Wild Dogs’ Epic 1,300-Mile Run through 3 Southeast African Countries and Back (for Now)

Photo: Zambian Carnivore Programme

Natalie Angier ‘s article for The New York Times earlier this month set the stage thus: “The three sisters knew they had to leave home. They were African wild dogs, elite predators of the sub-Saharan region and among the most endangered mammals on Earth. At 3 years old, they were in the prime of their vigor, ferocity and buoyant, pencil-limbed indifference to gravity. If they did not seize the chance to trade the security of their birth pack for new opportunities elsewhere, they might die as they had lived: as subordinate, self-sacrificing maiden aunts with no offspring of their own. . .”

So, Ms. Angier wrote, the trio set off in October of last year “on the longest and most harrowing odyssey ever recorded for Lycaon pictus, a carnivore already known as a wide-ranging wanderer. Over the next nine months, the dogs traveled some 1,300 miles, which, according to the scientists who tagged them, is more than twice the previous record for the species.

The trio was tracked throughout the entire nine-month journey by a GPS collar installed and monitored by Scott Creel, an ecologist at Montana State University, and his colleagues at the Zambian Carnivore Program. While the tracking device was on just one of the dogs, Ms. Angier explained, the researchers were fairly confident the three stayed together entire time, based on the animals’ dependence on one another and their aversion to solitude.

“Wild dogs are beautiful in a brutal, be-glad-you’re-not-an-impala sort of way. They have black faces, glittering amber eyes, camo-printed coats of white, black and tan, white-tipped tails and large oval ears that are as tall as their snouts are long. . .Having separated from other canids some six million years ago and evolved in eccentric independence ever since, even their vocalizations defy family norms . . .(they) don’t howl or bark like wolves or domesticated dogs; they twitter, chirp, squeak and hoot like birds.” — Natalie Angier

Now back where they started in their birth area in Zambezi National Park, Zambia, what will the sisters decide to do? Settle down or set off again? Let’s just hope no one tells them that in some other areas of the continent, wild dog relocation projects involve truck and plane transport followed by temporary housing while they acclimate to their new area. Nah, our three girls are too tough for that.