The best bad smell there is

Pamushana | August 2016

Without having to look down at the ground for spoor I knew the wild dog pack had run along the path only moments ago. The air was thick with their pungent scent – certainly the best bad smell I know! Every time I recognise it I know there’s a chance of finding these often impossible to find canines.

I rounded the bend and there they were – some of the adults and last year’s pups. They were waiting to
hear if any of the others had made a kill, but they hadn’t and soon they all regrouped and trotted off to the dam further down the path for a quick drink.

Here’s were I faced one of the best dilemmas of my life, because on the opposite bank was a black rhino making his way to the water. I could scarcely believe my luck, or take photos fast enough, when I had two of the world’s most endangered species in frame at once. And there was lovely soft pre-dawn light!

The activity and movement of the wild dog pack running along the shore ‘spooked’ the black rhino and it circled back and trotted off into the thickets with disgust. Then the wild dogs disappeared over the crest, in full hunting mode. Now what to do? Try and chase after hunting wild dogs – a pursuit that is often unsuccessful, frenetic and disappointing; or wait to see if the black rhino returns for his drink. I chose the later. I poured myself a mug of coffee and decided to sit it out…

Well, the black rhino didn’t return, but two extraordinary things happened which I never would have seen had I not been sitting there in patient silence.

First of all a common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) appeared and drank from an inlet, just as the sun was rising. My field guidebook tells me they are independent of water as long as they have green food – and there is still greenery about… We see duikers often enough – but I have never got a good photograph of one as they always dash away with a distinctive diving, zig-zag motion. The word ‘duiker’ means ‘diver’.

Then a flash of green and yellow caught my eye. A flock of brown-headed parrots (Poicephalus cryptoxanthus) flew down to drink from the same inlet. You often hear them, but it is rare to get a good clear sighting of them!