Wild dog dynamics in the Okavango Delta


Our Collective


Lauren Dold


A tale of two litters

African wild dogs are among the most misunderstood predators on the continent. Known as energetic and successful hunters, wild dogs form highly co-operative social packs that span large home ranges. Botswana has become one of the best places in Southern Africa to see these curious painted dogs, and the plains around Wilderness Chitabe in the Okavango Delta one of the most favoured. 

Wild dogs usually raise one litter of pups a year, typically born to the alpha female and raised and cared for by the entire pack. This conventional wisdom about wild dog breeding is widely accepted – until guides at Wilderness Chitabe found that two pregnant females from the pack had each given birth to a litter, which were being raised side by side.

A family history of wild dogs at Wilderness Chitabe

In June 2022, 18 male wild dogs moved into the Okavango Delta‘s Gomoti area encompassing two of our private concessions. “We first saw them around Wilderness Qorokwe, and we identified two males that we knew from a pack called Bain’s Pack that had joined this group of males”, says Wilderness Chitabe guide BB. “At the same time, six females moved into the area. They were six sisters, two from a litter born in 2019 and four from a litter born in 2020, and they were dispersing from their natal pack in Moremi Game Reserve”.


It is typical for female wild dogs to do this; they separate from the pack they were born into, moving into another area to form a new pack, which ensures genetic diversity. 





“The six females joined up with the 18 males, forming a fierce pack of 24, which we soon named the Chaos Pack. They came into the area and caused havoc”, adds BB. A native pack in the area, the Maui Pack, was dismantled and driven out, and the Chaos Pack also targeted a second pack, known as the Royal Pack, killing the dominant female. 


“The Chaos Pack kicked out all the packs in the area; no other pack could rival their size. Eventually, two of the females separated from the pack and joined the Royal Pack, kicking out the remaining females and taking on those males. They later disappeared, moving away from the big Chaos Pack”.

Wild dog breeding dynamics

By June 2023, three of the Chaos Pack females were pregnant. Wild dogs breed seasonally, with the peak period from April to September, especially in late May. Unlike other dog species, their mating process is brief, typically lasting just a minute. Following a gestation period of about 70 days, the female gives birth to a litter that can range up to 21 pups, though the average is between 7 and 10. The pups begin weaning at around 14 days and continue to suckle for about three months.


Other pack members, often non-breeding adults related to the breeding pair, play crucial roles in raising the pups. After the initial weeks post-birth, the mother relies on the pack to bring back food or regurgitate it for the pups, allowing her to stay at the den. Wild dogs often reuse large dens, like abandoned aardvark or warthog holes, for giving birth and raising their young.


"We think one female may have abandoned her pups, as we never saw them. The other two females birthed a litter each, resulting in 14 pups in total. Now, there is a belief that alpha females won’t allow litters born to subordinate females to survive. We have found this to be false; what has happened is, the alpha female has taken the beta female’s pups into her own den, caring for them. This frees up the beta female to hunt with the pack, essential when there are extra mouths to feed. In this case, there was no harassment, no killing; the alphas and the rest of the pack all cared for both litters of pups”, explains BB.

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Survival of the smartest

Typically, only around 50% of wild dog pups survive their first year. However, in an impressive display of co-operation and care, nine of the 14 pups from the Chaos Pack survived. This unusual behaviour not only highlights the adaptability of wild dogs but also their intricate social dynamics.


The decision to den and raise pups is a strategic one, aligned with the lifecycle of their prey. Wild dogs time their denning period to coincide with the end of the impala breeding season, when rams are weakened from defending territories and breeding activities. This timing ensures an abundant food supply, crucial for the growing pups. Additionally, the dry season forces prey animals to congregate near water sources, further aiding the wild dogs' hunting efficiency.




The Chaos Pack expands

As of now, the Chaos Pack is 25 strong, with two more females expecting pups. 


“They are currently searching for a suitable den site, and we expect them to den by the third or fourth week of June. It will be interesting to see whether they behave in the same way this year, raising both litters of pups”, says BB.


The continued success and growth of the Chaos Pack will undoubtedly offer more insights into the fascinating lives of African wild dogs, and a myriad of incredible wildlife sightings for our guests at Wilderness Chitabe. Stay tuned as we follow their journey and uncover more about these extraordinary predators.

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