October 2021

A sighting I’ll never forget

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A sighting I’ll never forget

Damin Dallas
By Damin Dallas
Field Guide

African wild dogs or painted wolves as they are also known, have often been viewed as controversial hunters. Functioning in a pack, the cursorial dog’s technique is to exhaust their prey by chasing it over a long distance, vocalizing to one another and eventually bringing down their prey before swiftly disembowelling it for consumption.

We got to witness this event take place one afternoon when we set out to search the southwestern sections of Singita Sabi Sand. Our goal for the afternoon was to find the Othawa pack of African wild dogs who were seen in the area that morning. We arrived in their last known location which was just west of a prominent dam in the southwestern grasslands only to find that they had moved and were no longer there. We spent the entire afternoon tracking without any luck and we eventually had to call the search off due to the fading light.

Being a fair distance away from the lodge we decided we would start making our way back to the lodge when all of a sudden, an impala ram came ‘flying’ passed the front of our vehicle. We stopped and looked back in the direction from where the impala had come and saw the characteristic figures of 12 African wild dogs hurtling after the impala who had now launched itself into the middle of the previously mentioned dam.

Darkness had fallen and we would typically then leave any and all wild dog sightings as we do not view these animals at night but it just so happened to be full moon on this evening and so we had ample light to view what would transpire without the use of any spotlights.

The impala had moved to a shallow part in the middle of the dam where it settled with the hopes of the pack moving off. We watched for the next 30 minutes as the pack continued to circle the dam, with each individual taking a turn to venture in but never too far in to trouble the impala. The excitement of the pack had drawn the attention of two spotted hyenas who had moved into the area and were now waiting a couple metres away from the dam. Eventually, one pack member through what was most likely too much excitement swam in and across to the impala where it then grabbed hold of the very distressed animal and started dragging it back to the eastern side of the dam. The rest of the pack were now all waiting, jumping, vocalizing and wading in to help pull the animal out of the water.

On cue, as soon as the impala was out of the water, the two hyenas that were patiently waiting had now muscled their way in and began fighting off the pack members. The sounds were incredible, almost indescribable, the shrieks and cackles from the hyenas and the high-pitched chatters from the wild dogs were echoing through the evening air and soon more hyenas showed up, pushing the entire pack of wild dogs off the kill.

The sounds, however, had attracted the attentions of a rival clan of hyenas who appeared out of the shadows in numbers and we were now witnessing two clans fighting each other for the remains of the impala!

The two clans became so focused on fighting each other and trying to drive each out of whichever territory they were in that they forgot about the carcass altogether which the pack of dogs then simply grabbed and ran off with.

A triumph for the pack and an absolutely insane sighting overall which had left everyone in the vehicle, including myself, speechless. We made our way back to the lodge after what had felt like an eternity to reminisce over what had become one of my most memorable sightings ever.