When I arrive in South Africa I always pick up a few magazines to read during my stay. Along with Getaway I also picked up a copy of the February edition of Africa Geographic. The first article I read was “Pack Attack”: news and general information on African wild dogs in Mozambique. Although the animal is critically endangered and it is estimated that there are less than 5,500 left in the whole of Africa the article had a positive feel to it.
Most tourists dream of encounters and sightings of Africa’s ‘Big 5’, lions, leopards, elephant, rhino and buffalo whilst on safari. Passing through herds of plains game such as zebra and wildebeest as they search for the big game animals. Wild dogs are generally not included in those pre safari visions. Maybe this is due to their rarity and a general lack of awareness. I have been lucky enough to see individual wild dogs on two previous occasions, in Hluhluwe, but never a pack. I was not aware of the wild dog’s plight until I saw my first dog in 2006. Now with a better understanding of the wild dog’s continual struggle for survival, I had a dream of one day encountering a pack
On the Sontuli Loop in the Imfolozi game reserve I have had some of my most memorable encounters and sightings. These have included lions and cheetahs. It is a place where things can happen and dreams can become a reality.
Stopping at a view point my father in law sees two hyenas on the sandy river bank down below. He thinks they are the rare brown hyena, I think they are the more common spotted hyena. As I drove to the next view point for a better look a spotted hyena appeared in the road right in front of our car. It looked agitated, stopped and turned away from us to look back at where it had come from. As we watched a wild dog made its way along the road towards the hyena. When a second dog came into view the hyena ran into the thick bush at the side of the road. Both dogs were quickly in pursuit. Easing around the bend in the road there was a vehicle parked up and two more dogs were walking towards us. Beyond the vehicle and slightly hidden behind a large rock I could see another dog.
On slowly pulling around the parked vehicle there they were, the whole pack! I could see over fourteen of them, and they were finishing off a kill. We sat in silence and just watched. The dogs were not quiet. There were shrieks and a chorus of high pitched shrill calls and squeals. At this point the reality of what I was watching suddenly hit me. It is what I call a “Chariots of Fire” moment. A moment of emotion that comes from the stomach and forms a lump in throat. It comes from an overwhelming sense of realisation of achievement. This moment came from the realisation of how privileged I was to be watching some of Africa’s most endangered animal’s only metres from me.
The pack had taken less than ten minutes to consume their prey. Now with blood soaked faces dogs pulled, tug-of-war style, over the remaining bones. As the ribs and joints, with only a sparse covering of flesh, split the dogs took their reward and ate alone. In less than an hour I had been given a brief insight into the dog’s pack life. There were the initial dogs that had chased the hyena off. Then there were other dogs who appeared to patrol the periphery of the kill zone. I had witnessed a clear pecking order in the feeding, submissive behaviour and post feast grooming.
All special moments come to an end and as another car was approaching the scene it was time to move on. With great reluctance I pulled away so as to allow the next car to view the pack. The pack was now mostly quiet and relaxed. The blood stains on the road and the odd bone being chewed were the only evidence remaining of the kill.