Yesterday morning some wild dogs were spotted briefly in the eastern sector of the reserve, we were unable to make it into the area before we lost sight of them and so we decided to drive around that same area yesterday afternoon in the hopes that we would get lucky… and lucky was an understatement!
We arrived to a pack of docile dogs dozing in a Red Bushwillow thicket in the late afternoon, dappled light streaming in from the canopy above, back set by the reds, oranges and yellows of the fading Bushwillow leaves to create a tranquil and surreal scene. Close to our boundary, we hoped they would become mobile in our direction and within 5 minutes they did.
One followed by one, they made their way towards us, greeting one another in a cacophony of excited chirps and twitters, reinforcing their pack bonds in the process. The pack was brought up from behind by a heavily pregnant alpha female who was being fussed over by the rest of the family. They were very excitable and beginning to pick up speed and so we did the same, weaving our way in and out of large trees, rocks and logs, trailing the pack as they sped up through the thicket, desperately trying to keep track of them in their wake.
A few obstacles meant losing ground and we inevitably lost visual of them as they sped ahead, leaving us in the dust. Our Land Cruisers were no match for the speed and agility of the dogs as they sprinted around in a mad rush looking for something to hunt. After about 10 minutes of searching, we found them again, trotting towards a waterhole where they were met by a single hyena.
Upon seeing the dogs, the hyena began squealing hysterically as the dogs ran in to harass it. The high pitches squeals echoed their way across the plains, silencing the bush for some minutes afterwards. Chaos ensued and within 5 minutes, the pack of 7 dogs were joined by 6 hyena, with more on the way.
They investigated each other in a playful way and occasionally the dogs would corner and harass a hyena. Its screams brought the rest of the clan to its rescue and the dogs ran off in hot pursuit by the team of hyenas. Not one of which was a match for the dog’s speed and agility. The dogs were joined by more dogs and the hyenas joined by more hyenas, both rallying more members in what would end up in a clash of clans.
Both dogs and hyenas took turns in chasing, nipping and harassing members of the other side only to be chased off as their team came to their defence. This continued for several minutes until stillness overcame each side. Both stood their ground for a while, each taking turns to have a drink of water until a Mexican stand-off ensued, resulting in the dogs ceasing any efforts of a hunt.
With 9 hyenas in the area, any potential success on a hunt would not be worth their effort as the hyenas would more than likely steal their kill or badly injure one of the family in the process. The atmosphere and excitement of both the dogs and hyenas was electric, combined with the awe and utter euphoria amongst the guests, it made for one of the most exciting sightings of my 5-year career as a safari guide.
Being able to witness African Wild Dogs in their natural environment is special. Very special. But seeing them interact, hunt and rally against a large clan of Spotted Hyenas is something I will never forget. The utter chaos, excitement and panic was infectious and had the guests entranced for the whole experience, at a loss of which way or where to look.
Two of the most charismatic, courageous and caring social carnivores in the whole of Africa interacting with one another is what safari dreams are made of. After the chaos was over and each side had surrendered, we followed the fading sun back to the lodge with smiles etched on our faces and lifelong memories of the true nature of the African bushveld seared into our minds.