When the team from South Africa's Manyoni Private Game Reserve got word that one of the alpha males in a pack that roams the area had suffered an injury to his front leg they quickly leaped into action. African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List so every individual is of vital importance to the survival of the species. As pack animals, they form strong social bonds and the loss of an alpha male could be catastrophic for the remaining dogs.  

Initial attempts to capture the injured male proved unsuccessful. "As a last resort the helicopter team was called in to assist," Manyoni management explain in a blog post. "Yet again, the clever wild dog quickly figured out how to avoid our capture efforts and found refuge from the helicopter underground in an old warthog hole."

With the dog's condition rapidly deteriorating, the situation grew increasingly desperate. The male, now holed up in a burrow in a remote part of the park characterised by steep terrain, was becoming increasingly weaker and, without intervention, would likely not last long. Uncertain if the canine would emerge from the warthog hole again, a risky decision was made to capture the dog where it lay.

Team member Dane Antrobus strapped on a head torch and crawled headfirst into the dark burrow. Below the surface was a complex network of tunnels with multiple exits. Antrobus did his best to ignore the bats that fluttered around his head and managed to locate the alpha male huddled up and unresponsive deep inside one of the tunnels. 

The injured wild dog holed up in a warthog burrow. Image © Manyoni Private Game Reserve

With the dog located, veterinarian Dr Mike Toft was next to brave the burrow armed with a dart gun. After the dog was successfully sedated, it was hauled out of its hidey-hole and carried to a spot where it could be airlifted by helicopter to a more accessible area. 

Damage from a snare had badly severed the dog's leg and the only option was to amputate. The alpha dog was rushed to a nearby animal hospital where its injured leg was surgically removed. "Wild dogs are very resilient, and this male was no different," the team explains. He very quickly adjusted to life with a missing limb (something that wild animals are remarkably quick to do). "This brave wild dog male and team of passionate conservationists never gave up and achieved what seemed impossible."

Top header image: Ian White