Two days ago I experienced the most incredible wild dog sightings I have had in two years of guiding. Our drive started off watching an amazing dazzle of zebra who were feeding amongst the giants of Africa, the African elephant. The elephants showed such grace feeding and trying to collect the last few fallen Marula fruits. We left these beautiful animals and continued with drive.
My guests (Rosemary, Martin and Gabriel) and I had chatted about wild dogs and how it had taken me 23 years to finally see my first wild dogs. We were talking about their society and interactions with one-another and how they are such an endangered species. The radio cracked, a ranger announced with excitement that he had located ‘Madach’ (the Shangaan name for wild dogs) not far from where we were, this stopped me in mid conversation and a huge smile lit my face up. I mentioned this to Heavy (my tracker) and he began to say ‘go go go’ with huge excitement as this is one of his favourite animals.
There lay these majestic animals, a pack of 12 wild dogs on the road – 6 adults and 6 puppies. The animals started to show signs of waking, yawning and grooming one another, just what we wanted as we hoped that they might start to hunt. The pack started to get mobile running down the road towards an area we had just passed where there was a huge herd of impala. The anticipation and imagination grew continually as to what the dogs would do.
Suddenly, noses down, ears pinned forward the pack had detected the smell of the impala herd. The wild dog’s bodies were tense with excitement and their blood began to surge with adrenaline. They lowered their bodies, ears focused and eyes locked like soldiers creeping up on an enemy. The dogs began to stalk. “Answer me, you who believe that animals are only machines. Has nature arranged for this animal to have all the machinery of feelings only in order for it not to have any at all?” – Voltaire.
The dogs took off like the sprinters in the 100 meters Olympic Games final. The pure speed and chaos that erupted on a huge open clearing created a crisis among the impala, zebra and wild dogs. “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy. We followed quickly in pursuit of the dogs as the impala were showing their strength and endurance often jumping high and rocking like rocking horses. Heavy immediately pointed and told me to go to the drainage line as he had seen an impala lamb that had been isolated there. As we approached the Alpha male and another male wild dog had tackled this lamb to the ground and began to open it up like a surgeon. The scene was gruesome but the death came quickly as we heard the last bellows of the impala lamb echo. The carcass was shredded and devoured within minutes whilst the rest of the pack was still uncounted for. “By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.” – Ernest Heminway, A Moveable Feast.
The silence broke as the pack had heard this feasting going on and came sprinting through the clearing all whimpering and giggling with excitement. There was nothing left but scraps, the puppies knew that this was not a problem and began to nip, bite and whipper around the Alpha male’s mouth. Selflessly he regurgitated food to ensure that the pups would get a meal as the light was decreasing.
A game now ensued as the puppies had found the impala lamb’s head and it became a game by throwing it around and chasing one another. The pack all gathered around a watering hole, drank and started moving again. The light began to sink and the moon was rising, slowly the dogs disappeared into the moonlight. What an amazing experience to have been able to witness and share with guests and these amazing animals.