Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Here at Pictus Safaris, we believe that coming across African Wild Dogs in the bush is a safari experience like no other. These beautiful canids are deeply charismatic and gregarious, yet ruthlessly efficient hunters. Spending time with the dogs, also known as Hunting Dogs or Painted Wolves, is always a humbling and magical experience, be they curled up in the heat of the day, or bombing through the bush in pursuit of their next meal. Sadly, though, their hunting prowess led to many landowners in the latter parts of the 20th Century adopting a 'shoot on sight' policy, and the range of Wild Dogs has contracted hugely across the continent. This, coupled with the destruction of vast swathes of suitable habitat, means that the total population of Wild Dog now stands at under 7,000 individuals (with perhaps just 1,400 adults of reproductive age), and only a handful of strongholds for the population remain.
With this in mind, below is Pictus Safaris' 'Top Ten' destinations for African Wild Dog sightings. We know that everyone is different, and there are many additional destinations that other companies and many tourists will swear by for Wild Dog sightings, so this list is by no means exhaustive - but we hope it provides some helpful information! If you are interested in some 'off-the-beaten-path' destinations for African Wild Dogs, look out for a blog post on this very subject coming soon.
10. Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa
Wild Dog Population: c.100
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 20.5 sq/km
Overview: Kwa-Zulu Natal may not be the first place one thinks of when one pictures the wilds of Africa, but there's no doubt that this is one of the best places on the continent to spend some quality time with African Wild Dogs. It is home to a significant portion of South Africa's metapopulation of Wild Dogs, with populations in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Somkhanda Game Reserve, Manyoni Private Game Reserve, Tembe Elephant Park and the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. These reserves are fenced, so lack plenty in wilderness appeal, but make up for this with abundant wildlife. All of the 'Big Five' are represented, and there's also the chance of rare sightings including Aardvark and Zorilla.
It's worth noting that there are several other excellent parks dotted around South Africa where Wild Dog viewing is also great, including Madikwe Game Reserve and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.
How to Get There: The African Wild Dog metapopulation in Kwa-Zulu Natal is managed by Wildlife ACT, an organisation dedicated to the monitoring and protection of endangered species in this area. Wildlife ACT offer the opportunity to participate in their conservation projects, which provide plenty of opportunities to get up-close and personal for African Wild Dogs and a range of other species. Contact Wildlife ACT directly for further information.
9. Kafue National Park, Zambia
Wild Dog Population: c. 300
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 74.7 sq/km
Overview: Kafue is, in a word, huge. A sprawling wilderness in western Zambia, this national park is home to an impressive array of wildlife, with Lion, Leopard and Cheetah all well-represented. Most game-viewing takes place in the east of the park, in the Chunga or Musekese areas, or the remote northern reaches of the park, known famously as the Busanga Plains. Busanga in particular is an area of incredible natural beauty, with the vast plains attracting a rich diversity of mammal and bird life - but Wild Dogs can be seen almost anywhere in the park. The Chunga and Musekese areas both offer good opportunities of tracking down these elusive predators, and plenty of other incredible species.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a small-group 'Zambia - In Depth' safari to Kafue, as well as South Luangwa, North Luangwa, Kasanka and Bangweulu, in 2022. This tour is available for just £3,995 per person sharing for 20 nights. If this tour isn't for you, we'd be happy to recommend a number of other operators, just get in touch!
8. Kruger National Park, South Africa
Wild Dog Population: c.200
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 97.4 sq/km
Overview: Kruger is where the African love affair begins for so many people. Highly accessible due to its location and extensive tourist infrastructure, this park is home to the highest diversity of large savanna mammal species on the continent. The 'Big Five' is easily seen, and lucky visitors may even find rarities including Cheetah, Serval, Caracal and Pangolin. African Wild Dogs are seen regularly in the central and southern areas of Kruger, often using the tarred roads as routes through the bush on their hunts. The Wild Dog population here fluctuates greatly, with numbers sometimes as low as 100 or as high as 500, so sightings are, as always, dependent on luck. Your best bet is to spend time in areas including Skukuza, Pretoriuskop and Crocodile Bridge - we recommend travelling in low or 'shoulder' seasons, as the traffic in Kruger in the high season is unbearable!
