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.
Seven days have passed since we started our safari and each has been outstanding in terms of sightings and experiences. We have worked hard; each morning rising well before dawn, followed by long walks or bumpy car rides, against a backdrop of temperatures that rise above 40 degrees Celsius every day – sometimes by a lot.
Apart from the physical exertions, there has been the emotional strain of seeing the animals struggling, and sometimes dying from exhaustion and a lack of food. Against this the predators are thriving. The circle of life is spinning fast in front of us which has been quite dizzying at times.
Our two ABC Expeditions camps have been a perfect setting for these experiences. Although not lacking in comfort, we have been living under canvas with bucket showers and these settings have really connected us to the rawness of the wilderness. It is not far removed from my experience when I camp in my little tent by myself – except of course I have to cook and do my own washing up!
Today we are being rewarded with a final three day stay in African Bush Camp’s new luxurious Nyamatusi Camp on the eastern edge of the park. I designed the trip so that we get to stay here at the end. The luxury of this camp will certainly be welcomed by now.
The camp sits in the wild Nyamatusi Wilderness Area, which was christened “the Pridelands” by the BBC due to the large number of lions that live here. It is a work of art. Each room is a vast tent set on a wide platform. The platform has an outside shower, the most beautiful view of the Zambezi and to top it all its own plunge pool, shaded by a large leafy tree.
Inside is equally stunning with fridges, air coolers and a bed which I note has a larger footprint than the tent I usually sleep in. At the heart of the camp is a double storied open thatched structure strewn with comfy sofas, two bars and several dining areas. It even has its own wine cellar – a great place to cool down if not to enjoy fabulous vintages.
All this for a maximum of twelve people. The designer told me they wanted to give guests a sense of space and they certainly have succeeded. You barely notice other people. And while the luxury is ubiquitous, you never feel that you are detached from the wilderness outside. It is quite an achievement.
Having settled in and rested, we head out to find the painted wolves which we assume will still be lazing by the Mana River. We arrive early and sure enough find them tucked into some bushes sleeping on the far bank.
We guide my guests down to the river bed, waiting for the painted wolves to wake up and perform their greeting ceremony. This had been our plan two days ago, but two elephants had other ideas.
It has been an intensely hot day and the painted wolves continue to sleep until the sun disappears over the Zambian Escarpment and the light begins to fade. Only then do they move down to drink.
Given the poor light I suggest using a low shutter speed to achieve some interesting blurry effects. It is not an easy technique, but when there is not enough light to freeze great action shots, I often reduce my shutter speed to capture an atmosphere that gives a sense of movement.
In the fading light, the wolves climb the bank in front of us and cast a casual glance at us sitting on the river bed, barely five metres away. It is a very rare opportunity to photograph them below eye level. Once they have passed we climb out the other side and witness the pack standing dead still, staring intently at some oblivious warthogs.
Perhaps there is some hidden signal from the alpha Whisky, but almost in unison they launch an attack and disappear into a thicket near the road. We quickly head back to the vehicle which Henry has cleverly left pointing in the right direction.
We reach them within minutes but there is little left of the warthog; once the wolves make a kill, they devour their victim quickly lest they have it stolen by hyenas.
As I was explaining this we notice a hyena coming in from the left. Another appears and another. The painted wolves seem unperturbed for now although are clearly aware of their presence.
Five hyena start to close in, in a decreasing semi-circle. A fight is about to ensue. The wolves are no longer eating but preparing to repel the scavengers. Two hyena launch an attack and the wolves leave their kill and retreat to the edge of the Mana River. I notice the two pups disappear down its banks as if following instructions to hide.
The rest of the Hyena move in on the carcass. The wolves are lined up on the edge looking intent and poised. They hyena think they have won. Suddenly there is an eruption of twittering from the wolves and they launch a head long attack scattering the hyena and giving chase around our vehicle and into the bush.
They have spectacularly repelled the menace and protected the pups. It was an incredible scene – the only thing missing was enough light to take a picture.
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 Wild Dogs’ 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