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Trip Report: Wild dog in Madikwe

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October, 2006 – 3 nights at Impodimo Safari Lodge, Madikwe Game Reserve

For years I’ve been reading that Madikwe is a great place to view the rare and elusive African wild dog. So, after completing a marvelous 9-day visit to Namibia, my wife and I added a few days in South Africa with the specific goal of seeing the dogs. While in Namibia, we saw a small pack of rescued dogs in captivity (at the Okonjima Bush Camp,) but this didn’t qualify as a true sighting.

Another thing I’ve always wanted to do in South Africa is book a safari stay at the last minute, to achieve a luxurious lodge at a bargain rate. Thus, just one day before our visit to Madikwe, we contacted MTbeds and were persuaded to select Impodimo as our lodge. I had done plenty of research on the many fine lodges in Madikwe, but due to their rather mediocre website, I had never really put Impodimo at the top of our wish list. It turned out to be a fantastic lodge. The rooms are stunning, and the pool area, the food, and the staff were all outstanding.

But we didn’t choose Madikwe to simply bask in the comfort of our lodge – we came for the dogs. After our first five game drives though, the dogs were nowhere to be seen, and panic was beginning to set in. We had one final game drive to go, and our guide Ross was feeling the pressure to satisfy our dog demand.

The challenge was compounded by the fact that Madikwe now has only five dogs left in the entire reserve – one male and four females. We were informed that during the last rainy season, flood waters washed out a section of fence and one the the park’s two packs of dogs escaped. A new group of seven dogs is in the process of being transferred into the reserve, but during our visit they remained out of view in a small enclosure.

The morning arrived for our 6th and final game drive, and Ross and his tracker Beckson knew that finding the dogs was the supreme goal. The latest report from other guides on the radio was that Madikwe’s five dogs were no longer operating as a cohesive group. The lone male and one of the females had struck out on their own and hadn’t been seen for days. Our only hope was to find the other three females who might be sticking to a more predictable routine. Finally, we got the radio call that we’d been hoping for – the dogs had been spotted – and Ross shifted our Land Rover into high gear. As we approached one of Madikwe’s man-made water holes in the northern part of the reserve, we could hear the yelping of a dog in the distance. It was one of the new dogs barking from within the secure enclosure, and the three resident females had come to investigate the newcomers. By the time our vehicle rolled to a stop, the females had begun relaxing near the water hole in the shade of a small tree. I was concerned that the dogs were just going to lie there in the shade and give us a very poor photo op, but after some zebra cleared away from the water, two of the dogs jumped in for a quick drink. I managed to snap a few decent shots before the dogs returned to their morning nap. Our first legitimate sighting of wild dog was now official!

Despite the achievement of seeing the dogs up close, I must say that the experience was a bit disheartening. This was clearly not the vibrant pack of famously cunning hunters that it once was. And even with the pending introduction of seven new dogs, it will be some time before Madikwe can regain its reputation as a prime dog-viewing destination. As for the rest of the game viewing in Madikwe, we saw our fair share of rhino, elephant, lion, assorted antelope, and exceptional birdlife. But it was the excellent quality of the lodge that truly made this visit worthwhile.

A few photos:

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