I was lucky enough to see alpha female Tait and her Vundu pack from David Attenborough’s Dynasties in real life. When I camped in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, I photographed Tait and her pack of painted wolves on foot. They had just succeeded in bringing down an impala, and were feeding with with great excitement, their frisbee-like ears always alert for danger.
Mana Pools National Park is one of the few places in Africa where you’re allowed out of your vehicle to spot wildlife. The risks of being on foot in wild animals’ territory are obvious, but the rewards are huge. Two primary rules: (1) Respect the animals’ space, and (2) Take a professional guide with you if you’re new to wild animal behaviour. When we came across the painted wolves, they were so immersed in their kill that they hardly noticed us. We made sure we didn’t hinder their movements whatsoever. We were rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The sight of the painted wolves’ white tails flickering in excitement, with their saucer-size ears alert to their surroundings, was something special. The sense of community in the Vundu pack, and the leadership from alpha female Tait, was palpable from up close. It may be gruesome, but also fascinating: this is the real wild!
Gore and glory
Painted wolves are also called wild dogs or painted hunting dogs. They take down their prey by exhausting it in a chase and ripping off pieces of the animal as it runs away – soft body parts with large blood vessels, such as the inner thighs. Thereafter, the wolves need to eat quickly and silently so as to not attract the attention of hyenas or even lion, who might steal their hard-earned dinner. This is the circle of life … in real life.
Painted wolves share their food fairly between all members of their pack. While the adults go out hunting, the pups usually stay in a burrow with some ‘babysitters’ staying with them. After eating a kill, the hunting party will return to the burrow and regurgitate food for the pups and their babysitters. They nurture and feed injured members of their pack, rather than leaving them to die. That community instinct is something special to behold firsthand. I also loved the noises they made: they sounded almost like birds with their tweets and calls.
You know when you’ve been saying for years that somewhere is amazing, and finally something happens to make everyone sit up and take notice? That’s how it feels with Mana Pools National Park and the painted wolf episode of David Attenborough’s Dynasties. My heart was in my mouth as I saw such an important personality as David Attenborough standing in a place that I’ve been. I was beyond excited to see such beautiful footage of this landscape that I know and love so dearly.
I’m so thankful that this area of Zimbabwe is being showcased to the world – hopefully it will raise awareness of how important our planet’s wild places are. Mana Pools is one of the last truly wild places in Africa, and it deserves to be protected, so that wildlife, such as the painted wolves, can remain there for generations to come.
The wild needs protection
There are fewer painted wolves in the wild than there are lion, elephants or even rhinos. They’re at risk from human persecution, habitat loss and susceptibility to domestic dog diseases. Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in Africa (and the world) where wild painted wolves can be seen in action. I’ve been privileged enough to see them in the wild twice … but I don’t want it to be the last.
You can help protect the painted wolves of Zimbabwe and Africa. Please visit PaintedWolf.org to learn more about these unique animals and to donate towards their survival.
Buy a Dynasties gift
1. Buy the photo book Painted Wolves: A Wild Dog’s Life by Nicholas Dyer and Peter Blinston
- Experience the lives of the painted wolves through over 220 stunning images.
- Understand the intimate characters of these fascinating animals as if you were there yourself.
- Read gripping tales from those who walk alongside the painted wolves every day.
- Meet the heroes who are saving the painted wolf from extinction.
- Learn more about the same three packs of painted wolves featured in David Attenborough’s Dynasties: Painted Wolves.
2. Buy the full series on DVD Dynasties: The Greatest of their Kind narrated by Sir David Attenborough
- Dynasties takes you deeper into the lives of five of the world’s most celebrated and endangered animals than ever before: Emperor Penguin, Chimpanzee, Lion, Painted Wolf and Tiger.
- Travel from the plains of Africa to the jungles of India, from the edge of the Sahara to the frozen wastes of Antarctica.
- Watch leaders battling rivals for their crown, feuds tearing families apart and parents risking their lives to protect offspring from the coldest and cruelest winter on earth.
- Five extraordinary animals in heroic battles against the odds, Dynasties, the most intimate and intense stories of their kind ever told.
3.Buy the book Dynasties: The Rise and Fall of Animal Families by Stephen Moss
- Dynasties offers an immersive insight into the shifting hierarchies of animal families.
- Each chapter follows a different dynasty, from the Marsh Lions of the Masai Mara to rival packs of painted wolves, from a tiger protecting her newborn cubs to a chimpanzee troop and the penguin colonies of the Antarctic. Alongside tender moments when bonds are strengthened through grooming and play, the book charts the rivalries that tip the balance of power, when family members turn against each other and younger animals grow strong enough to challenge for control.
- With over 200 stunning photographs and insights from the crew of the BBC series, Dynasties reveals in astonishing detail the intricate social lives of our planet’s most fascinating animals.