Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

The prey has a job to do

Marty’s photo of the day #2228: Here’ an excerpt from my fist book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents:


“Everyone, sit!” whispered Brian. “A pack of Cape hunting dogs is directly in front of us!”

The dogs were an animal I had hoped, but never expected, to see. Cape hunting dogs are also called African wild dogs, African painted wolves, or just about any combination of the three names. I prefer calling them “painted dogs.”

Yet another animal some people consider homely, painted dogs are gorgeous to my eyes. They’re big eared, long legged, and gangly. Each dog has a unique coat pattern. It’s almost as if someone took a canvas of short brown fur and created a work of abstract art by splashing it with blotches of black, gray, yellow, and white.

The IUCN classifies painted dogs as an “endangered species.” An estimated seven hundred remain in Zimbabwe and only four thousand exist in all of Africa. Habitat loss, hunting, trapping, and other human-related activities have collectively diminished the population of this intelligent animal.

Even though painted dogs are part of the canine family, their genetic line is unique. They’re also very social animals who work cooperatively for the good of the pack. After returning from hunts, the dogs will regurgitate part of their prey for those who were left behind because of age or injury.

The pack standing in front of us consisted of eighteen individuals, and when we sat to watch them, they sat to watch us. While people kill painted dogs out of fear, we had nothing to worry about—painted dogs don’t kill people. Like the wolf in North America, they’re victims of human ignorance.

Our group was well aware of the rare treat before our eyes. The pack, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as impressed with us as we were with them. After several minutes of mutual staring, they lost interest and paraded to the far side of the grassland to lie down. We followed, but not so closely that we’d disturb them.

Soon after we returned to the ground and resumed our staring, a suicidal impala trotted to the edge of the trees, screamed an alarm call, and retreated. When the dogs didn’t respond, the impala returned to repeat his call. All animals have their jobs, and in Africa an impala’s job is to be the prey. Still, taunting painted dogs takes work ethic just a little too far.

Eventually the pack had enough of us and leisurely walked off in the direction of the impala. This time we didn’t follow.

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