wild dogs, buffalo and a leopard - pieter coetzer
Guests often ask me "Pieter, what is the most incredible sighting you've ever had?"
This is my response...
I had just come down to the lodge for our morning safari meeting amongst all the rangers at Bush Lodge. With a mug of coffee in hand I strolled over to one of my guests who was eagerly waving at me to come over to the deck overlooking the waterhole, followed by the words "look Pieter, the wild dogs are here!"
I couldn't believe it as we had discussed the possibility of seeing wild dogs the night before, and as they are an extremely rare and exciting animal to see, I never thought we would have them join us for coffee at first light right in front of the lodge.
Needless to say I rang the rest of our party in their suites and somehow managed to get the words "wild dogs" and "hurry" through to them. After a quick cup of coffee on the deck from where we could still see the wild dogs milling around, now taunting a group of male buffalo, we set off in the vehicle and made our way around to the waterhole.
We arrived on the scene just moments later to find the wild dogs still harassing a few of the semi-interested buffalo. Not thinking our morning safari could get any better, we couldn't believe our eyes when a female leopard suddenly popped out of a bush right in front of us!
The leopard started moving with some purpose away from the wild dogs, who at this stage had not noticed her as they were too pre-occupied with their grumpy old buffalo playmates.
We followed the leopard into a nearby dry riverbed and continued following her as she started walking at a more relaxed pace; no doubt thinking she had gone completely unnoticed by the wild dogs...boy was she wrong!!
Out of nowhere the alpha male wild dog came trotting down the riverbank into the riverbed right in front of the leopard. In an instant the leopard dropped onto her belly in an attempt to remain hidden. The wild dog, which was a mere 20 metres away stopped, looked at the shape of the leopard crouched down in front of our vehicle and seemed unsure of what he was looking at. He started cautiously approaching the leopard, getting closer and closer. At this stage I instructed everyone to get their cameras ready as I knew we were in for some serious action...
As the wild dog male came closer and closer still, the leopard tensed her body and waited until he was only 10 metres away. Then she let loose, charging at the wild dog with her tail lashing from side to side, accompanied by a vicious growl.
At that moment the rest of the wild dog pack came charging through the vegetation down the riverbank, like cavalry to the rescue. They set off after the leopard with intent, chasing her straight up the nearest elevated position she could find, a magic guarri tree - not ideal when there's a pack of twenty wild dogs snapping at your heels!
The leopard barely managed to keep her tail clear of the jaws of a few of the more aggressive wild dogs, not believing the predicament she now found herself in only moments after her own charge.
The wild dog pack milled around the base of the leopard's tree for a few minutes, taunting the now very nervous leopard and leaping as high as they could in hopes of snatching a bit of leopard fur between their jaws. The leopard continued to growl and spit at the wild dogs just inches below her, until eventually they lost interest in her.
The wild dogs had not moved more than a couple of yards away when the leopard saw her chance and lept down from the tree and darted into the nearest thicket, where no wild dog would dare to follow an angry leopard!
We continued to follow the dogs as they moved out of the riverbed and set off along the road in front of us at a very relaxed trot, as if what they had just experienced was all just routine in their day-to-day struggle for survival.
I couldn't believe what we had just witnessed...and all this before 06:30 in the morning! What a start to another exciting day in the African bushveld. It once again proves something every ranger says and experiences on a daily basis: "You never know what's going to happen!"