The sun was setting and the pack of wild dogs left the riverbed where they’d spent a relaxing afternoon, to go on an early evening hunting foray. We left the area too as it was getting dark, and following a hunting pack as they disperse in all direction is near impossible. They fanned out through the scrub, and we trundled off down the track, heading homewards.
About a kilometre away we came across a few of the pups milling around on the side of the road. It was as if they’d been told to stay and wait in one place. The adults were nowhere to be seen, but experience tells me that hunting wild dogs often shotgun out in all directions and then regroup near the start point. As we sat with the pups an impala came bulleting out of the bushes – it was literally flying over the bushes like a missile, and right behind it was an airborne wild dog at full tilt. The impala was heading straight towards a fenceline a few
metres away and I knew it had no chance. Again, hunting to a fenceline is classic wild dog behaviour. They are extremely intelligent and will herd and then chase a prey species towards a fence, body of water or some type of natural boundary structure. We heard the inevitable death cry of the impala as it was caught jinxing away from the boundary. The rest of the pack flew in from all directions and the impala was disembowelled instantly. Wild dogs killing an animal is extremely violent and gruesome, but mercifully quick. The animal goes
into instant shock and is dead seconds later. Other predators, like leopards, lions and cheetahs use a much slower technique of suffocating an animal by clamping down on its windpipe, and death can be drawn out. Either way it is terrible to witness, but the quicker the better. (I strongly believe this too for the techniques we humans use to slaughter livestock and am an advocate for the most compassionate method that is not governed by religious or other beliefs.)
I repositioned the vehicle once I was sure the impala was dead and our presence would not interfere in any way. It was absolutely fascinating to see how the adults wolfed down a few big chunks of meat but then quickly stood back to let the puppies feed. As the pups tucked in the adults patrolled the area, making sure no other opportunists like hyenas or jackals tried to sneak in and steal the meal.
Within about half an hour the only thing left was a bloodstain on the earth, and the pack trotted off into the night.
We were on an early morning drive on the Bhanyini plains and were watching the two cheetah brothers scouring the area. There were lots of wildebeest with their young calves about and nearby was a bachelor herd of zebra. As the cheetahs took up positions to hunt a calf one of the zebra stallion kept blocking their view.
It was during our morning drive that we came across fresh tracks of the wild dogs in the Nhoro area, on the northern side of the reserve. The tracks told us they were moving in a southerly direction, and with the sun already heating during this time of the day we knew that it would not be long before they would take a rest in an area that has some water and shade. The tracks kept on heading south and we thought that with plenty of water at Sosiji Dam this could be the area they were heading. But, to our surprise, there was no sign of them there.
The temperature was very high, above 40 degrees Celsius, and so I decided that afternoon to sit and wait quietly in the shade with my guests at Lojaan Dam. Lojaan is one of my favourite places on the property. The scenery is amazing, and this area with its hills, drainage lines and thick bush is the right habitat for buffaloes and black rhino.
Sitting in Hwata blind (our sunken photographic hide) is an incredible way to wait for animals to come and drink, especially when the heat beats down on the earth and scorches the last bit of moisture out of almost everything. At this time of the year one can sit in the blind and always have something to watch, from the endless amount of doves that just seem to keep coming to drink, to the almost resident impalas around the open areas of the pan. It’s always great to see this action, but of course the action that we all hope for is the arrival of the bigger pachyderms.