Endangered vultures endangered by an endangered wild dog

Pamushana | May 2017

I had just driven into the parking lot at the lodge at about 11 am when a radio call came from our scouts that they’d seen a wild dog (Lycaon pictus) on the central open areas. Further quizzing revealed that the dog was lying down. Normally I would not respond to a fleeting glimpse of a wild dog hunting if I’m far away, because trying to follow wild dogs is like trying to follow a bowl of rubber bouncy balls dropped on a borderless brick floor. But I decided this was worth a shot, and sped off to the scene.

We found the dog lying in the shade beneath a bush. After watching it for a while a few white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) started circling above. Then more and more came until the sky was filled with a circling swarming mass of these endangered avian scavengers. They started landing near the wild dog and we wondered what on earth was going on. Then the dog got up, walked a few paces to a clump of long grass and began feeding on something. It turned out that it had killed an impala all on its own and was resting after the kill.

I don’t know if it tried to call in the rest of its 27 pack members after the kill, but it was unusual that it was on its own and the kill was mostly intact. Either she had splintered from her natal pack and was looking to form or join a new pack, or her natal pack were simply too far away to hear her contact calls after she made the kill.

But now the vultures were approaching and their march was relentless. She would try and gulp a few mouthfuls down before chasing some vultures away. The more she chased the greater they encircled. At one point some vultures got hold of the least desirable stomach contents and the dog chased them off, bounding through the grass at them and snapping mouthfuls of air – until it actually caught a vulture by the tail feathers! The wild dog had no interest in killing a vulture and the horrified bird tumbled through the air and grass before making its escape.

The dog fed on about half the impala before the pressure from the vultures became too much and it abandoned its huge meal to a white-backed feasting frenzy.