At Gorongosa National Park, scarred by civil war, scientists are answering fundamental questions about ecology and evolution, and how wildlife recovers from devastation.
GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK, MOZAMBIQUE — The 14 African wild dogs were ravenous, dashing back and forth along the fence of their open-air enclosure, or boma, bouncing madly on their pogo-stick legs, tweet-yipping their distinctive wild-dog calls, and wagging their bushy, white-tipped tails like contestants on a game show desperate to be seen.
Since arriving at the park three months earlier, as they acclimated to their new setting and forged the sort of immiscible bonds that make Lycaon pictus one of the most social mammals in the world, the dogs had grown accustomed to a daily delivery of a freshly killed antelope to feast on.
But it had been nearly 48 hours since the pack’s last meal and, hello, anybody out there?
Ah, here comes the food truck now. Paola Bouley, the park’s associate director of carnivore conservation, and two of her colleagues rode up to the fence in a pickup, opened the gate, edged the vehicle just inside the boma and began lowering the carcass of a male impala.
As she stood in the back of the truck, Ms. Bouley gripped a rope tied to the antelope’s rear legs, with the intention of luring the dogs from the comfort of their enclosure by slowly dragging their breakfast outside. Nice idea, but the dogs couldn’t wait.
They snatched at the carcass, tried disemboweling it in midair, yanking at the rope so violently they practically pulled the extremely fit Ms. Bouley to the ground. Stop, stop! she cried.
New plan: Let’s tie the rope to the pickup instead.
Again, lure and vehicle inched out through the gate, and this time the dogs followed, their coats the color of army camouflage, their ears the size of soap dishes. One, two, three, four, a baker’s dozen.
The dogs bounded to freedom and fell on the impala en masse, just as the scientists hoped they would do. Except something was wrong. The dogs stopped eating. They ran around in confusion.
One dog was missing, and not just any cur: It was the top dog, the alpha female of the pack. Where was their queen?…
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