When I was first interning as an applied animal behaviorist, I spent months with Patricia McConnell sitting in on all of her cases, reviewing the details, riding to house calls and going to conferences together. During our morning “getting our paws in the ground” tradition, I learned a lot as we shared experiences about our own dogs, training classes and consultations, all while discussing life, the universe and everything.
It’s because I know how lucky I am to have worked with her and talked to her about all creatures great and small that I encourage anyone to try to get that same opportunity. No, she’s not taking on any interns at this time, but she is headed on what will probably be her last African safari, and a lucky few will be able to spend time with her as she guides them on their adventures observing wildlife in both Kenya and Botswana. In addition to providing sightings of wildebeest, elephants, lions and cheetahs in Kenya, this safari will include the opportunity to see African wild dogs in Botswana.
How unique is the opportunity to see these canines? “African wild dogs are the second most endangered carnivore (after Ethiopian wolves) on the African continent,” according to Anne Carlson, PhD, who studied this species when she was a Millenium Postdoctoral Fellow with the Behavioral Biology Division of the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species with the San Diego Zoo.
“Most national parks in Africa are not large enough to accommodate even one wild dog pack, since each family group typically needs between 80 and 800 square miles of land in which to range and hunt,” Carlson says. “There are currently only a few populations of African wild dogs remaining in the wild.”
There is much to be learned from these simultaneously rare and familiar animals. “African wild dogs live in packs, in which the animals have close social bonds, like human families, and care cooperatively for each litter of pups born to the dominant pair,” Carlson explains. “The extended family groups babysit pups at the den when they are too young to travel with the group, bring food back to them once they have been weaned, protect them against dangerous predators like lions and spotted hyenas, and teach them to hunt as they grow older. African wild dogs are also known to take care of injured and sick family members that would otherwise die without this care.”
Spending time with Trisha McConnell and going on an African safari are both potentially life changing events. The opportunity to do both simultaneously should not be missed!