As volunteers for the Wildlife Act, you had some slow days and you had some exciting days. This particular day was definitely the latter. We were still monitoring the wild dogs, but today one of the packs had crossed over a boundary that separated the game reserve from the nearby village. They were on the hunt for goats. The villagers who own the goats sometimes shoot the wild dogs because of this. With the wild dogs being critically endangered, we had to make sure this didn’t happen. Our team’s job for the day was to locate this pack and chase them back in the direction of the wildlife gaming reserve.
Along the way to the border, we picked up numerous villagers who volunteered to help us. Once we got to the border, we split up into two groups and our goal was to surround the pack and direct them back to the spot where they left the park in hopes that they would be cornered and have to reenter the park. Kirsten and I went with our Wildlife Act monitor, Antoine, while another group followed our assistant monitor, Axel.
Antoine had the telemetry, an instrument that picks up signals from the electronic collar of one of the dogs in the pack. The chase was on and the wild dogs were extremely elusive. We sprinted with Antoine as he zigzagged through the bushes following the telemetry signals. And these weren’t bushes we were going through, these were BUSHES. Only found in Africa, with long needle-like thorns that tear through your clothes. Kirsten and I both stepped on a thorn and it went THROUGH our sneakers and poked into our feet. The area was dense with shrubbery, trees, with no footpaths and oh, did I mention there were black and green mamba snakes around?
We dodged a snake (although it wasn’t a mamba), webs of gigantic spiders, and numerous thorny vegetation while chasing after the dogs. My adrenaline was going, my heart was beating so fast from the excitement of getting close to them while running through the dense bush.
But in the end, the dogs won. They outsmarted us. Actually, they toyed with us. They ended up running circles around both our groups, then running in-between us before running further into the village and further away from the border of the park. We had to quit and had to schedule an expensive helicopter the next day to track and direct them back with the noise of the chopper.
I was disappointed as we were heading back to our truck. But I still had a big smile on my face. I didn’t know why at the moment but later back at camp, Antoine said something that resonated. He said he loved doing those chases because it made him feel alive. For Antoine, it was a day of work where he was doing something he loved and out roaming around in nature. I don’t think this is my calling but for a small moment that afternoon out in the wilderness, I felt the same way. And I was happy.
NOTE: After we left, this pack of dogs was eventually captured and brought safely back inside the game reserve. They are awaiting transfer to another game reserve where hopefully they will be happy and will find mates.