Dances with Wolves: Our Company’s Journey with a Pack of African Wild Dogs
When Bhele comes to, it’s his ears that prick upright first — two oversized black and tan antennas that mark the change in song filtering down from the marula trees overhead. Then his nose surveys his new surroundings. He sniffs the fresh pool of shade he is lying in, the humans who brought him here and have since departed.
But there are familiar scents that he is missing. He can’t smell Ntombi, the she-wolf that helped raise him. Nor can he smell his sisters, Shana and Nini. Their scents have vanished and have been replaced by that of other dogs lying close by.
As he opens his eyes and looks into the face of his brother, Sondo, who is also shaking off the effects of the tranquilizers now, he realises that his journey has taken another direction. What Bhele doesn’t realise is that his and Sondo’s split from their pack has given their species a greater chance at survival, and that, hundreds of kilometers away, in a business park in Cape Town, an office full of employees are thinking about them and hoping they succeed.
A wild and worthy cause
When the time came to choose a worthwhile project for TravelGround’s annual charitable donation, there was some umming amongst the ranks. Every year the company tries to pick a project that the entire team can feel a part of. So much the better if the project advances and aids an industry related to our own.
It was suggested that we sponsor a pack of African Wild Dogs, or Painted Wolves as these dapple-coated canines are also known, and after a few emails back and forth to Wildlife ACT the decision was easy.
Wildlife ACT offers a wildlife volunteer programme, the first one in Africa that is Fair Trade Tourism certified, and specialises in endangered species conservation through volunteerism and direct sponsorship. Our contribution would help enable them and their partners, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, to apply informed management to the endangered painted wolves.
Wildlife ACT assured us that we would not only receive quarterly updates to keep the TravelGround team informed about our sponsored doggos and their whereabouts, but also explained that our contribution would go towards the GPS monitoring of the pack.
In that way we would play a part in protecting this critically endangered species for future generations.
As the tourism industry is catching up to global trends in sustainability and animal rights, it has become increasingly important that the TravelGround family stay on top of issues pertaining to animal interactions and wildlife, and that we share in the responsibility of their survival.
And so our journey with Bhele and his pack mates began …
Our journey with the Delanela Pack
From the very first report we received from Wildlife ACT, which introduced us to the Delanela Pack ─ our pack ─ the company was watching eagerly, everyone thrilled at being a part of something so meaningful. By means of photographs taken by Wildlife ACT and its volunteers, we met Mfundi, Ntombi, Sondo, Bhele, Mbili, Nini, Shana, Hlokohloko and Mpisane, their somewhat awkward gait and playfulness making them the stars of our internal newsletters. We were told that our scruffy squad was roaming around the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KZN and imagined how unaware they must be of their importance.
As updates landed in our inbox, we became aware of how exceptionally precarious the survival of an endangered species is and how much effort goes into their conservation by dedicated individuals.
Enanela, the alpha male of our pack, died in a wire snare in June. Since African Wild Dogs have such strong pack instincts they tend to stay close to their ensnared friends for longer than is safe, making the possibility of them also becoming ensnared so much bigger.
In August, another painted wolf, Mbili, went missing after a pack of hyenas travelled through the same area of the park, vying for the same resources. As only a few dogs per pack are fitted with GPS collars to make the impact on the group as light as possible, Mbili’s body was never found and he is presumed dead.
After these canine casualties, and with the Delanela pack’s decreasing genetic variety, there were hopes that the pack would integrate with another one trekking through the same area. But when this proved unsuccessful, Wildlife ACT and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (who were keeping a natural but vigilant distance) were forced to intercede.
By splitting up the pack and sending two males, Bhele and Sondo, to the Somkhanda Game Reserve, our pack now has a new lease on life and a greater chance at survival.
Changing our spots
Before TravelGround started the journey with Wildlife ACT, I really didn’t know much about these dogs. Now I notice them everywhere. Their puppy eyes peer at me from the covers of books and the pages of magazines; a local artist has sketched them for his upcoming exhibition; they pop up on my social media feeds and in conversations on the radio when I drive to and from work.
Maybe this is simply another instance of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon and I now see painted wolves everywhere because they have been brought to my attention. But maybe the prevalence of these dogs in the media is because we are finally, one by one, sitting upright, just like Bhele in his new surroundings, and taking note of what we have to do to save our creatures wild and free for posterity.
As we face a new year, we are pleased to say that our scattered pack have settled into their new groups and are as bushy tailed and bright eyed as they should be. Wild dogs breed from March to August and we’ve allowed ourselves the hope for the birth puppies this year.
We’ve been enriched, as a company and a group of compassionate travellers, by our walk on the wild side and send many a-whoooos to our furry friends and their passionate caretakers in KZN.
By staying at select safari lodges and supporting local game reserves you financially aid an industry which sells experiences and luxury accommodation in order to preserve and protect natural wonders.
If you’d rather be hands on, sign up for one of Wildlife ACT’s all-inclusive, 2-week volunteer programmes, or, if you’re part of a company looking for a worthy cause to donate to, don’t hesitate to bring corporate and care together. Click here to contact Wildlife ACT.
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