Having recently returned from a break in Mana Pools and managing to photograph these amazing animals for myself I was keen to attend this viewing.
I walked away from this astounding filmography feeling both sad and exhilarated. An hour of total escapism through the varied lenses of Nick Lyon’s professional crew we watched a snippet of a Dynasty; an excerpt of Blacktip and her mother Tait’s life – Mana Pools Painted Wolves aka Wild Dogs.
Nick Murray of Bushlife Safaris, who hosted the film crew and Sir David Attenborough for four years of filming, gave a short and humble welcome to the packed theatre ahead of this part of the BBC’s Dynasty series.
We then entered a world previously undocumented. Tait, the alpha female of the Mana Pools flood plain pack, and her estranged daughter Blacktip struggled to keep their respective packs safe from other predators, including lions, hyenas and leopards, not forgetting the very real presence of crocodiles. Dogs have to drink and are vulnerable to becoming a meal themselves should a cunning reptile be able to catch one.
This did happen. In an agonising real life drama one dog is dragged into a melee of teeth, scales and sprays of water, finally sinking below a calm surface scarred only by a small stream of bubbles.
What are the chances of an exceptional professional film crew being on hand to document this tragedy in clear, sharp detail? I could feel the audience’s torment as we watched this emotive sighting. Complete silence, even though we knew the result, as one we wished the dog would escape her watery demise.
An emotive immediacy surrounded the whole production. We found ourselves almost at arm’s length from a line of very deliberately moving Painted Wolves stalking their prey.
We felt part of the pack – the group breaks up, visible this time from an eye in the sky – drones were used extensively to record every move possible. A line astern formation is broken as one animal moves left, another right while the pace increases; a battle formation of brown, white and black with glistening white rows of fangs in front.
By some unspoken command everything speeds up and the predators run up to full speed, scattering Impalas. Again, skilful photography and editing catches every development, threading a common storyline based around two females.
But Impala are not the only prey. A severe drought results in Baboons becoming quarry for Blacktip’s pack – a situation never before seen, let alone documented.
Blacktip and Tait, daughter and mother, are protagonists that never actually meet in this story. They face similar challenges but are genetically disposed to survival and to keep their packs safe, producing pups annually.
Tait’s pack loses their leaders and return to a previous hunting ground in a disorganised gang when they meet a small group of roaming males. The result is captured on raw emotional film. With mournful hooting growls the animals gather together and a new Dynasty is formed.
As I write I can still feel the skilful way the BBC script writers brought the whole story together in this scene. Sensations of sadness wash over me, bullied out of my conscious as on screen appears a small muzzle of a puppy makes its first tottering steps out of the den.
If the “Painted Wolves” episode is anything to go by the entire series will be something never to be forgotten. Zimbabweans need to see how these fascinating creatures survive in such a harsh environment in our own country.
The Painted Wolf is an extremely endangered species and we may not have them around to watch for much longer. Thank you to Nick Murray and Bushlife Safaris for bringing this show to us.