African wild dogs number between 3000 and 5500 in the whole wild world, and today there’s one less than there was before. We were hot on the tracks of a young leopard who was proving elusive, when we suddenly found ourselves pretty much in the middle of a pack of these gorgeous dogs. We followed the adults and five young pups, driving hard over everything in our way to keep up with them, as they ran through the scrub, clearly in hunting mode. Their highly civilized social structure, which is fiercely protective of young pups, the elderly, the sick and the injured alike, forms a fascinating contrast with their obviously feral instincts and pure gumption – we saw them leaping at a rhino probably twice their combined size and weight! The pack continued on its way, and not wanting to lose sight of such a rare animal, we followed.
We had just entered a small valley, while the dogs, ahead of us of course, were making their way up the other side. The first strange thing I noticed was that they were all looking back into the valley, and then started running back down. Before seeing anything I remember hearing someone saying “Oh my god, a leopard is attacking the wild dogs,” and then I saw it. The leopard, who we later found out was the Maxabene 3:2 Young Male, otherwise known as Pinky – named so because of his extraordinarily pink nose, had charged straight into the pack, targeting a young pup. We had seen this pup minutes before frolicking with its siblings, tumbling here and there on the road, but now, with one great swipe of his paw, the leopard had incapacitated it entirely.
It was an attack born of desperation and was not to go unavenged – the entire pack turned and pounced on the leopard, refusing to let him finish the job. They got him down on the ground, as I watched in horror, trying through the tears that filled my eyes to bring my camera around to capture the tangle of bodies. He writhed and wriggled somehow out of their grasp and bounded up a tree out of reach within seconds. My heart was in my mouth and I almost didn’t know where to look, till a sudden high-pitched scream filled the air and someone yelled “Hyenas!” My camera moved almost before my eyes, and my finger was pressed down hard on the button, trying to capture digitally events that were moving too fast perhaps for my memory. With the pack focused on the leopard, hyenas had appeared within 20 seconds, sunk their teeth into the injured pup, killed it and begun to make off with it. The pack worried the hyenas for a few seconds, snapping at their haunches, but soon realizing there was no hope for the pup, they cut their losses and ran. The safety of the four remaining pups was paramount.
The hyenas brought the carcass within 5 feet of the jeeps, and began their little feast. There were three, but hierarchy within a clan dictates that the alphas feed first and so it was that two fed and one watched right till the end. The smell of death pervaded the air, reaching even my blocked sinuses, and the sound of bones crunching interspersed with their horrific shrieks is something I will never forget. The shock seemed to have numbed me, as I made sure my camera was steady as I recorded the hyenas tearing the carcass of the puppy to pieces. I watched and recorded as one hyena tore off a paw and stood with it sticking sideways out of his mouth, while another ripped flesh from bone, the poor pup’s head flopping limply from its powerful jaws. I almost couldn’t breathe but the recording went on.
In the meantime, the wild dog pack had disappeared but the leopard was still up the tree in front of us. Once a certain calm prevailed, he slowly made his way down, and began creeping towards where the hyenas were devouring the carcass, their paws, chests and muzzles spattered with blood. He moved ever so slowly and carefully, and though we could see him clear as day, the hyenas hadn’t a clue he was around. Still, they picked up the carcass and moved to a spot further away, while we watched the empty belly of this desperately hungry leopard heaving with each breath. The third hyena reappeared suddenly, forcing the leopard up another tree. Grasping at every flash of a photographic opportunity, I recorded him watching the hyenas take the kill that was perhaps rightfully his further and further away. I knew he had to come down some time, so my camera remained trained on him, and of course, come down he did. The hyenas were far away by this time – his chance, however slim, was gone.
We chose not to follow the grieving dogs, the starving leopard or the feasting hyenas, because each of them deserved their peace. Mike has said time and again, that whether we see it or not, there is no doubt that animals mourn. It was time to let the pack mourn the death of the fourth of their litter of eight, while the leopard searched for scraps for his meal and the hyenas gorged. Another thing Mike says fairly often is that The Lion King did for hyenas what Jaws did for the Great White Shark. Though it’s clear that hyenas outrank, outfight, and outsmart most other predators, it’s hard to let go of the prejudice against them, specially when you hear them shrieking – but let go we must. They won the day’s fight fair and square.
