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Dirty Doug's Disappearing (Reappearing) Dogs Safari


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10th August- Ilala Camp

Our priority for the morning was obvious. We wanted to get to the den and set up before the dogs returned. That way, it would give us the best chance to see the dogs feeding the puppies. Doug advised that we still had time to get in a quick breakfast before heading off. We arrived back at the airstrip and trekked through thick scrub, keeping a wary eye out for other game.



As we approached the den, the Alpha female made her presence known with a sharp growl. This sort of response had been our cue to leave the Vundu pack alone, but as this female held her ground, Doug believed it was appropriate to continue. Once again we crab-walked and shuffled along on our bottoms, trying to keep a low profile. Every time she growled, we froze, until she settled down enough for us to continue. It was excruciatingly slow-going and we had to watch where we put our hands (a large pack of dogs makes quite a mess!), but slowly, slowly we crept up to a better vantage point.


We finally got to a point where we had a reasonable, if rather obscured, view of the den. As I started filming group of four dogs arrived. They each uttered a sharp “woof” followed by a throaty growl as they noticed our little group watching them. Their fur was stained with blood so we expected that they had made a kill and might hopefully feed the puppies if they could get comfortable enough with us being there.


The adult dogs soon settled down around the den and one or two of them helpfully sat in an area where we had a good enough view to snap off a few shots. However, no puppies emerged. Reviewing the video, I have tried to make sense of what was going on at the den. The first dog I caught on camera was a striking individual. It's coat was honey-based, with beautiful prominent white flashes along the back. “White Blaze” had a white bushy tail and a blood-stained left leg. On the right front leg were two circular tan markings ringed with black.


We could see at least four dogs around the den. The dogs were whimpering and growling but they remained really obscured by the thick mopane bush. One dog moved to the right and sat down in front of the den. This one had a prominent scar across it's nose and another red circular scar like a ten pence piece on the left hand side of it's jaw. “Red Penny” had very little white in it's coat in comparison to White Blaze. This dog also had a dark muzzle. Doug tried a few dog calls, which got them curious, but they soon lost interest and fell asleep.



This next video shows Red Penny, who was resting. We then heard other dogs in the background whimpering in greeting to each other. They seemed to be new arrivals who were looking into the den. Red Penny got up and went to see what was going on. As he got up, I noted a large white patch of fur on his left thigh. Whilst in the background the Alpha Female put in a brief appearance and barked at us, before she moved off to the right. The Alpha female was looking worn down. She was lactating heavily from the look of her. In terms of her appearance she had a much more honey-coloured muzzle. She also seemed to have shorter hair around her face giving her a less shaggy appearance than the other dogs.



The Alpha female:


P8102789 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


In the next clip, the dog in front is White Blaze. Another dog moved left to right. I noticed a black and white striped tail, so I dubbed this one “Ringtail.” White Blaze got up and started to dig in the den. The dogs growled occasionally.


In this clip, I filmed White Blaze who walked and sat in front of the den. The Alpha female was at the back of the den. Then later in the footage, White Blaze walked in front almost closer than the zoom could focus. The three dogs who arrived last gave their “Woof, Grrrrrr....” calls. Doug whispered that it was as if to say, “jeez, look here guys did you not notice these two-legs sitting over here? Are you guys blind or something?!”

Red Penny:


08-10-2012_070522(3) Red Penny by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


08-10-2012_075111(5) Bushy Tail by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


P8102794 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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The next video is longer. Another dog came up to the front of the den and growled at us. This dog had less white on it's coat and a white bushy tail. “Bushy Tail” growled. This got the Alpha's attention and she got up and peered at us. One of the new arrivals had distinctive “White Socks” on it's back legs. “White Socks” walked over to see what Bushy Tail was doing. Meanwhile Bushy Tail was peering into the den. At this point another dog emerged from the den, it turned out to be “Red Penny”. White Socks and Bushy Tail moved away left from the den whilst “Ringtail” came in from the right. But then White Socks doubled back and followed the Alpha female and Ringtail back away from the den off to the right. Meanwhile, Red Penny stared to dig in the den, kicking up clouds of terracotta dust.


