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Wild Dogs

Margarine yellow, the moon has risen slowly above the Zambezi, carving a path of liquid gold in eddy and ripple, morsed into splashes and dashes by the trunks of the winterthorns along the river.

There’s a crackle of “kaingu” on the radio as Robert and Lawrence coordinate their party of nine, finding three leopard in a single sighting… Our guests this season have been spoilt rotten with astonishing sightings of cats in general, just yesterday hyena prowling through camp, limp baboon carcass clamped firmly in resolute jaws but today? Today the wild dogs were about, and that was truly special.

They’d taken up temporary residence in a clearing close to the road in the mopane forest between Amanzi and Kulefu airstrip, curled in to a mottled, motley pile of skillet eared dogs, one eye on the alert, betraying the impression of slumber. The leaves of the mopane, at this time of year, russet and gold with the odd nod of green fluttering through, marked stark contrast to the black and brown canines, splattered with the trademark white paint. The muddled puddle shifts with the current of changing sentry: as the head of the male on the alert droops to black and white splashed paw, so the ears of the female behind him twitch to attention like a guardsman’s salute. Their curious train-signal tails occasionally flash a blur of white as the flies continue to bait and bother. The restlessness of these intrepid dogs is legend, and as the evening approaches, darkening the shade of the mopane, there is a proliferation of yawns and a stretching of legs, one by one as they shake themselves to their feet, merging and splitting like plaited rope, dappled coat conflated with coat, until slowly and then all at once, they’ve vanished into the thicket, to emerge, no doubt, in a month’s time at the other end of the park..

With their toothsome jaws, the dogs always seem to bestow a peculiar grin on their audience, always with the hint of a secret, a wolf like smirk of fortune and favour, the slow wink of the dogs a nod to journeys experienced, and journeys to come, their watchers wide-eyed the incredulity of a momentary glimpse of these remarkable creatures…

Words and image by Tara Vivian-Neal