It’s a harsh world out there – survival of the fittest, they say. We go about our daily lives uncaring of others, perhaps to the extent of ruthlessness. But the beauty of bush, coming back to pearls of wisdom cast by Mike, is that they kill because they must eat – there is absolutely no deceit in it.
Londolozi as a whole is impossible to forget, and perhaps one would say our luck has been extraordinary, but I prefer to believe that a lot of it has to do with Jerry and Mike and the skill and passion they bring to their day-to-day work. They’ve been our guides to the animal world – its love and loss, gentleness and brutality, life and death – embodying the indomitable all-encompassing spirit of the African bush.
Written by: Sanjana Manaktala (Londolozi Guest)
Photographed by: Sanjana Manaktala and Brian Datnow (Londolozi Guests)
Good grief Sanjana, what an experience! I would have held my breath whilst the dogs attacked the leopard (thank goodness he had a very lucky escape) and I don’t think I could have watched the hyenas rip the puppy apart, but all the same, one cannot help marvel at the speed and voracity of both the hyena and wild dogs when they have a successful hunt. Certainly one of those rare sightings that you will never forget – thank you for sharing and for having the ability to keep taking photos! Extraordinary stuff!
Absolutely Amazing series of events,wow
Wowww wowww woww…
What a sight. This kind of story happen once in a lifetime as a Guest, and pretty much the same for so many guides whom are working on a daily basis in the bush.
The way this story was told made me like have been there, I can almost hear the sounds, screams of the Dogs, the leopard, and even the hyeanas. What a day in the bush.
It’s always sad and difficult for people to see wild dog Puppies been killed by lions or leopards but, it is what it is , Mother Nature is not soft…
I wish I was there anyway, it was a wild thing.
wow what an exciting and sad moment never to be forgotten for sure. Thank you so much for sharing your story which was so well written I felt like I was right there on the edge of my seat. just wow.
This news is breaking my heart. I know it is nature, but just two weeks ago I watched these wonderful pups play and that very leopard walk by our vehicle with his injured eye and worried for him. I wish Pink Nose at least would have been able to benefit from the pup’s death. Amazing pictures Sanjana and Brian and indeed a once in a lifetime experience.
It makes me sad, but you expressed it correctly, they kill because they must eat. One must respect that and acknowledge the rest of the pack did what they could to help, and then cut their losses. That must be hard to watch…thanks for hanging in there to record it. MOST times I envy your job…sometimes not.
And what a lovely picture of the meal that could have been (the rhino for the dogs) the one who should have feasted (the leopard on a pup) and no trace of those who interrupted both feasts. They seem to be sharing a nod and a wink…thanks and sorry. They are both amazing!
Brutal, frightening, but what a story…and you captured it magnificently….photos and text. Thank you.
Your words had me literally on the edge of my seat, with a lump in my throat. A shockingly well told tale of the brutality that the wild shows. A once in a lifetime experience for sure. Terrifyingly fascinating. I strongly admire your choice to leave all parties to mourn and have their peace. Thanks again.
Can u have the describing of the wild event more simple and also the video of the story!!
Beautifully written piece! And excellent photographs there Sanjana x
GREAT JOB SANJANA. super super pix. i ENVY you being in south africa.
wish you a lot of success & many more.
Fantastic ! You’re lucky to be in such a country to be closed the aimals! Wonderful ! Kisses. Gigi
What an experience recited wonderfully, never to be forgotten in one’s life. You have guts grandchild. What a flow in your writing. BRAVO! It was as if I was holding the camera, trembling but
steadfast glued to YOUR thoughts. Thanks.
Great going Sanjana! Elegant writing, riveting pictures! Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Excellent work, Sanjana! 😀
I can only echo the compliments and comments made above. My friends and I were lucky enough to see the pups while they were still in their den a couple of weeks ago. It makes it even more personal when you have seen the animals. Thank you for your riveting account. Makes me want to return even more in the hope that I too could experience the circle of life…for better and sometimes worse.
Sanjana,Very impressed to read such a well written and photographed piece from our brave young grandneice. Wish you all the success in life.With lots of love, Masi
Thank you for the respect you have shown for each of these animals. Nature has such a hard way about her sometimes…
It’s fascinating how you have captured African wild dog ,hyena ,leopard, big giant rhinoceros and the veracity of nature. Everything is elegant -the piece ,the photos the idea. It’s good to know you are learning about life through an unconventional angle. Keep up the learning ….good luck!