What was I saying about the unlikelihood of seeing Wild dogs and our mere contentment at seeing some at a distance? On the way out of the park, with the dawn light slanting through the grass, we ran into a whole mess of them. Canine distemper or no, these ones were in rude health and relaxing on the (warm?) road after what I assume was a dark night of slashing teeth and cruel slaughter.
But they’re so damn cute. A foolish part of many of us wishes we could keep the Painted Wolves as pets. But apart from their savagery, they start to give off a powerful stench as they mature. It’s nothing to do with being wild in the bush. Hyenas–with their far worse reputation–do not smell objectionable at all as they mature.
Of course they’re not really “cruel,” since we presume they have no conscious moral sense. But I’m told it can be frightful to watch them essentially begin eating prey–pulling chunks of flesh from their limbs, and tearing out their bowels–not just before they’re dead, but before they’ve even fallen.
No doubt they don’t view themselves as cruel, or herbivores as the same kind of creatures as they. To each other they are kind, and highly sensitive to mood. These are dogs, after all, and they live in a strict pack hierarchy under a matriarch, who is the only female who breeds. All the dogs look after her puppies as their own.
There numbers have never recovered since they encountered the diseases of domestic dogs. If they’re ever to do so, I imagine it will come from some kind of genetic vaccine that can pass the immunity from mother to pup. GMOs to the rescue.
So that was Kruger. It’s been said that people only remember beginnings and endings with any clarity. If so, we did well. From our close encounter with a leopard to driving slowly through a pack of dozing wild mutts (after negotiating the asshole in with the caravan trailer who had completely blocked the entire road).
But it wasn’t our last dog encounter of the day. We finally got to the homestead of our friend, climbing instructor Jan Bradley. We’ve passed nearby his rural village of Waterval Boven (Waterfall Heights) before on our way to and from the park. We’ve always only spent time with him when he’s in Cape Town, travelling to and from the South African Antarctic Gough and Marion islands where his climbing skills are put to use in the efforts to eradicate alien life-forms that threaten these unique and fragile ecosystems–breeding colonies of penguins and the great albatrosses whose business is with the sea.
Naturally then, his garden is full of alien plants. “It’s my control group,” he says, wryly. A knee injury on his first full year stint on remote Gough Island has him champing at the bit. Normally his life in the small village is spent hiking and climbing. But he’s almost housebound at the moment. But he still takes canine climber, Simba for walks by throwing him out the car and driving alongside. Simba is a pretty good rock climber, according to Jan, and even tolerates being hoisted through the air in his harness. Simba and Jan are keeping busy adjusting to a new kitten, Simba more so than the dominant cats in the house. He’s easy going and very much took to Aparna.
In the next few weeks I’ll try to add hyperlinks to these posts. It’s a bit tricky finding sources when you have limited time to write on the road. I’ve done a lot of learning.