One of the questions I was asked when talking to friends about making the move from the corporate world to life in the bush was,
“Aren’t you going to get bored of just taking people on game drives every day?”
This could not be further from the truth. The combination of meeting new people from all walks of life and being in one of the most incredible game reserves in Africa provides the perfect foundation for a hungry mind to never be left wanting. Everyday I wake up excited at the possibilities that await us and as much as each drive brings with it its own unique sightings there are those days when you find yourself in awe of Mother Nature.
A few weeks ago we set out on our afternoon game drive with the intention of finding a pack of wild dogs in the southern part of Londolozi, quite close to the Sand River. They had been seen earlier in the morning and it is normal, even on colder winter days, for wild dogs to spend the majority of the daylight hours settled up resting. When we found them they were lying in a very open area all spread out, so much so that my guests and I kept remarking that each time we looked up it seemed like there were more and more wild dogs.
We patiently sat waiting while the sun approached the horizon and the mosaic of colours in the sky began to form only to be matched by the uniquely mottled coats of each painted wolf in front of us.
Just as we felt the crisp evening air start to settle in, the wild dogs started to stretch, yawn and began moving around. One of my favourite characteristics of wild dogs is their playfulness as they chase each other around with apparent joy yet with the purpose of maintaining social cohesion within the pack.
Post play, it’s all about business.
Off they set following the heavily pregnant alpha female and it was some sight to see 18 wild dogs trotting down the road in front of us. Each vehicle took turns to loop up head of them in the clearing and when it was ranger Dan Hirschowitz’s turn he quickly updated us on the radio,
“There’s a herd of impala up ahead.”
If an impala sees a leopard or lion they will immediately give off a distinctive alarm call before the rest of the herd will join in, in unison. The impala are essentially letting the predator know that they have lost the element of surprise and therefore their chances of catching them are drastically reduced. Often the impala herd will even move closer to make sure they have a good view of where the predator is. This behaviour with wild dog is, however, vastly different.
Wild dogs, unlike their stealthier counterparts, rely on a different hunting strategy. It is one of endurance and stamina. The result is that if an impala sees a wild dog there is no value in letting the wild dog know that it has seen it because it will not be able to outrun the cunning canine. Instead the impala disperse in all directions to try and separate the pack to increase their chances of not being singled out.
As the wild dog caught sight of the impala herd they picked up the pace with feverish haste, as did we trying to follow in hot pursuit. Up hills, down drainage lines, over bushes and before we knew it we had all lost sight of the wild dogs. We were all on the radio to each other to ensure we were covering different areas to try and see the glimpse of a white tail bounding through the bushes and then out of nowhere tracker Tshepo Dzemba shouted,
“Lion, lion, lion!”
Right in front of us was a lioness carrying an impala that the wild dog must’ve caught as the rump had already been significantly dismantled. She had taken the opportunity to rob the wild dogs of their prized kill. We followed her through a very dense guarri thicket only to be taken for an even better surprise.
The video below ranks as one of my best moments in the bush so far.
As harsh and unpredictable as nature can be I am in awe of the lengths that the animals here go to in order to survive. Nothing comes easily.