IN FOR THE KILL: AN EXTRAORDINARY WILD DOG SIGHTING

African wild dogs were reintroduced into Liwonde National Park in July 2021 by African Parks in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Endangered Wildlife Trust. Our Field Research Coordinator Benni Hintz and research volunteer Gill Garbo recount an extraordinary sighting of the pack.

It was a quiet morning at the southern end of Liwonde National Park. We were out with our telemetry monitoring system but hadn’t picked up any signals. It was also fairly quiet on the sightings front: the usual impala, warthogs and a saddle-billed stork.

We drove along Liwonde’s Spine Road, slowing down as we approached a dip in the road. Suddenly, from the tall grass on the left, a male reedbuck leapt in front of the car and across the road into the tall grass on the other side. Reedbuck aren’t common sightings – our eyes followed it as it bounded through the grass.

A few moments later, something even more remarkable: a lone female wild dog dashed right in front of our vehicle in hot pursuit of the reedbuck. We sat in silence, in disbelief at what we’d just seen.

There was a touch of the comical as we watched her bounce above the tall grass to keep her sights on the antelope as it fled. The reedbuck circled back to the road behind the car. As he jumped the rivulet beside the road, the wild dog clipped the back of his leg with her teeth. He stumbled into the water, struggling to find his footing; the predator took her chance.

Wild dogs don’t kill like big cats, which prefer to go for the jugular or back of the neck. Instead they target the fleshy parts of an animal, such as the armpits or groin. At such close proximity, watching the wild dog kill the reedbuck seemed to last a lifetime. The dying antelope turned its head towards us and bleated out in pain. It was both fascinating and harrowing.

When it was finally over, the wild dog left her kill and trotted off up the road. We knew she would soon return with the rest of the pack.

Half an hour later, like a scene from a movie, the entire pack came scampering down the road towards us with their satellite ears and dappled coats – a magnificent sight. They were soon tucking into their meal: the four pups ate first while the adults looked on patiently. Soon the adults became restless and we could hear their yips for the youngsters to hurry up.

After eating, the dogs rested in the long grass. As we started to leave, the whole pack of eleven emerged in front of us to drink and wash in the water running across the dip in the road. Then, with a last glance back at the car, they padded off into the long grass and disappeared from view.

African wild dogs are an endangered species – over recent decades they’ve only been documented as transient visitors to Malawi with no known breeding populations recorded. Lilongwe Wildlife Trust is proud to be a part of this historic conservation effort by providing weekly monitoring of the pack for Liwonde National Park Management.