Doing Dumb Stuff With Animals Top 10 Countdown, #4: Sitting Down With Wild Dogs

The following is part of a top ten list written originally for The Times (London) by Richard Conniff from his new book Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals (W.W. Norton).

In Botswana, I stayed at a camp where a biologist studied African wild dogs. The location was perfect, sheltered within a stand of trees looking out onto the Okavango Delta floodplains. There was a big tent, fenced in on two sides with bamboo, for the kitchen and dining area. The shower, supplied by a black barrel on a platform, stood in the open on the edge of camp. A previous guest had been showering there one time during a drought when he heard a slurping sound from the other side of the bamboo screen. It was a thirsty lion, which soon came around to the shower side, causing the guest to run naked and screaming through camp. I pitched my tent off on my own and went to sleep that night to the sound of lions growling not too far away, a fathomless bellow which deepened and grew louder until my eardrums rang, then died back down into a sort of bubbling, throaty, airplane-propeller backwash. Next day, the biologist wanted to prove to me that African wild dogs are not the ferocious man-killers of lore. So as we were following a pack of hungry dogs in the interlude between hunts, he said, “See for yourself. Get out of the vehicle.” I sat down on the ground and two dogs immediately circled around to approach me from behind, the jagged edges of their carnassial teeth glinting in the sunlight.