Origin of the “Ash Pack”
African Wild Dog Packs are typically formed when members of existing packs wander away, meet up, and form their own pack.
During January, a new wild dog pack showed up in the Mapula Lodge area consisting of four dogs, two males and two females. The dominant male has a torn ear that appears to match with photos researcher Tico McNutt has of a wild dog that was born into the Chitabe pack.
More than likely this dog and his brother emigrated from the Chitabe pack and wandered until meeting the two females who had also emigrated from their natal pack. This is how new packs typically evolve.
The former Mapula pack denned last year in the Vumbura concession to the south with some infrequent returns to Mapula leaving this excellent dog territory open to the new pack. In June the Mapula guides saw the dominant female pregnant and then later in the month saw three dogs hunting and the female missing, evidence that she had denned and was with a litter of pups. The den had remained elusive.
Tracking the Ash Pack
Tracking down the Ash Pack involved getting out of the vehicle and tracking on foot….
On our arrival July 29th the den had yet to be located and the dominant female had yet to be seen. We set a plan to spend the 30th locating the den and early morning my 16 year old daughter Ashley and I set out with the Mapula guide/tracker team of Dicks and Simon. I have shared many adventures with Dicks and Simon and they have often thrilled clients of The Wild Source in the past with their tracking skills.
We found the tracks of the pack hunting very quickly in the morning. We followed them but could not catch up with the pack who had crossed a large channel of water so instead we decided to back track the hunting dogs and find their point of origin which we believed would certainly be the first den for this new pack.
The tracking started easy as we found a path that was a wild dog super highway that must be used frequently to reach their favored hunting grounds. Soon the path became sporadic in deep bush so Dicks joined Simon on the ground tracking while Ashley and I drove the vehicle behind them through and sometimes over the thick vegetation. Then it became difficult, in fact, Dicks who tracked to find dens at Mapula in 2007, 2008, and 2009 said this was by far the hardest den he had tried to locate.
From here we were a party of four on foot leaving the vehicle far behind as we stayed on the fresh trail. We had tracked through Mopane woodlands, Kalahari apple thickets, two recently burned areas, African sage and thick grasses. Often there was no clear trail but we would find occasional spits of sand that would reveal that we were still on the correct trail including some areas littered with wild dog scat.
Our Three Hour Tracking Effort is Rewarded
Having worked through such a variety of vegetation our excitement was high when we entered a beautiful little open plain and soon spotted a fantastic looking spread of sand, perhaps a large sand play pen for wild dog puppies. When we reached the sand the evidence was clear as an abundance of dog tracks large and small were immediately visible.
Knowing we had success we kept our victory screams silent and quickly backed away so we would not disturb the dogs. Smiles were huge and once retreated a series of fist bumps, hand shakes and hugs ensued. After a three hour tracking effort we had discovered a new den of the critically endangered African wild dog! As we hiked back to our vehicle we took guesses on how many puppies this suspected first time mother would have.
Meet the Ash Pack Pups
We raced back to Mapula, quickly provisioned for a full afternoon expedition as we would now have to find a driving route to this formerly unknown location. Almost as difficult as the tracking, we spent two hours of arduous off road driving, crossing many dicey locations, avoiding getting stuck and having only one flat tire.
The payoff was huge as we came into view of the den and saw the four adult wild dogs. Then behind them puppies, many, came dashing from cover and into their den.
The adults, clearly veterans of safaris barely gave notice to our approach and the puppies had done just what they should with a new sight and sound coming to their area, run for the safety of the den.
About 10 minutes later the mother walked a large circle around the den area looking vigilantly for any dangers. None found she walked to the den entrance, looked down and released the pups.
Nine roly poly little pups exploded out in excitement and we were thrilled. Well fed, healthy and developing their tan markings they appeared to be about nine weeks old. This moment marked the true triumphant return of painted wolves to Mapula and this group was dubbed the “Ash Pack” in honor of Ashley and the lucky mojo she brought to the tracking effort on her first visit to Mapula.