If you're looking for a quieter or more exclusive safari experience, the Greater Kruger includes several excellent concessions and private game reserves, where game-viewing is every bit as good as in the national park itself. Perhaps most famous of these areas is the Sabi Sands which, whilst most famous for its population of habituated Leopards, is regularly visited by packs of Wild Dogs. These areas come at a premium but we'd highly recommend a visit if your budget stretches that far!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris don't currently offer tours to Kruger, as the market is already filled with many excellent operators. We would be happy to recommend several of these companies, both local and international, just reach out by email or by phone.
7. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Wild Dog Population: c.500
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 40.5 sq/km
Overview: Tanzania is world-famous for its safari destinations, perhaps most notably the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, both of which Pictus Safaris offer tours to. The 'Southern Circuit', which includes Ruaha National Park, is far less well-known, but has a huge amount to offer. Ruaha in particular is filled with game, its sand rivers supporting a healthy population of Lion and Elephant, with Leopard and Cheetah also seen regularly. Wild Dog sightings can be very 'hit and miss' here, though, as the size of the park and lack of an extensive road network means that the dogs may choose to use areas not accessible to the public. Don't let this put you off though, as if the Wild Dogs are denning or using an area near the main tourists routes, the sightings can be truly sensational!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris do not currently operate to southern Tanzania, although we can recommend several excellent operators who do. The 'Southern Circuit' is easily accessed from Dar es Salaam - many guests choose to fly in to Ruaha, but it can also be done with a lengthy drive.
6. Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
Wild Dog Population: c.100
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 37.7 sq/km
Overview: Gorongosa is a stirring conservation success story. Situated in the heart of Mozambique, Gorongosa was devastated by civil war in the late 20th century, leaving hardly any game remaining. In recent years, expert management and a programme of translocations has repopulated this beautiful and diverse reserve, and visitors can now expect to see Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, the rare Selous' Zebra and much more. Perhaps most incredible are the plains filled with thousands of Waterbuck, a sight that has to be seen to be believed!
Wild Dogs, known locally as 'mabecos', were re-introduced to Gorongosa from South Africa in April 2018. These 14 individuals made themselves at home very quickly, and there are now over 100 Wild Dogs to be found here, spread across five packs. Past Pictus Safaris tours have even managed to locate packs of over 30 individuals with dozens of pups - a rare consequence of the beta female's pups being accepted by the alpha female. Gorongosa is a must-visit for any Wild Dog lover.
How to Get There: Gorongosa is a Pictus Safaris favourite, and we will be running a 'Wild Dog Delights' tour here in September 2021, with an optional extension to search for Dugong in the Bazaruto Archipelago - one of our most popular tours, with a great chance of seeing Wild Dog pups at length. This tour is available for £2,500 per person sharing for seven nights.
5. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Wild Dog Population: c.150
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 97.7 sq/km
Overview: Hwange is home to the excellent Painted Dog Conservation initiative, and it's not hard to see why. This reserve is prime habitat for Wild Dogs, with prey species in abundance and a vast area in which to roam. Contiguous with the famously game-rich northern reaches of Botswana, Hwange is home to all of the 'Big Five' but is perhaps most famous for its hardy population of Elephants. Lion, Leopard and Cheetah are also seen here, with Caracal recorded with surprising regularity too. Wild Dogs are present throughout (and even outside) the national park - we tend to favour the south of the park as we have had excellent sightings here, but they really could turn up anywhere. We highly recommend a visit to the PDC centre as well, as they do excellent and fascinating work in Hwange and beyond.
How to Get There: You can visit Hwange NP with Pictus Safaris on our 'Land of Lycaon' tour to northern Zimbabwe in September 2022, with 11 nights searching for Wild Dogs for just £3,495 per person sharing.
4. Nyerere National Park, Tanzania
Wild Dog Population: c.800
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 37.5 sq/km
Overview: Nyerere is a brand new name for many safari enthusiasts but don't be fooled - this brand new national park largely encompasses the Selous Game Reserve, historically famed for its game viewing. Sadly, poaching and mismanagement has badly affected this area. Between 2009 and 2013, over 25,000 Elephants were illegally killed here, and on our last visit Pictus Safaris saw only twenty or so Elephant in four full days in the reserve. Predator populations do persist, however, and it is Lions and Wild Dogs that visitors are most likely to encounter. As in Ruaha, Wild Dogs roam vast areas and may be absent from the main game-viewing areas for weeks or months at a time - but when the dogs are around, fantastic sightings are commonplace, making Nyerere well worth a visit.
