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.
It is always a pleasure to visit Hwata hide, especially during the late afternoon as a number of wildlife species trickle in for a drink. On this very day we were fortunate enough to be rewarded as we had sat in the hide for close to an hour without any signs of wildlife coming in, due to the availability of water at the natural pans; but then we saw a dominant elephant bull arrive.
This was without a shadow of a doubt, one of my best wildlife experiences ever, and I’m going to share it with you from my own perspective, as I was all alone. I’d headed out to my favourite refuge on the reserve, Lojaan Dam. It’s a dam at the foot of a sandstone outcrop, and it holds an enchantment all its own. There’s a dam wall and the water in front of it had receded leaving a patchwork of dry cracked mud. I parked the vehicle behind a rocky area, took my heavy fixed 400 mm lens and camera, and a weighty sandbag, and climbed over the rocks and on to the dam wall.
It was the usual morning routine of not knowing what we are going to see out there, but the moment you board those beautiful open vehicles your heart is full of joy in knowing that you are going to meet Mother Nature at close quarters. After an early morning cup of Zimbabwe’s finest coffee your eyes are wide open and looking through thick bushes for any movements, especially those of the illusive spotted cats. We went through Banyini open plains and there was lots of plains game, a crash of white rhinos and plentiful birdlife.
I hope you’ve already eaten.
While watching a pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) sleeping near a waterhole in the drizzling rain I noticed a few hooded vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) skulking about on the ground. Every now and again they would peck at something and eat it, and I wondered what it was since vultures are scavengers, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. You often see them cleaning up the scraps of meat from a kill made by wild dogs. The dogs hadn’t made a kill nearby, and so it was that my binos and big lens revealed they were eating the wild dogs’ faeces!