In the Land of Painted Wolves: Day One

Photography and story: Nicholas Dyer

In early November 2019, Nick Dyer led an exclusive nine-day photographic safari in Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks in search of the elusive painted wolf.

Limited to six people and staying with African Bush Camps, it was action packed from start to finish. Join the excitement day-by-day as Nick recounts this experience illustrating the story with his photographs.

It is always a tad nerve racking – the first game drive, leading a nine-day safari. The magical gel of the African bush that will bond us as a group has yet to set. My six guests have arrived after weary flights from far flung continents, but are buoyed with excitement and expectations for the long-planned trip ahead.

These expectations have so far been exceeded, having settled into Somalisa Expeditions Camp in a remote part of Hwange National Park. The camp skillfully captures the true ambiance of the surrounding wilderness and yet maintains a feeling of luxury…almost unnoticed. I love staying here and I have total faith my guests will too.

Late evening view from ABC’s Somalisa Expeditions Camp – a true wilderness

What worries me is beyond my control – what will we see. I have explained to my guests that it is unlikely we will see the painted wolves this evening as they have not been in the area for some time. While they understand this, I never want my first game drive to be dull and furthermore, while painted wolves predominate my trips, providing an all-round safari experience is what I strive to achieve.

I chat with my friend Dickson Dube, one of ABC’s most respected guides who knows the area better than the back of his hand and who will guide us while we are in Hwange. I love working with guides I know and trust – it becomes seamless team work, combining individual skills to provide an unforgettable experience for our guests and genuine fun for ourselves.

Rare roan antelope

Dickson suggests Ngweshla, an open area where the descendants of the unfortunate Cecil continue to hunt.  As one of my favourite places in the park, I concur with unreserved enthusiasm. On our journey there we tell our guests about our times with that legendary lion and give our insight into his untimely demise.

We arrive on the open plain as the sun flirts with the horizon. Zebra, giraffe and even rare roan antelope commute to and from the waterholes, while a small herd of buffalo trundle along in the distance. But our eyes are straining for lion.

A back-lit lioness from Cecil’s pride

“They’re there” says Dickson softly. At first, they are hard to see, blending in with the sun-drenched land, gently warmed by the late African sun into a lion hued haze. A cub bounces towards its mother and their cover is blown. Two females and six cubs – Cecil’s old pride.

I begin to relax; they are back-lit by a dying sun – a great photographic opportunity for my guests. Shooting back-lit lion can yield stunning results and I suggest some techniques to achieve interesting effects.

Cubs frolic in the late afternoon light

As the light relinquishes its photographic opportunities, we decide to forgo sundowners to follow the pride who are moving suspiciously towards the herd of buffalo.

We trail them from a distance, but they are scattered and some track back to wander around our two ABC vehicles – this will be an exclusive viewing for all ABC guests tonight.

African Bush Camp’s guests get a close-up view

We soon realise that the lions’ movements are not random. They are stalking and slowly encircling the buffalo… their attention transfixed. The buffalo start to move towards us, oblivious to the risk.

The African night descends quickly and the animals merge into an all-embracing blackness. Our imaginations take over the narrative, straining for every sound to give us a clue to the unfolding drama that surrounds.

In the darkness, the buffaloes stampede, emitting terrified grunts as they run. The sound recedes as they charge into the distance and we are left with a hollow cry very nearby. The sound of a terrified wounded and dying animal fills the night air. It is very close, and it pierces our hearts.

I shine my torch and light up one of the female lions gripping a young buffalo by its throat. It is only five metres away. We watch mesmerised – it is not easy. The cries of the buffalo weaken and fade, replaced by our shocked silence. As we head back to camp we all feel a sadness but reflect on how the six little cubs will have a great feast tonight.

The scene only five metres from our vehicle

The brutality of the African bush has expressed itself quickly and the knowledgeable maturity of my guests’ response impresses me greatly. They get the bush! I’m going to enjoy sharing my time with them.  

A warm welcome, belated sundowners and a chef-skilled dinner meet us back at camp as we discuss and analyse this incredible first day’s events over delicious glasses of Painted Wolf Wines. The bonding gel of the African bush has started to set. As I hit the pillow that night I wonder what could possibly suffice as an encore. Little did I know what was about to unfold during the eight days ahead.

About Nicholas Dyer

Nick is an award winning wildlife photographer, the co-author of the acclaimed Painted Wolves: A Wild Dog’s Life and Chairman of the Painted Wolf Foundation. His passion is for painted wolves and he has spent the last seven years following the packs in Mana Pools on foot. He now leads Painted Wolf Safaris so people can get to experience and understand these enigmatic and endangered creatures.


Learn more about the Painted Wolf

Join me on my annual ‘Walking with Painted Wolves’ safari with African Bush Camps and enquire below. For the itinerary details, visit African Bush Camps’ website.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss creating a bespoke and unique painted wolf adventure