After a while Red Penny seemed to stop and all was quiet at the den. I moved the camera to film White Blaze who had settled down to rest close by. Soon after moving the camera back to focus on the den, White Blaze walked in front of the camera as White Socks came to peer into the den.




08-10-2012_075111(5)Bushy Tail, White Socks & Alpha F by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


White Blaze:


08-10-2012_081737(2) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


In the next film, three dogs peered into the den. Red Penny in front, White Blaze and Bushy Tail behind. Then White Socks joined them. The Alpha could be seen keeping a wary eye out, but not interfering with their activities. Red Penny laid down over the den as if to guard it. Meanwhile the others settled down for a nap.



Red Penny Started up digging again. The Alpha got up and walked away as Bushy Tail came over to see what Red Penny was doing. Red Penny soon stopped digging and instead laid down over the den. Then a little later, White Blaze and another dog arrives and started looking into the den. White Blaze settled down in a good position for photos to be taken, so we made the best of the opportunity.


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Red Penny settled down for a bit and later on White Socks came over to look at the den.

In this clip I filmed White Blaze and Red Penny greeting each other.



08-10-2012_084818 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


P8102808 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8102816 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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While we were there it was difficult to see exactly what was going on with the pack dynamics at the time and in hindsight had we known what was going on we may have left sooner. As can be seen from the video Red Penny kept digging in one spot which I believe must have been the entrance to where the puppies were hidden. On several occasions the other adult dogs seemed to be trying to get into that area, presumably wanting to feed the puppies, but were blocked them off from doing. I would surmise that this was in an effort to keep the pups below ground, but at the time it was not overly clear what was going on, so we stayed a little longer.


But again, these dogs seemed to settle down and some of them even fell asleep and the lactating female which I presumed was the Alpha seemed pretty much relaxed most of the time we were there, she did not seem to approach the den as much as Red Penny for instance.

In light of what we were able to see, Doug grew increasingly concerned that our presence we interfering with the pups being fed. I wondered if they could possibly have already been fed, just out of our view, but Doug explained that the pups were already taking solid food and that the regurgitation process is rather loud. So we would definitely have heard that if it had occurred. We all agreed that it was time to leave the dogs to their own devices and slowly we shuffled away from the den to a point where we could comfortably walk back the way we had come.


Having realised that we were actually affecting the dogs' behaviour I asked Doug how often the dogs do allow people to see the puppies during these sorts of encounters. Doug assured me that usually the dogs are more comfortable with people at the den and he felt that the two experiences we'd had were perhaps unlucky in that the Vundu Pack were obviously nervous from moving the den (one of the researchers told me that they had found hyena tracks around the old den so that may be what forced them to move) and the Ilala pack would not have encountered people that often with it being quite a remote area.



P8102818 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


P8102839 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8102850 adj by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


P8102847 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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After the excitement of the morning, we returned to camp for lunch and some down time. An elephant came wandering through camp as we rested during the afternoon. When it came time for tea, "She who shall not be named" broke out the candles for the chocolate cake and everyone wished me an early happy birthday. The cake was very tasty.



P8102871 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



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P8102902 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We returned to the airstrip hoping for a reprise with the dogs. We got there earlier than the day before so had plenty of time to get everything set up. As the shadows lengthened, we watched Crowned Hornbills preening and foraging in the mopane and Drongos flitting around in the bushes. A Sulphur-breasted Bunting was added to the bird list as it darted around the mopane.

But there was no sign of the dogs! We drank our sundowners and when it was almost dark we began to head back to camp. Another Civet put in a brief appearance, but quickly vanished into the bush and we caught an even briefer glimpse of a Large-spotted Genet as it to disappeared out of the beam of our headlights.



P8102910 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



08-10-2012_151920(3) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



08-10-2012_151920(4) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




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08-10-2012_155231(2) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




As it was my last evening in the bush, the champagne that had been put on ice was finally opened and we drank and laughed. Glow worms flashed luminous green by the waterside as we sat around the campfire.


