the hunt is on

two days earlier

The bush is full of surprises and you never know what is waiting around the next corner or on the next game drive. We had been treated well over the last few game drives; sightings of the lionesses with their ten cubs and plenty of general game, not to mention the exceptionally healthy looking male leopard traversing his territory. Our safari plan for the night would take us to the south looking for rhino and hippopotamus. The hand sign from my trusty tracker Polly brought me to a stop and when he climbed off the tracker seat I followed him to check and assess the tracks he had found. Polly circled the tracks and I had to look twice at the spoor embedded in the soft sandy soil. I couldn't believe my eyes; wild dog tracks? The tracks were heading south and as expected with dog tracks, they were all over the place. Wild dogs cover vast areas in a short period of time and when tracking them you need to think way ahead of your actual location. During our safari we found rhinos as well as a lot of other game but no wild dogs, at least not that day.

wild dog running at sabi sabi

the day of the hunt

Wild dogs, the speed at which they travel and the unthinkable distances they could have covered in the last two days dominated any attempt at conversation. We all had theories and new plans on how and where we would find these wild dogs but no one expected that they would be found on Earth Lodge's doorstep.

They were spotted trotting along on the road when the radio call came in and a sigh of victory flooded my body as I was making my way to the sighting. One, then two wild dogs became twelve, as we were told to follow them into a drainage line close to the lodge. The pack of dogs included four month old pups and to watch the interaction between all of them made our lengthy search over the last couple of days worthwhile. While we were all reducing the memory space substantially on our digital cameras, we saw a sudden change of energy in their body language. The physical contact between one another lessened by the second. One, two then three started separating from the pups, all heading in the same direction. As soon as the last adult dogs had said their goodbyes, we left the pups huddled up, hidden in the drainage line. We joined the pack and it was clear that they were out on the hunt.

wild dog hunting nyala at sabi sabi

It was a true masterpiece to see the pack of wild dogs hunt. I followed them in silence but inside I was overwhelmed with excitement, knowing that they have a 95% success rate when hunting. Their brisk walking became scurrying, crisscrossing the areas and scanning for any possible prey. For some inexplicable reason the wild dogs took note of the frozen grey duiker but showed no interest in it. They just kept running. Their reason for ignoring the grey duiker became more visible to us as they closed in on a drainage line close to Earth Lodge. A young nyala bull was placidly feeding, unaware of the danger closing in on him. The wild dogs increased their speed. They darted in steadfast directions cornering the still unaware nyala. With the nyala's head down it had to be the turn in the slight breeze that gave away the approaching pack of wild dogs. All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye he looked up and dashed out of his position. He was running for his life.

wild dog pup

The wild dogs that had become invisible during the hunt came darting from all different directions creating chaos and confusion. We tried our best to keep our eyes on the nyala which was leaping and sidestepping the jaws of the wild dogs.

There were all kinds of barriers blocking his escape routes. Earth lodge came closer and closer and the lodge itself would be the worst obstacle to corner him. A room at Earth lodge appeared in our line of vision and we nervously watched to see which way the nyala would go. The nyala made his split second decision; a decision which would cost him his life.

We were to slow to catch up with him, but the single thump gave away the outcome. The nyala was down. The wild dogs came from everywhere, running in to claim their prize.

They feed as quickly as they hunt and therefore any other predators in the close proximity of a wild dog kill won't pick up on the scent of their victory. It was a matter of minutes before the red painted grass was the only evidence left of a recent hunt. Victoriously they returned to their young bringing back what was promised before leaving on their hunt.

by: zwai ntloko (bush lodge ranger)

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