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African wild dog. Cape hunting dog. Painted wolf. Call it what you will, this elusive predator holds a special fascination for many safari- goers. But with no more than 4000 left across Africa, seeing one is not so easy. Dog devotee Merlith McKendrick visited Zambia's South Luangwa National Park on a unique safari dedicated to this enigmatic animal. Her diary reveals how she got on. Saturday 28 March A very easy fl ight, but too excited to sleep much. This was our fi rst visit in the emerald season and the valley looked so beautiful. Arrived for lunch, followed by siesta until 3pm and then an excellent fi rst game drive. The only thing in short supply was wild dog - last seen over a week ago. Fell exhausted into bed before 9pm so missed the fi rst lecture. Must try harder. Sunday 29 March A long early morning drive with Egil, one of the conservationists, trying to pick up a signal from a dog they'd collared. Travelled through mopane woodland, teeming with tsetse fl y. My language was fruity - and there was no bleep from a dog signal to hide it. Caught some sleep in the afternoon and then spent a wonderful hour on our evening drive watching a leopard stalking guinea fowl. Monday 30 March Drums at 5.15am, but we were already up and ready to go. Drove to another area of the park still trying to pick up a signal, but no luck. It was good to see such different terrain, though. Watched a sleepy lion and some wonderful birds. In the afternoon took a restful river cruise; amazing to see the river so wide and fast- fl owing. Storm clouds were gathering on our way back and by dinner the rain had started. Pelted all night long. Tuesday 31 March Up at 5am to fi nd the room full of froglets. Had they swum in as tadpoles and transformed overnight? Most of our group went off to track dogs, but we opted for an ordinary game drive - a gorgeous leopard and a lovely family of elephants our reward. Our siesta was interrupted by a massive thunderstorm plus a monitor lizard under the bed. By the evening drive, however, the rain had cleared and we saw masses, including a group of hyena on a very old elephant corpse ( whiffy, but fascinating). This time, caught the pre- dinner lecture. Wednesday 1 April ( Dog Day!) Egil decided to drive straight to the top of the escarpment just to see if we could get a signal. I was really cheesed off: I'd given up on dog and just wanted to enjoy a normal game drive. But when we fi nally reached the highest point, he got a strong bleep and started scanning the plain below. I thought at fi rst this was an act to keep our hopes up, but there they were spread out below us. Wild dogs! I'm afraid I started weeping with the emotion of it. I think all the girls did; probably the men too, but they wouldn't admit it - just grit in the eye or something. The dogs disappeared into the scrub, so we drove up the other side of the hill to fi nd them waiting at the top. " We've been tracking you for days," they seemed to be saying. " Where have you been?" DOGDAYS 36 Travel Zambia November 2009 Radar ears help wild dogs to pick up one another's contact calls as they disperse through the bush ROBIN POPE SAFARIS

November 2009 Travel Zambia 37 Size: 105- 150cm; tail 30- 40cm; 20- 30kg Food: primarily small to medium- sized antelope, eg impala Breeding: 2- 10 pups born March- July; spend fi rst 3 months in den Social behaviour: packs of 10- 30; highly nomadic Population: ± 4000 patchily distributed over sub- Saharan Africa Status: Endangered; threats include hunting, disease, road traffi c and snares AFRICAN WILD DOG AT A GLANCE There were eight altogether, all looking healthy and sleek: an alpha female and seven 18- month- old pups. The pack seemed to be in hunting mode, moving forward purposefully with ears fl attened, the female leading. They disappeared again and we drove round to the road ahead, hoping to meet up with them there. After about 45 minutes they reappeared, looking decidedly fatter, a bit bloody and very pleased with themselves. They came right up to the vans to check us out and then settled by the side of the road in the sun. We spent three magical hours with the pack. Every now and then, one dog would get up and nudge another to play; at times up to fi ve would wrestle in a puddle, like kids in a paddling pool, though always remaining alert. Meanwhile, vultures had led our guides to the kill. It turned out to have been a young impala - now just a clean- picked skull attached to a bit of backbone. The dogs had eaten the lot, bones and all. Eventually, the pack decided to move off into longer grass to enjoy their siesta. Soon all we could see was the occasional fl ick of an ear or swish of a tail. We headed back for lunch, planning to catch up with them later. We had travelled a long way from the lodge, though, so we were astonished, rounding a corner, to fi nd brunch and Pimms all laid out in the bush. A wonderful end to the perfect morning. We returned to the dogs around 4pm. They hadn't moved far and were still diffi cult to see. And then the rain came. And more rain. It didn't seem to faze the dogs, but we were eventually driven back by the cold and the wet. Still, nothing could have topped our morning. At last, I had seen wild dog! Postscript The dogs left the area that night and we were unable to fi nd them again. On our two remaining days, however, we enjoyed more wonderful game drives, seeing everything from giraffes to elephant shrews - and yet more leopards. Our fi nal night ended with a special champagne sundowner. No farewell bleeps from the dogs. But it didn't matter: thanks to our wonderful guides at AWDC we'd had our dog day and would never forget it. Wild Dog Week is a 7- night safari run every March by Robin Pope Safaris and organised in conjunction with African Wild Dog Conservation ( AWDC), who have been monitoring dogs in Zambia since 1998. Sightings are not guaranteed though chances are good. Also includes usual safari activities with RPS. Find out more at www. robinpopesafaris. net Wildlife focus Wild dogs can be surprisingly tolerant of vehicles and often approach out of curiosity A researcher from AWDC searches for a radio signal from a collared dog ROBIN POPE SAFARIS MERLITH MCKENDRICKROBIN POPE SAFARIS It's not just about dogs: leopard sightings were a daily feature of the safari