After we retired to bed, we heard the most horrendous racket. Hyenas were whooping and growling and something with a deep throaty growl seemed to be rather aggravated. I suspected the hyenas may have encountered a leopard resulting in this terrible ruckus. Baboons were barking aggressively at whatever was going on and it even set off a chorus of roars from the lions miles away on the Zambian side of the river. Suffice to say, that all this noise did not make for a peaceful night’s sleep- who would have thought ear plugs would be necessary when out camping in the bush?



Added to that, I heard some rather worrying scuttling noises that seemed to be emanating from inside my tent. I turned on my lamp and grabbed my camcorder to find that a little mouse had infiltrated my tent! I think it might have been a Gray Climbing Mouse but can't be certain. After making a few circuits and scrambling over my clothes it finally made its way back outside whereupon I quickly sealed up the hole that I had inadvertently left in the front flaps. Any thoughts of sleep had all but abandoned my by this point and I restlessly awaited the dawn and my last few hours in the park.




08-11-2012_030110(3) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



08-11-2012_030110 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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11th August – Ilala to Mana Airstrip and homeward bound


It was a sad but amazing day today as I had to say goodbye to everyone. But I couldn’t have really asked for a better send off. I was due out on a flight from Mana Airstrip at 10.30, so Doug suggested that we take a short walk in the morning before packing me off with Elijah for the drive back. We headed out of camp in a wide circle. As we walked we passed a range of game dotted about the waterfront including eland, waterbuck and lots of impala. In the distance Doug pointed out a group of impala who were all running away. He thought they were too far for us to have been the cause of the stampede, so we made our way over there in the hope that the dogs were hunting.



P8112961 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We were in good spirits and Doug joked about cheetahs and leopards sunbathing over the next ridge where we couldn’t see them. We stopped frequently and, as I was scanning with my binoculars, I caught sight of something jumping out of a tree. “It’s a Leopard!!!” I exclaimed, and sure enough it bounded away at full speed heading right towards some denser cover. In the short time I had it in sight I noticed that it had a beautiful dark coat, another treasure given to us by Mana Pools. It was a fabulous sighting, but all too brief. So the only image I will have of the encounter is in my own memory- but sometimes that is the best thing, I think I remember more when I am not focusing on taking pictures. Doug was amazed, there were baboons that had just come out of the same tree!

So with that encounter firmly fixed in our minds we began our return to camp, following the bank of the river this time. We stopped occasionally to photograph the birds and just take in the morning and the beautiful views. When we arrived back, I had to leave almost immediately with Elijah in order to get the airstrip in time for my flight. After a few heartfelt hugs, I was on my way back. Doug reminded me that there was still a chance that we might get a sending off from the Long Pool Pack. Never was a truer word spoken!!



P8112993 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We had a deadline to meet but still managed to rack up a few good birds. First a group of Southern Ground Hornbills were also seen en route. Then a Three Banded Courser, which Elijah mistakenly identified as a thick-knee, was accommodating enough to get a decent photograph and another Martial Eagle perched on top of a dead tree. I also managed to grab a Lilac-breasted Roller as it launched itself off a perch.



P8113006 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8113033 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8113042 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P8113049 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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We were the first people to arrive at the airstrip where the bush plane was awaiting us. We got chatting to the lady pilot who, casual as you like, mentions “oh I don’t know if you’re interested but as I came in to land I saw the dogs all lying about at the other end of the airstrip”. Elijah looked at me, I looked at Elijah, big grins appeared on our faces and we piled it into the vehicle, and with a hurried thank you to the pilot, we sped off to spend my last few precious minutes with the Long Pool Pack.



P8113059 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


I couldn’t believe it! There they were all laid out and relaxing by the windsock. The whole pack (I counted eight dogs) were there I think, including three older puppies. Occasionally one of the dogs would rouse itself and walk over to greet another of the pack. One male dog in particular seemed to have a gammy back right leg as he limped along. One of them sat up and had a good old scratch. Another vehicle arrived, containing Stretch and his guests. They hardly stopped for long before driving back to the plane.



