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painted wolves

My First Experience With Wild Painted Wolves

If you'd prefer not to read this and/or hear more information please listen to my podcast episode 9 here:

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people don’t know what a Painted Wolf is or what it looks like. You may have heard them referred to as African Wild Dogs or Painted Dogs or Painted Wolves. For quite a few years now I have wanted to see them in the wild!

There are only 6,500 left in the wild making them about 3 times rarer than lions which have a population of around 20,000 in Africa. This makes Painted Wolves Africa’s 6th most endangered animal. They are a species that is often forgotten about, to be honest, and you don’t often see them on many documentaries.

Many people confuse them with Hyena, thinking that they look similar, but the painted wolves look more like dogs with big rounded Mikey Mouse ears. They are usually very lean and move just like a domestic Border Collie Dog. The Painted Wolf has a more colourful coat, with splashes of black white and tan whereas Hyenas have more of a muted brown coat with very dark brown spots or lines. Hyenas also have a shorter and bushier brown and black tail whereas the Painted Wolves have a longer thinner tail like a dog and usually have some white fur present on it, which hyenas don’t.

South Africa - Kruger National Park (South)

About an hour into our drive, the sun was rising nicely and the air started gently warming up, Mario gets a call from his friend and starts doing a little dance in his chair. "Rachel we’re heading to your doggies!" We arrived about 20minutes later and thankfully they were still there. Not very visible at this stage as they were all sleeping in the long grass just on the side of the road. Like a lot of dogs, they are fidget bums. They like to get up stretch and then slump back down. Get up spin around and then slum back down. Get up yawn and then slum back down. Painted Wolves are incredible hunters, working as a coordinated team they have the highest success rate. But that does take a lot of energy so they also sleep a lot. We thought they might get peckish in a while as it didn’t look like they’d had breakfast yet.

We hung around 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, cars were coming and going and then Mario says shall we have some coffee? I can’t quite describe the feeling of sipping on a hot drink and nibbling on a biscuit whilst you are just sitting and waiting for wildlife to emerge. There is something so relaxing and magical about it!

After about 45 minutes a few had popped out on to the road, had a look around and then they’d jump back into the long grass. They didn’t seem like they were ready to get up and going anytime soon. So we decided now might be a good toilet break time and then come back. As we drive off to the toilets which are only about 10 minutes away, we spot a troop of baboons clowning around on the road. We decided to sit and watch them for a bit and then Mario says, “you know, I think they are heading towards the Dogs. That will wake them up!”

So we decide to wait and follow the baboons. They are busy eating and play fighting so it takes a good half an hour for the baboons to get near the dogs but as they get closer we drive up to the dogs and position the car so we can get the expressions on the dog's face. Hoping for a little scrap between the baboons and the dogs we patiently wait, just us and one other vehicle. One of the dogs gets a whiff, emerges from the tall grass, ears pinned forwards – Fired off the shot above.

Then two more stand up and emerge from the grass. All still looking sleepy and not really that bothered. The baboons stop, they’ve spotted the dogs. A few continue in their direction but finally sensing danger they start to veer off into the bush. It was a real anti-climax as the dogs and baboons didn’t even exchange glances but in my mind, it was a triumph. What an experience, I had seen wild dogs, in the wild! I was chuffed to bits!

As it looked like the dogs were not going to move any time soon, we headed off for brunch before continuing our game drive and then in the evening we headed back to the pack. They were still there and just waking up. Slowly one by one they emerged out of the tall grass and started playing and stretching in the road. Now we could see the full pack- 15 dogs stretching, yawning and rolling around.

Mario says “ooh… can you smell that?” To me, it was the scent of fox poo, all too familiar to a spaniel owner. Painted Wolves like to roll in poo and rotting carcasses to disguise their natural smell from prey. Yes, it’s disgusting but, very effective.

One of the exciting things to watch the dogs do is there sparing warm up. After they wake up, before they go hunting, they get into little play fights with each other, nibbling each other’s faces, ears and legs. There’s playful leaping bouncing and cackling. It’s such a joy to watch and hear in real life.

There was no doubt this pack was going hunting but unfortunately we had to be at camp for 6pm. We stayed with them as long as we could but time got the better of us and we had to leave.

The next morning we set off bright and early, 4th car out of the camp gates and it was so worth it. We met up with a different pack who were just about to go hunting. We followed them along the chosen road and then Mario suggested we get ahead of them so we could see their faces and get good shots from the front.

We drove off a little way and saw a herd of impala and thought they would go for it. There was also a lone Hyena tailing them. Watching the dogs get in their messy but telepathic formation was totally amazing, they got into their crouching, hunched down hunting, slow-motion walk and then burst into a sprint! It was thrilling to watch and photograph.

The dogs decided to split off into the bush and we think they decided to encircle the herd rather than go for a full-on frontal ambush. We waited a while and then completely lost sight of them. I was extremely happy with the sightings we had enjoyed and so we decided to move on as it could have been hours before they went for a kill and to be honest I didn’t really want to see a kill happen anyway so to leave then was a win, win!

If you like painted wolves I highly recommend getting Nicholas Dyer and Peter Blinston’s book Painted Wolves - A Wild Dogs Life. It is an incredible book. Packed full of stunning photographs and loads of information! All the proceeds go towards the Painted Wolf Foundation. Link to book here:

Spending time with the Painted Wolves was truly epic and it has made me want to spend more time with them. I would love to visit Hwange and Mana Pools in the future and spend some time with the Painted Wolf Foundation, learning more about their all-important conservation work.

I’d just like to end by saying this... It is possible to have fabulous wildlife sightings without spending an absolute fortune. There are often cheaper destinations you can visit and see the same animals, and have a great experience. So please don’t read this and think "I’ll never be able to afford to do that." That may not be true!

If you’d like some help finding out where to go that fits your budget please feel free to email me, I’d be only too happy to help!


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