How to Get There: Like Ruaha, Nyerere is an integral part of Tanzania's 'Southern Circuit', and is served by a host of excellent operators, many of whom we would gladly recommend.
3. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Wild Dog Population: c.140
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 64.6 sq/km
Overview: South Luangwa is a real gem of a national park. Famed for its significant population of habituated Leopards, visitors are also likely to see Lion, Elephant and a number of rare subspecies including Cookson's Wildebeest, Crawshay's Zebra and Thornicroft's Giraffe. The main game-viewing areas, including Nsefu and Mfuwe, are great for Leopard sightings, but the Wild Dog packs in this area stick to the peripheries of these areas, preferring to avoid conflicts with larger predators where possible. We recommend staying at a slightly more remote location during your stay, such as Nkonzi Camp, where Wild Dog sightings are frequent.
It's important to note that Wild Dogs in South Luangwa tend to den well away from the main game-viewing areas, so sightings from June-September can sometimes dry up. As such, we always recommend Wild Dog enthusiasts visit South Luangwa in October, when Wild Dogs are more mobile.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris offer two tours taking in South Luangwa. Our October 2022 'Zambia - In Depth' tour visits South Luangwa, as well as North Luangwa, Kafue, Kasanka and Bangweulu, at a time when Wild Dogs are at their most mobile. This tour is available for just £3,995 per person sharing, spending 20 nights in Zambia. We also regularly encounter Wild Dogs on our October 'Leopards of Luangwa' tour, spending seven nights in South Luangwa for just £3,395 per person sharing.
We also offer an optional three-night extension to South Luangwa on our July 'Magical Malawi' tour, which takes in nine nights in Malawi for £3,795 per person sharing.
2. Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Wild Dog Population: c.90
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 75.2 sq/km
Overview: Mana Pools has long been a hotspot for Wild Dog sightings, and shot to fame as a filming location for the BBC's 'Dynasties' series. In recent years, much has been made of the decline of the Wild Dog population in Mana, with some reports even claiming the population is facing local extirpation. Happily, this is not the case, and whilst the pack on the floodplains that the BBC made famous is not as prolific as it once was, there are several other packs in other areas of Mana that are thriving. In-breeding, habitat loss and competition with other predators are, of course, still severe threats to this population and Pictus Safaris are fully supportive of recent steps taken to reduce the pressure on the Mana dogs.
Mana Pools is perhaps the premiere destination for walking safaris in all of Africa, and lucky visitors are able to approach Mana's wildlife, including Wild Dogs, on foot regularly. Pictus Safaris particularly recommend visiting Chitake, as magical encounters with dogs are possible here. Mana also supports populations of Lion and Elephant, including several bulls who can feed on their hind legs, as well as the 'Magic Forest', a beautifully lit area that makes for sensational photographs. Leopard and Cheetah are also occasionally seen.
How to Get There: Mana Pools is well-served by local and international operators. Pictus Safaris offer a 'Land of Lycaon' safari taking in Mana Pools, with 11 nights focussed on Wild Dogs for just £3,495 per person sharing. Our stay in Mana Pools allows us to walk areas around both the floodplain and Chitake, two excellent areas for viewing Wild Dogs.
1. Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Wild Dog Population: c.350
Wild Dog Density: 1 dog per 14.3 sq/km
Overview: Moremi, and to a lesser extent nearby Chobe, is quite simply the finest destination in Africa when it comes to Wild Dog sightings. Abundant prey populations, effective protection and a huge area of suitable habitat mean that this is a Painted Wolf paradise. On Pictus Safaris last visit to this area, we encountered dogs in Chobe waterfront, Savuti, Khwai and Xakanaxa, with over 80 dogs seen including 18 puppies. Add to this the abundant populations of Lion, Leopard and Elephant, and it's not hard to see why this area is considered by many to be the finest wildlife-viewing destination in Africa.
Our favourite area is undoubtedly Xakanaxa, where it is not uncommon to locate Cheetah, Leopard, Wild Dog, Lion and Serval in a single stay - we saw all in a single drive in 2013!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris do not currently operate to northern Botswana, as there are already plenty of excellent operators here. We would be happy to recommend several of these operators, just reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Do you agree with our 'Top Ten' destinations for Wild Dog sightings? Where have your best sightings been? Where on our list would you love to go next? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!