We have been really lucky with sightings of wild dogs as of late, hence why I headed out into the bush early one morning to find the pack we had seen the previous afternoon. Also, my obsession with these animals is pretty real!
As I approached the Londolozi airstrip, we spotted tracks of the pack heading towards the river. James Tyrrell then called us on the radio to say that he had seen one of them briefly but then lost sight of it as it headed into a very thick area between roads. We decided to leave them for the morning and try again that afternoon.
Determined to find them again as the sun started dropping, Barry Bath (trainee ranger), tracker Advice Ngwenya and I drove straight to where they were last seen.
As we were driving, Ranger Sean Zeederberg found them in the Sand River. They had moved into the middle channel, so we decided to track them on foot to best establish which direction they were headed. This proved to be successful as we found them lying in a cool sheltered spot near a large pool of water. They started to greet each other and bounce around, which is always a special sight to witness, and generally an indication that they are about to get going.
We decided to go and get the vehicle so we could get a better view of the dogs – and that is when we saw a sudden flash of rosettes and a loud growl as the Flat Rock male ran into the pack, scattering them in confusion.
This part is not easy for me to write, but this is raw nature.
The leopard grabbed one of the wild dogs by the scruff of her neck. He turned to look at us (I think he knew I was staring at him in disbelief) all the while the wild dog still kicking and groaning in his jaws. The rest of the pack had now realised what had happened and immediately ran at the leopard, giving their best effort to save the female. Unfortunately, the Flat Rock male had already hoisted the wild dog up into a sausage tree.
The pack was now desperate; a few of them were circling the base of the tree and even attempting to jump up the trunk. The rest of the pack had now started running out of the river, the pups in front so as to keep them out of danger. We were still on foot, watching from literally thirty metres away, aghast.
We followed at a distance as they ran, and every so often one of the adults would look back, hoping to maybe catch sight of the now missing pack member. This was the really tragic part to witness; their obvious distress.
The distraught dogs ran and ran and RAN!!!! We left them running off into the darkness…
Around noon the next day, we went back to the sausage tree to do some investigating and hopefully get some closure. We caught a quick glimpse of the Flat Rock male as he slowly moved off into a thicket. We then managed to get a good look at the hoisted wild dog. There wasn’t much left but from what we could gather we think it was an adult female. It is not an easy thing to witness but as I said earlier, this is raw nature.
The fascinating thing about this very sorrowful event was the behaviour of the wild dogs; it reiterated how strong the bonds are between pack members.
But to end on a positive note, this particular pack is still 15 members strong which is pretty impressive!