We left camp to go and follow up on reports of a young giraffe with a broken leg from earlier that morning. As we drove out we heard the loud, resonating calls of hyenas in a very similar area to where the carcass was; the excitement and chatter increased as did the speed of our vehicle as we went to investigate why they were all calling. One only had to put two and two together to know what was happening.
On our arrival, vultures littered the dead trees while the hyenas were running around chasing each other and calling; some were lying only meters away from the carcass, very full-bellied, while others were still feeding and squabbling over pieces of meat. It was the first time the guests had ever seen something like this and were speechless at first, just absorbing the surreal sounds of the hyenas in such close proximity. We were sure the sounds of the hyenas were going to attract the likes of other predators at some stage, what we didn’t know is we were going to be led straight in there.
We spent some time watching all the action, after which we decided to move on and see what else we could find. No more than 200 metres away we saw a large journey of giraffe standing and staring straight in the direction of the kill. Tracker Shadrack Mkhabela said straight away that there is a very good chance the young giraffe that died could be the offspring of one of the females. Although giraffe by nature are very inquisitive and will inspect kill sites we both had a feeling that this was different as they had not moved for quite some time.
We continued with our drive still talking about how exciting what we had just seen was. It was almost two hours later later when tracker Shadrack Mkhabela stopped me and said that from tracks he could see, a pack of wild dogs had just been running along the road.
Ranger Andrea Sithole and tracker Sersant Sibuyi found the pack dogs about ten minutes later lying up next the the road. It had been a very hot day and the wild dogs are known to rest up during the heat of the day but the afternoon was now drawing to an end as the sun started to set over the Drakensberg mountains. Minutes later all of the dogs ears perked up as they all started looking in the same direction, and then they were up and moving!
The dogs continued to follow the howling sound of the hyenas in the distance, we now could also hear the high-pitched yelping and howling of the hyena not far away. We always had the intention of returning back to see the giraffe later in the evening to see what remained but we never thought we were going to follow the pack of wild dogs into the sighting.
The hyenas came out running towards the wild dog to meet them before they got to the kill. The clan managed to keep the dogs at bay where they (the dogs) soon lost interest and carried on running off into the bush, but what we didn’t know was the wild dogs were the least of their problems. We heard a loud thud hit the ground! We all turned around to our astonishment to see some of the giraffe standing strong over what remained of the young giraffe, defending it and trying to chase off the giggling and howling hyenas by kicking at them.
We could not believe what was happening; we knew giraffe were inquisitive but to see them fighting off more than 10 hyena was something I never knew they would do to protect a calve that was already half eaten. The giraffe eventually moved off after standing their ground for over an hour, and simply by being patient the hyenas ended up winning this battle against these towering giants.
The video above left me with two thoughts as we left the hyenas finishing off what remained. 1) wild animals are willing to go to incredible lengths to defend their young and family members, 2) its not always the size that matters in the wild but more so when you group together as one unit you will always be stronger than alone no matter the size difference.