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Bushlife Safaris August 3, 2020

Wild Dog Puppy Perfection in Mana Pools

Violet’s second litter

In the first week of June, Violet – the alpha female of the Nyakasanga painted wolf pack – had her second litter of puppies, sired by her brother Sarge. 7 puppies were born which together with the 9 adults brings the total pack number to 16. They continue on the strong dynasty line of Tait. The new puppies have been named River, Briggs, Odin, Kim, Lauren, Katy and Mel.

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Violet – the alpha female of the Nyakasanga painted wolf pack

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Sarge – Violet’s brother and sire of the newest litter

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Paw Patrol – the newest wild dogs of  Mana Pools

Growing up Fast

The pups will drink milk from Violet until they are about 6 weeks old. She will then start to wean the pups, and her milk will dry up. At the moment, the pack have been feeding both Violet and her puppies with regurgitated meat from their hunts. Once her teats have shrunken, Violet will start to hunt with the pack once more. The puppies will leave the birthing den at about 6 – 8 weeks as the den gets infested with parasites like fleas etc and this stimulates the dogs to move to a clean den.

Freedom, our Bushlife Support Unit community and conservation Manager writes, “Individual painted dog pack numbers vary from just a few dogs to about 30 in a pack. This gives them a huge advantage during hunting. These animals have evolved a cooperative breeding strategy, which means that the Alpha female and Alpha male reproduce. This Nyakasanga pack is led by Sarge, and Violet is the Alpha female.

During field observations, we witnessed these cute little pups being fed, playing, and growing. While Violet and Wandile, her daughter, stayed behind guarding pups, the rest of the pack went out hunting, greeting each other with twittering and whining sounds before going out in a chosen direction. Violet remained behind checking the surrounding area and making sure there are no sneakers. Once we observed her looking in a particular place with enquiring eyes; she suddenly took off chasing something which we thought was a mongoose.

Over the last week, we have been privileged to be near these beautiful creatures here in Mana Pools, while the rest of the world is blocked by this pandemic. We witnessed pack members coming back from a successful hunt. On arrival at the den, the pups beg from adults, often licking their faces to encourage regurgitation. Whole chunks of meat will be brought up and eaten by youngsters, as well as their guardian. Although Wandile, who is now a year old, plays her role of looking after her siblings and playing with them, she is ever hungry and was observed stealing meat from the youngsters, often being chased away by Violet.

The African Painted Dog is the largest canid in Africa and is listed as highly endangered. Their numbers are thought to be less than 7000, with home ranges extending anywhere between 100 and 1000 square kilometres per pack, leading to a number of conflict areas which include being caught in wire snares by poachers (unintentionally) while looking for meat, infectious diseases like canine distemper, habitat loss, and kleptoparasitism, whereby they lose their prey to other predators such as lions and hyenas. There is a high puppy mortality rate due to competition from lions and hyenas.

During this past week we noticed that since the pups are still very young, pack members always stayed put in a relatively small area, hunting, eating and running back to feed the pups and Alpha female”.

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Violet suckling her pups

Violet has been living off regurgitated meat for 2 months, the pups are starting to feed on it more and more.

Sarge, the pups’ father has regurgitated meat up for the pups and Violet. He brings up a baboon hand which Violet snaps up. It was this kind of evidence and other remains at the den of baboon hunting in wild dogs that Nick first saw back in 2008 when the long pool pack were denning on the Chiruwe River.

A Privileged Glimpse

Here are some wonderful photos of playtime at the den. Den sites must always be treated with the utmost respect. Nick Murray is an experienced professional guide and has been following the painted wolves of Mana Pools for 20 years and they are habituated to his presence. Due to this familiarity and trust of him by the painted wolves, Nick was chosen to be the lead guide for Sir David Attenborough and the crew on the BBC Earth Dynasties Painted Wolf episode.

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