Update (July 27, 2017): Weeks after footage emerged of wild dog pups in South Africa's Greater Kruger National Park, another video has surfaced of a second den further north spelling good news for these endangered canines. Amateur wildlife photographer Massimo da Silva captured footage of the three-week old youngsters at the Timbavati Game Reserve while on safari with Makanyi Private Game Lodge. African wild dogs have disappeared from much of their former range as a result of habitat loss, disease and conflict with humans. The latest mini-additions to the South African population are a welcome development for the imperilled species. 

Read about the first sighting below.


While on a recent visit to Thornybush Private Nature Reserve in South Africa's Greater Kruger National Park, tourist Dylan Auerbach came across a lucky sighting that would make even the most seasoned safarigoers jealous: a wild dog mom coaxing her tiny pups out of their burrow for breakfast.

Auerbach was on an early morning game drive in the 14,000-hectare reserve last month when the female wild dog was spotted moving towards a dugout. After scanning her surroundings, mom dipped into the seemingly empty burrow and summoned a wriggling mass of black and white puppies for a meal atop the den.

The pups are likely about three or four weeks old and will stay near the den for at least another six or seven weeks before joining the rest of the pack on the open savannah.

Dominant females in the Kruger National Park usually whelp in May or June and can have huge litters of up to 20 or more pups, although 8-12 is the norm (we count at least seven mini-canids in this den). Moms will usually spend the first few days in the burrow with the pups before emerging to stand guard while the rest of the pack continues to hunt. For the first three to four weeks, she'll likely do her best to keep the other dogs away from her litter until the pups are ready to get their first taste of meat, which comes in regurgitated form courtesy of mom and other pack members.

It takes just a few weeks for muzzles, ears and legs to lengthen, and by week seven the dogs will have shed their clumsy "puppiness" and adopted a tricoloured, rangy form. They'll begin to trail along on hunts, enjoying the spoils and learning the intricacies of the highly successful hunting strategies their species is famous for. Eventually, as yearlings, the pups lose their feeding privileges and must join in if they want to eat.

Wild dogs rank among the most successful of Africa's predators, in large part thanks to the unique dynamics of their social structure. Unlike other social carnivores that often settle internal disputes aggressively, wild dogs resort to submissive behaviour to strengthen pack bonds. "The essence of [the wild dogs'] social and reproductive system is cooperative hunting and food-sharing," explains Dr Richard Estes in The Behavior Guide to African Mammals.

Despite their amicable social graces, Africa's wild dogs are in peril. Recent population estimates suggest that there are just 6,600 adults in 39 subpopulations alive in the wild today. Habitat fragmentation, conflict with humans and a vulnerability to infectious diseases like canine distemper have resulted in wild dog numbers taking a major dip.

Hope for the species comes in the form of ongoing research and monitoring efforts that aim to shed light on the dogs' distribution, behaviour and ecology. Let's hope that these tiny yappers survive to adulthood to give their kind a much-needed boost.



Top header image: Ian White