On a relatively cool morning not so long ago, we decided to cross through the Sand River and treat our guests to a drive filled with beautiful scenic views. The best thing about the northern parts of Londolozi, named Marthly, is that you never know what is in store for you. While the other few guides were on a search for the ever-elusive pack of wild dogs, presumed to be within our borders, we were on the search for a pride of lions. Little did we know what was in store for us.
While spending some time watching a couple of giraffe from across a lower lying dry river bed, a herd of impala scattering in all directions caught our attention. Such behaviour with no alarm calls could only mean one of two things; cheetah or wild dogs were chasing them. A moment later tracker Joy Mathebula spotted a pack of wild dogs in hot pursuit of the impala. Yelling to my guests to hold on tight, I put my foot down as we went racing after the pack. As we came out into a clearing we caught a glimpse of an impala at high speed being followed by two of the dogs. Doing my best to stick with them, they disappeared behind a small bush. As we came around the other side they had caught the poor impala. One had it by the neck and the other by the tail; all three animals stood there as if frozen in time. Such contrasts in their expressions; the impala looking terrified while the wild dogs almost as if they were grinning in excitement. Before we knew it the rest of the pack arrived. Wild dogs move around at a continuous trot until they detect a potential prey. Locking on to a target, the chase begins. Using their incredible stamina and endurance they run their pray to exhaustion before taking it down.
As cruel as most think the wild dog’s hunting technique is, this is a result of humans viewing it in an emotional way. Although very gruesome in the way they disembowel their prey, the resultant death comes a lot quicker than the death by strangulation of feline predators. With dogs lacking the powerful forelimbs possessed by cats, they rely on their sharp teeth and strong jaws to subdue their prey. Often targeting the softer rear end, such as the groin or belly. Disembowelling causes prey to succumb through loss of blood and shock almost instantaneously. Their adrenalin-fuelled bodies probably numb the pain at this stage.
Hyenas over the centuries have wised up to the success of the wild dogs and are often seen trailing behind packs at a distance, waiting to steal their kills.
In this particular instance, the struggle for the impala was over almost immediately and the six wild dogs made short work of their prize. One dog always stood guard and circled around the rest as they fed. Very alert and nervous each dog popping its head up to look around in between each mouthful, as if knowing what was about to happen. Having eaten the majority of their kill the dogs suddenly saw a hyena come into view and made a bee-line straight for them.
The single hyena showed some serious courage and managed to claim the kill from the pack. By collectively mobbing the hyena, each taking turns running in from behind it to try bite it on the hind quarters, the dogs put up a good fight. The hyena almost appeared to sit on the kill and defend it while calling for reinforcements. By tucking its tail in and sitting down it tried to prevent any further damage to its behind, although still coming out with numerous wounds. The wild dogs did not back down even though they were already on the losing side, proving the effectiveness and value of existing in packs. As the reinforcements of their arch enemy arrived they swiftly abandoned what remained of the impala kill and moved away.
The hyenas continued to fight over the remains of what was left, and the pack moved out of the area. Bellies full, their morning was a success and so was ours. We drove alongside them for a short while then let them continue on their way.