P8113064 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



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P8113138 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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I didn’t want to leave, but I knew the flight wouldn’t wait forever, and neither would my connection in Harare. Elijah took a few shots on his phone to show the others when he returned to camp and I’m sure he had fun breaking the news to them after I left. After a short time, we had to tear ourselves away and, after saying goodbye to the dogs I hugged Elijah and thanked him before boarding the small aircraft. As we took off I watched the patchwork of trees, plains and pools grow steadily more distant as I said a fond farewell to Mana with a huge, beaming smile on my face. It was the perfect end to another incredible trip.


P8113141 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



The End...

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Thank you for this amazingly well-written and detailed report, Jo - it's been a joy to read because I've simply relived everything again, this time through your eyes. The half-grown Long Pack pups are adorable, btw.


I have not been on another safari where I have felt so closely attuned to the park, the wildlife, the guide, the experiences... so I'll simply quote your byline - if it's amazing enough to be once in a lifetime, I want to do it every year...

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A really fabulous trip report well written with great images and video. Thankyou :)

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Thanks, I'm happy to share the journey! :) But the trip is not over for Sangeeta and "She who shall not be named", I'm sure they have some more stories to tell of their last few days... Isn't that right ladies...? :)

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Oh I am sad that it has finished, wonderful journey. Thank you so much.

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Thanks for a fantastic trip report. It has been a joy to read and view.


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Great experiences with the dogs, and some excellent shooting, but I think the photograph I admire the msot is the mouse in your tent!


Well done - a real, proper trip report and very enjoyable from beginning to end. Sangeeta's going to take the thread forward now, right? ;)

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Thanks! Yes I was overjoyed to see the Long Pool pack. Those pups were adorable, especially the more honey-coloured one who tried to bite his own tail and tumbled over (you can see that towards the end of the video)!


Can you believe that the mouse photos are stills pulled off the video I shot?! :)


In total I counted 136 bird species, 25 species of mammal. 5 reptiles. Which I suppose isn't too bad considering Mana Pools lacks quite a few of your iconic African mammals like Giraffe, rhinos, black backed Jackal, various antelope, etc. In fact I think that might have been my first safari not seeing a jackal at all. But we sure had good luck with civets on the way back to camp a few times- a lifer for me!


If you add in Matusadona and Hwange you'd obviously increase the diversity a lot.:)


All the best



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This is a real doozy of a report! The dogs did their part to make it exciting right through the end and some of your best shots were saved for last. The pilot says, "I don't know if you'd be interested..." !!!


You worked hard for your dog sightings so you deserved that little bonus at the end,


Your planning paid off because it took about a week to see the dogs. If you had given yourselves 4 nights, you might not have seen them. The plan to enjoy the full moon worked out too.


So many cool happenings! Lions on foot, a pregnant civet--and I spotted the other one in the dark. The retreating yet charging Junior elephant video was adorable. I think you caught an impala proncking in midair. Excellent birding and so many shots of them in flight! And happy birthday. Will we learn more about a former member's herbs? And will the Three Musketeerettes ride, walk or crabwalk together again?


Hope Dirty Doug gets to see this. You've made a superb travelogue for all involved.

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Thanks for sharing the adventures with the rest of us!!! THANK YOU!!! A lovely read, indeed!

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Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Now let's hope "She who shall not be named" and Sangeeta continue the journey.. And here are a couple more piccies that I have grabbed from the videos:


Granny Lionness and her daughter (granny in front).



08-07-2012_150558 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


and a lagomorph!



08-09-2012_172932(3) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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  • 3 months later...

I really enjoyed this TR, KK! Glad that, ultimately , you left happy after sparse predator (dog) sightings. Great luck with the leopard.


Would have loved to hear about the ST pack dynamics too. Are you all still friends?! :lol:


Thanks for sharing.

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Oh yes! Couldn't have travelled with nicer people! :)

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I've just .... take on it to read before I believe that!


Just kidding of course, I think its a brilliant endorsement of ST: great safari, great friends, great trip reports.

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Ah, alcohol. The universal lubricant :P

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