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Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season

Bellevue, Washington
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Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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Alright, so I've asked similar questions for other national parks I'm visiting this September (Lower Zambezi NP and Hwange NP). My thirstiness for news has now finally outweighed my sheepishness, so am wondering what people have been hearing about South Luangwa National Park and wild dogs this season.

I have also read online accounts from recent years where apparently there was a relative dearth of dogs in the mid 2010s (relative to late 2000s/early 2010s when I was last there)... but now apparently they've been sighted more reliably in the last few years.

But the only thing I have seen in mid 2023 from social media has been from the Zambia Carnivore Program (their handle is zcp_zambia) : https://www.instagram.com/reel/CvAiMxzOMh3/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

"The wild dog denning season in the Luangwa Valley is in full swing! This past week, we received information of a potentially new pack sighted by a safari guide from Remote Africa Safaris. The group, made up of 13 adults/yearlings and 8 pups (we have given this group the name "Takwela"), was seen by the guide and his guests while on safari in the Mwaleshi-Takwela confluence area along the north fringes of our intensive study area in the Luangwa Valley. This report is a very important (and very cute) addition to our citizen science database. Sincere thanks to Nick Riddin at Remote Africa Safaris and all who share their sightings with us. Because of such contributions, we are able to better understand the demography and distribution of African wild dogs and other threatened species.

📽Nick Riddin/Remote Africa Safaris"

This was yesterday.

Any other knowledge people have about where in the park people have seen different packs would be helpful. It would seem that this pack is in a more remote area that is not part of the normal tourist road circuits?

I will try to find out more myself and update this thread if I learn anything specific.

20 replies to this topic
london
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for Zambia, Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park
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1. Re: Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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Would help to know where you are staying.

The pack referred to in that update is actually in North Luangwa, near RAS Takwela camp.

Two big packs in South Luangwa I know about-

The Manzi pack that usually hangs around the main central area but ranges north (up the west side of river) and south, was about 20 dogs but their alpha female was killed by a crocodile in March. This caused some dogs to disperse and they have not denned this year, but the pack was looking for new females (all females in the pack are related to the alpha male, so unlikely a new alpha female will come from within the pack). I heard in June that they had found a new female from the Kaingo area. I haven't seen any reports of her being pregnant, it's a slim possibility they will den late but more likely they will not den this year meaning they will be free roaming for the whole season. I think the new female is keeping them north a bit more than usual, but they've also been in the central area.

In Nsefu sector, the Milyoti pack that usually dens near Tena Tena was unable to access their usual denning area due to the unusually high water this year, so they denned further north near the stork colony (between Nsefu camp and Tafika). Remote Africa safaris have been posting sightings of the puppies near the den and they posted the other day that the den site has moved, but probably not far as the puppies are still small. This often happens, eg if the den gets infested with parasites or too smelly from all the regurgitated meat (the smell will attract hyenas).

I also know there's a small pack denning outside the park close to Flatdogs camp. I saw this pack in March (outside the park), they are 5 or 6 dogs. Flatdogs have been seeing them hunting from the camp.

Bellevue, Washington
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2. Re: Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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Super useful info!

Will be staying at Robin's House affiliated w/ Robin Pope Safaris -- across the river. As I recall, there was either a ferry/boat ride across (I don't know if they still do that) to one section of the park, or a longer drive to a bridge into the park. But that may have changed since 2009 when I was there last.

(As an aside, I realize there are camps inside the park now too, so looked into that. But had great experiences before with a similar setup in the previously named Robin's House. And so the logistics were not really a problem.)

london
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3. Re: Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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Conor- I often stay at Nkwali which is next door to Robin's House, although in dry season I'd usually combine with other camps in the more remote parts of the park. They do still have boat access across the river, there's also the Nkwali pontoon which is a short drive south, and you can drive up to the main gate as well, but I doubt there's any reason for them to do that in dry season unless there's a specific sighting they want to get to quickly.

I think you will just have to keep fingers crossed for the Manzi pack, but they are pretty mobile now since they haven't denned and the new alpha female could be keeping them north a bit. But it might depend on lion activity- that Kaingo area is pretty lion heavy which could push them south.

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london
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Mei-Mei, I think you probably mean Sausage Tree camp, which is in Lower Zambezi (not South Luangwa)?

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Bellevue, Washington
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7. Re: Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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Thanks and that is good to know.

I will see if I can get in touch with the Zambian Carnivore Program people nearby as well as they may be aware of general pack movement. I was friendly with Matt (Becker) when he was just getting started then and it seems like their program has grown a lot over the subsequent years.

