find out who I am. I’m still asking whether I know who they are.
Their upright family social norms and values – not attributes we would normally ascribe to an animal – yet the wild dogs have them. Each pack-family-member knows their role and sticks to it. They care for their little ones with dedication and everything in their power, raising less than 50% of the litter to maturity. Lion and hyena pick off the other 50% or more.
The dogs are possibly the most successful hunters of all predators. They are arc strategists working as a close knit team to bring down their prey. Nature has designed their teeth and digestive system to eat fast which they must do lest pack of hyena scavenge the kill from them or a lion chase them off their dinner. They hunt to eat, leave no waste and carry their food in their bellies to the den to feed the lactating alpha female and her pups.
No record of a wild dog attacking a human exist either in folk lore or in document. Despite this, the dogs became an anathema to hunters and farmers in the early 1900’s and since then been hunted almost to extinction with a mere 6600 left in southern Africa.