June 2021

Touchdown!

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Touchdown!

On the way back from the sighting with the lions in the previous story, we noticed a smudge of what looked like churned up earth on the airstrip. A private charter had taken off a few hours earlier, and certainly no maintenance was scheduled for the airstrip. As we drove closer a few impala that were grazing on the eastern end of the strip bounded off in front of us. Then the mound of “churned up earth” jumped up and started running towards the impala and us. It was a pack of wild dogs and three hyenas, all of which had been sleeping on the warm gravelly runway.

A couple of the wild dogs gave chase to the impala that shotgunned off in all directions when they too realised what the “churned up earth” really was. It was clear by the blood on the wild dogs’ necks that they had already hunted successfully that morning and were now more interested in resting.

Not content to let sleeping dogs lie however were the hyenas. Hyenas are notorious for trailing wild dogs and then stealing their kills from them. If it is a love/hate relationship it is only one way. While the hyenas might love the dogs for their hunting prowess and being reluctant suppliers of free meals, the wild dogs detest hyenas. Incredible fights break out when the hyenas are trying to pinch a kill from a pack – the dogs chase them, nip them on their backsides, bite and bark, while the hyenas shriek and yelp and double-back and dive in. It’s a numbers game but the hyenas are bigger in individual size, hardier and have a more powerful bite, so invariably they get the spoils.

We couldn’t help being bemused by the scene that played out and adding our own anthropomorphic spin on it. Most of the younger dogs huddled together and rested, while a couple of the older ones lay a little further away. One hyena was particularly desperate for the wild dogs to go and hunt again. It would slowly, cautiously, almost humbly sidle up to one of the dogs as if to encourage it to get up and provide a meal. He was a real brownnoser! The wild dog was having none of it. It refused to move and had that expression of, “Do not annoy me. Do not come any closer. I see you but I am ignoring you. Go and sponge off your own kind. If you breathe on me I will bite you.”

It took quite some time for the hyena to get the message.

After a while the younger dogs woke up and wanted to play. It’s a joy to see them chase after one another, spar, rise up on their back legs and grapple. Playful nips are given, ears are ruffled and tails pulled.

Before the pack got up and went to find some shade at midday, a hooded vulture circled above them and landed. It was looking for any leftover scraps from a kill, but vultures are also known to eat the faeces of wild dogs to obtain the nutrients from the protein-rich excrement.

What’s so unusual about this photo is that you have a circle of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) that are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List with a hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) in the middle that is listed as Critically Endnagered on the IUCN Red List.

How sad it is that our species is responsible for the decline and near extinction of these precious species, but how grateful I am that there are well-managed private reserves that are doing their best, thanks to the funding by generous donors, to protect our animal kingdom.

Jenny Hishin
By Jenny Hishin
Author / Guest Guide