As an award-winning photographer and former editor in chief of National Geographic magazine, Chris Johns has photographed throughout the world, capturing intimate and powerful images of wildlife, people, and places. Here, he shares insight into his 1999 National Geographic magazine assignment in Botswana.
My first sighting of a pack of African wild dogs on the Serengeti Plain emerged out of a mirage. They were a high-octane bundle of energy with beautiful dappled coats and Mickey Mouse ears. I instantly fell in love, but they raced off before I could even pick up a camera. For more than a year I searched for another encounter, but I was constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were disappearing from the Serengeti. I found that the best place in Africa to spend time with wild dogs was in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
For two years, I spent the four-month winter denning season (our summer) with two packs of wild dogs in the lush delta during the flood season. In order to do so, I needed help finding the packs and making sure we did nothing to harm the most endangered large carnivore in Africa. I worked in close collaboration and developed a lifelong friendship with one of the world’s leading experts, Dr. John McNutt, who lives in Botswana.
This photograph of a wild dog pup, looking at me through two acacia trees, shows those magnificent ears, his camouflage coat, and those long, agile legs. His expression radiates curiosity and intelligence, but he knows if he is too bold and reveals too much he is vulnerable to attack. Wild dogs (they are a separate genus and cannot interbreed with any other canid) have been persecuted for decades, so only the smart, cautious ones survive. I made this photograph from a respectful distance in a Land Rover. Every time I look at it I smile and hope that the pup went on to live a full and productive life.
Photographed with a Nikon F5, 600mm, f/4 lens, and Kodachrome 64 film.