I saw wild dogs several times in the ~2 weeks I was there in 2009 — longer stay than anticipated because Kafue NP area was massively flooded — and it was exactly like you describe it — crossing road and hunting and luck of the draw in terms of when we encountered. (And that was June 2009 as I recall and I don’t think they had denned yet either.)

london
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8. Re: Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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The ZCP are based at Nkwali somewhere, so all the RPS guides will be in touch with them, and if you say you are interested in dogs they will go and ask for info for you. When I've seen unusual dogs (saw a couple of random dogs on the Nkwali side of the river once, when we were doing a bit of a birding drive into the mopane), the ZCP guys will even turn up in camp to get ID photos!

Bellevue, Washington
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Hello again! Getting to my tardy trip report from South Luangwa National Park in September. I was there for about a week, from Sep 11-16.

Overall I was able to do 11 drives (6 afternoon, 5 morning). I was based out of Robin's House, run by Robin Pope Safaris. It's right next to Nkwali Camp (which has more rooms / tents than just the house which is 2 bedrooms, and is serviced by the kitchen from the camp.)

Our guide was Obi, who as I recall had been doing South Luangwa safaris for about 14 yrs (since 2009 overall) -- making him one of the more tenured guides!

We took the pontoon across the first afternoon, but since my last visit in 2009 Robin Pope Safaris along with 1 or 2 other just-across-the-river operators now also stash vehicles on the opposite side of the river bank, making it just a < 10 minute boat ride ("door to door") from the banks below the hotel, to where the cars are parked. This greatly reduced the time to subsequent game drives, and the area in which we were based was where leopards were frequently spotted. (In fact, we averaged over a leopard a drive... but this is a wild dog thread so I will stick to that mostly as they are my favorite :0) ). I'm explaining this up front because this was a big plus in terms of getting out early in the morning to see wildlife, in areas of the park that would be likely about as far if we were staying in the park proper, like for instance at Puku Ridge (also supposed to be nice!) So, if you're thinking of being in the park itself to save time... it all depends on what part of the park you want to visit.

Happily enough, I finally ended my wild dog spotting drought on the first evening(!) with a pair of two wild dogs.

The dogs we saw were all offshoots of what's known as the Manze pack (a riverbed during the dry season which they've denned in the past, which is further up from the Wakumba and Chichele areas. We journeyed there once but did not see them up there. It was basically all dry mopane at this point.)

In all, we saw this pair -- a male and a female -- 3 times over the next two days. Resting, and then meandering around and briefly hunting. With one really good long viewing period where we encountered them several times throughout the early evening on the move.

Why only 2? Well, a few weeks prior -- this would be in August -- catastrophe struck the main Manze pack, which used to be in the mid teens of adults; a crocodile apparently took the alpha female.

The pack had since split, and the ZCP researchers (we had lunch with a program manager and sent her pictures... their local office was right nearby) were in the process of figuring out where some of the pack offshoots went.

Then, also happily, on our last day the main remnants of the pack were sighted a fair ways away in the park interior, up to Big Bend where Chikunto camp is. (Big bend is named for the bend of the Luangwa River apparently.) It was a good 80 minutes of straight driving from the bank across from Robin's camps to the dogs, but there were 10(!) adults still. (With no puppies.)

We saw this pack start to hunt and encountered them once more before the light went, but they went a bit west towards where there were no more roads.

So, in all, I saw the pair of wild dogs (formerly of the Manze pack) on 3 separate drives, and then the Manze pack on the last drive which was in the early evening, a good deal away from where a lot of the vehicles normally operate.

Since then, I have gotten the Robin Pope email alluding to parts of the Manze pack being sighted along the riverbank since then. So they are generally on the move still now, but they don't seem to all be reunited and I think it's unclear as to whether the core pack will remain at 10 for next year, and what will happen to the other dogs (at least 4, and up to 6?) that had broken off after the alpha female perished.

In summary, South Luangwa delivered once again and despite not as much fame as other areas (Mana Pools and Lower Zambezi) it can still be a semi-reliable place to see them if you spend ample time.

[Will save the best for last -- the Lower Zambezi wild dog update from September.]

london
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10. Re: Wild Dogs in South Luangwa National Park this season
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Hmmmm- see my post #1, the alpha female was killed by a croc back in March, and parts of the pack have been splitting off since then and the pack were hunting for new females as all of the females in the pack were related to the alpha male. So I think some timescales have been confused, unless by some weird coincidence they had established a new alpha who was also killed by a croc. Seems unlikely to me.

But great that you saw them anyway.

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