How And When Painted Wolves Den
The packs which occupy the floodplain area have shown the previously unrecorded behaviour of repeatedly using the same den sites year after year. This has been exhibited by 4 alpha females – starting with Tait and then her daughters. Tait used a sequence of dens year after year, successfully raising many pups. In fact, Tait has been responsible for 280 dogs in Mana Pools and she is quite possibly the most successful wild dog on record. Blacktip, Janet and Tammy have done the same. This behaviour has not been observed in other wild dog populations.
There are a certain set of circumstances which favours this behaviour affected by the Zambezi river and the albida woodlands. The dens are generally located 3- 7km in a straight line from the Zambezi River. The den sites are normally on sandy soil which is favoured by the aardvark who originally digs the den sites for her own litter. The sandy soils are mostly associated with the thick Jesse bush of the valley. The dens sites are normally situated on the fringe of the sandy soil/Jesse bush area and the surrounding mopane woodland. This provides an open area of good visibility and also thick cover close by in which to hide if need be.
During this denning season, the pups will occupy the birth den for up to 6 weeks. After this amount of time at a den, the parasite load builds up and forces the dogs to move to a clean den site. Tait who initiated this system of reusing den sites would move the pups just 100-200m to a suitable site. The second site would be used for 2-3 weeks before the pups are moved to a 3rd den site a further 100-200m away.
The denning season lasts for the first 3 months of the new puppies life who are generally born in May/June. At this time of year, the game is still dispersed as there are many waterholes scattered through the valley floor. While the pups are small there is not a huge demand on the adults to feed them, but they do need to be successful enough to feed the alpha female who stays at the den looking after the pups. She is normally lactating too heavily to join the hunts at the early denning stage.
As the season dries up the game migrates to the river. This means the pack has to extend its hunting radius from the den sometimes as far as 10km in a straight line from the den. So the den has to be close enough to this prime hunting area so the pack can succeed on hunts and be far enough from the high predator densities of the floodplain to keep the pups safe. As the pups grow the pressure on the pack to have successful hunts increases, the pups grow fast and have insatiable appetites. It is at this time of year the adults become super fit doing long hunts from the den and returning to feed the pups and caretaker twice a day.