The wild dog sightings over the past 6 weeks have been nothing short of phenomenal. At one stage in May there was a 14 day stretch in which some ranger or other from Londolozi saw wild dogs on every single drive. This was significantly aided by a split in the Sabi Sands’ most prominent pack (now numbering 9) that had them runnning in circles around each other in the central and northern sections of our property, trying to find their missing pack-mates.
They did eventually find each other, and all trotted off to fresh hunting grounds.
Dog sightings have settled back into their usual irregular pattern, although they have been coming onto the property more often than usual. A number of days have seen more than one pack on Londolozi, but sadly reports have filtered in that a single dog from a large pack seen in the river was killed by the Sparta pride to the east of our boundary.
Be that as it may, the dogs were back a few days ago, found on Plaque Clearing, and what was at first a fairly uneventful sighting took an unexpected turn.
Wild dogs will usually sleep out the heat of the day, confining their hunting activities to the cooler hours of the mornings and evenings, when lowered temperatures allow them to run further and faster without the dangers of overheating.
On this particular day, three vehicles were sitting with the pack as they got mobile in the evening. There were fairly few impala around, and the dogs were not showing particular interest in the small scattered herds in the distance.
They were heading west, slightly south of the river, when all of a sudden a spotted ball of fury came hurtling out of the bushes towards them!
The Mashaba female leopard in full cry was quite a sight to behold, and the wild dogs – which will usually chase and tree leopards, and even kill them if they can catch them – scattered like autumn leaves before a leaf-blower!
With her tail whirling at full speed and emitting coughing growls, the leopard put the dogs on the defensive, routing them in seconds.
None of the rangers had any idea that the leopard was even there in the first place, and this was certainly very unusual behaviour on her part. The explanation those who witnessed it came up with was that her cub must have been in the vicinity, and the leopards were possibly on a kill. These factors combined can make leopards far more aggressive than usual, which most probably accounted for her antagonistic behaviour.
The pack, tails visibly between their legs, reassembled after their retreat and loped off into the sunset.
The Mashaba female meanwhile, her job done, melted back into the thicket.
Written by James Tyrrell
Photographed by Richard Laburn