Last summer, not long after releasing a pioneer pack of 13 Africans wild dogs into Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park as part of an ambitious wildlife restoration effort,

Paola Bouley went to see for herself what in the name of Canis Major could have happened to the wild dog pups.

As Gorongosa's carnivore expert, Ms. Bouley knew that Beira, the alpha female of the pack, had been pregnant when the dogs were set free. She knew that closely bonded and highly endangered apex predators had dug a maternity den for their queen, and that Beira had spent a lot of time down there - until one day, she didn't. She and the pack had moved on.

But where were the pups?

As Ms. Bouley was crouching by the abandoned den and peering into the hole, she met the likely answer. A giant African rock python - the continent's  largest species of snake - dropped from a nearby tree, stared her in the face and then slithered off.

''I think it was disappointed that I wasn't a warthog,'' Ms. Bouley said.
For a snake that can grow to 20 feet and swallow an impala whole, even a large litter of Lycaon pictus pups would barely rate as an amuse-bouche.

Yet the wild dogs were unbowed, and this year, after migrating to a less serpent-y sector of Gorongosa's one million acres,  they made up for the lost time in spectacular fashion. Beira gave birth in late April to 11 pups, who emerged from their den in early June and appear on camera trap footage to be thriving, as well as inexcusably cute [although the runt of the litter eventally died].

Of greater surprise to Ms. Bouley and her colleagues , Nhamagala, the beta female of the pack, defied the L.pictus convention that only the resident alpha female gets to breed, and in late June delivered her own litter of eight.

The researchers initially feared that Beira and the other adult dogs might reject the off-label young, leaving them to die of neglect. But no :

The new pups have been swept away into the sens-a-round - frenzy of carnivore kumbaya - a life as an ardently, obligately social mammal for whom, as wild dog expert Scott Creel of Montana State university put it, ''the worst thing that can happen is to be alone.''

The  honor and serving of the latest Global Operational Research on African Paradise, continues. The World Students Society thanks author, Natalie Angier.


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