Fri 04 Dec 2015

Painted Wolf: Cape Wines With a Conscience

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African Wild Dogs, also known as Cape Hunting Dogs, Painted Dogs or Painted Wolves are canids, but are only distantly related to domestic dogs and wolves due to a split in the evolutionary tree about 3 million years ago.

It may seem strange to create a wine company and develop a range of wines based on an animal like the African Wild Dog, but they have many characteristics that I admire and appreciate. They are charismatic, fierce, compassionate, organised, altruistic, fun loving, energetic and sadly highly endangered.

It is a bit of a tale, or should we say a tail…

Jeremy & Emma Borg

Jeremy & Emma Borg

I was born in South Africa, grew up in Malawi and at 10 years old, was sent to boarding school in the bush in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). This was a special place for a young fellow to grow up. I loved to be out in the bush and was lucky enough to attend a school where we had the freedom to explore whenever we were not engaged in other compulsory activities. I spent countless hours fishing, exploring and looking for snakes to catch. Our family loved to spend holidays in game reserves and I grew up loving the bush, nature and the wildlife of Africa.

I left Africa when I was 18 to attend university in UK. At that time I was strongly averse to the political situation in South Africa, where my family was now living. I therefore only returned to visit three times in the 16 years I lived abroad.

I moved from UK to the USA, had a career as a chef and then had moved into wine. At the end of 1994 I came out to South Africa to work the harvest in the Cape, fully intending to go back to California to my cellar job and viticulture course. A massive curveball was tossed in my direction when my wildlife-filmmaking sister Amanda met Emma (my wife) and her employers, Lloyd and June Wilmot. Lloyd’s Camp in Savuti Botswana was looking for a cook and my sister suggested that I would be a good candidate for the job. By accepting this job and going to work in Botswana, I realised that I had always felt slightly alien in the USA.

But back in the bush, I was home… Africa had reclaimed me.

Life took on a very different complexion and I was transported back into the space which had made my teen years so exciting and adventurous. I worked closely with Emma, and we were able to go out into the bush almost every day, spending hours in nature, watching wild animals or playing with Lloyd and June’s children.

'Pedals4Paws': a fundraising bike ride in Africa, 2013

‘Pedals4Paws’: a fundraising bike ride in Africa, 2013

A favourite game was “bush cricket”: we would use any handy piece of wood (usually a tree branch) for a bat, and dried out elephant dung as our ball. There was always a supply handy and we never had to worry about losing any expensive sports kit.

It was during one of these afternoon cricket games, played on a particularly good wicket at a spot called Harvey Pan where we had an intimate and interesting wild dog encounter. I was bowling to Alistair who was about 5 years old at that time and was startled to see three wild dogs run past me and within a yard or two of Alistair, paying no attention to him at all (which was fortunate). Within a few seconds a female kudu ran past followed by a number of other dogs. We rushed to our Land Rover and followed the hunt. The level of co-operation amongst pack members as they course and dispatch their prey is amazing. They chased the tiring kudu into a muddy pan where she stood her ground. The mud was thick but not too deep and the dogs waded in, up to their bellies. As they closed in on her, the kudu kicked our frantically with one of her back legs, connecting with a dog. This violent blow sent the dog cart wheeling away. A kudu is roughly 5 -6 times the weight of a dog. We were amazed to see a number of pack members break away from the attack and rally around the injured dog twittering (which is the name of their main call) and muzzle-rubbing it. One lone dog, probably the alpha male, was left to stare down the kudu and keep her occupied till the rest of the pack returned. The kudu was soon dispatched and hastily eaten by the 15 or 16 dogs in the pack.

The co-operation and organisation displayed by these dogs was impressive, but it was that instinct to care for an injured individual that stayed with us. It makes them very rare in the animal world, especially amongst predators.

Wild dog relocation to Somkhanda reserve

Wild dog relocation to Somkhanda reserve

Wild Dogs are very effective hunters with seven out of ten hunts ending in success (lions, by comparison, are only successful three times out of every ten attempts). Their communication is very highly developed, using vocalisation, vision and smell as tools to convey meaning. Within the dens, only the alpha male and alpha female produce puppies, but all of the young are raised and nurtured by the whole pack, which means that life in the den is geared towards the survival of the pack as a single entity. This co-operative social structure makes for a very relaxed and congenial den life.

In spite of their hunting prowess and social proficiency, Wild Dogs are highly endangered. In fact, only one African carnivore is more endangered: the Ethiopian Wolf. The whole Wild Dog population in Africa is under 6,000 dogs, split into fragmented populations. Very few countries have truly sustainable Wild Dog populations, and their numbers are slowly slipping away.

South Africa had roughly 400 dogs left. They were once prolific throughout South Africa. The Kruger Park, an area the size of Wales, only supports 200 or so dogs. When the area making up the park was first hunted by white people in the mid to late 1800s the Wild Dog population was huge. A bounty was put on Wild Dogs and they were shot to the point of virtual extinction, and they have never recovered those numbers.

Wild Dogs need space, the more pristine the better. Management strategies that benefit dogs are those best suited to the sustainable conservation of an area. An area the size of greater London (with a normal density of antelope and other prey species) could support a lion population of 300, but only 30 wild dogs.

wild dogs stomping grapes

When Emma and I decided to start our wine company, back in 2007, we made a commitment to support conservation as well. While considering what to call our label, we thought back on all the wonderful Wild Dog encounters we had had in Botswana and how much we admired them, and the decision was made.

Our admiration of their co-operation and social structure was turned into a working model for the company. We work as a pack. As the alpha pair we lead the pack, but every other pack member works with us for the long term flourishing of the whole pack. Each pack member is as unique as each Wild Dog. They sport completely different markings on their painted coats, our pack members each contribute completely different talents, strengths and abilities. The only difference is that we lack the huge ears, prefer to savour our food, especially if it’s accompanied by one of our wines.

We endeavour to make wines that are as interesting and individual as the Wild Dogs that they are named after. Our population of enthusiastic fans is growing which is fortunate, because we are hoping that our donations from sales will help to stop the depletion of Wild Dog ranges and populations and put more paws on the ground in the bush.

Jeremy Borg
Painted Wolf Wines

Find Jeremy and Emma’s wines here

Categories : South Africa

Comments

  1. Peers Carter says:

    What a great and inspiring story . It has made my morning.

    Is the wine drinkable ?

    Peers

    • Peter Molyneux says:

      Yes Peers, it is. We have been buying it for a few years now, when at our South African home. It is a nice wine with consistent quality.

  2. Mike Kettlewell says:

    A lovely story to go with wonderful wines. I too was born and raised in Malawi (Nyasaland) and went to prep school in S Rhodesia before being sent back to the UK to finish my education. Nyasaland was ‘home’ until independence.
    The only time I have seen Wild Dogs was in the Luangwa in the late ’50s.
    Do they still dance the Kwela on the platform at Mahalapi junction?

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