Opportunity strikes

Pamushana | January 2017

This was a phenomenal, intense, gory, vicious and raucous sighting. We found the pack of wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) on the hunt. They zeroed in on a small herd of impala, then shotgunned out everywhere as the impala fled for their lives. I followed some of the pups, and they missed an impala by a hair’s breadth, then lay down in the road to catch their breath. Their ears were like satellite dishes and twitching every which way. At the very moment that Time called me on the radio to say that one of the adults had caught an impala and made the kill, the pups all looked in one direction, jumped up and sprinted off. The adult was calling for the rest of the pack to join her at the kill.

We arrived at a bloodbath, just as the pups did. The adults stood back letting the pups feed first. As you can see from this first photo they tucked in and dragged the carcass spilling intestines and stomach contents as they went, while the adults stood around at a pool of blood-soaked earth.

They fed in a frenzy, but little did they know what was about to happen. Two hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) had trailed the wild dogs, and were now cavorting around the outskirts of the scene, calling frantically for back-up from their clan. Two hyenas are no match for 20+ wild dogs on a kill, but three or more and it’s possible that the table could be turned. Hyenas go their own way when they hunt, so the other clan members must have been very far away. The two hyena’s call were absolutely desperate with frustration and urgency. We were in something of an amphitheatre and the noise of the hyenas and the sounds of the excited wild dogs was deafening.

With about one third of the carcass left the hyenas could take it no longer, and rushed in. The dogs countered, zeroing in on the fleshy rumps of the hyenas, and keeping well clear of their strong jaws. The hyenas would try and snap a mouthful of impala, between snapping at the dogs that attacked from all angles and sunk their far sharper teeth into their behinds.

One hyena fled the pain but the other remained and took a vicious beating. Its rump was streaming blood and it howled in agony. Here’s a sequence of a serious nip taking place as the hyena cowers. Eventually relief arrived, in the form of a few more clan members. They rushed in and it was game over for the wild dogs. They surrendered the remains of the carcass to the hyenas.

The hyenas made quick work of the remains, ripping the carcass apart and crunching through the bones. Not a single morsel of the impala was left, but for the now red earth.

The wild dog pack trotted off, all quite content and full, and headed for a nearby dam for a drink of water.

All of this had happened at early dawn, and it had rained in the night. Water had collected in the slight hollow of some of the rocks, and this mineral-rich clean water was the dogs’ preference.

With muddy paws the dogs hopped up the side of the rocks, then drank from the pools and lay down on the wet surface. (See if you can spot their muddy paw print rock art.)

We sat in the area for a while, long after the dogs had left, making their way up the inaccessible rocky hills, and was amazed to see that, in due course, the hyenas came along and did precisely the same thing! Still following the scent trail of the dogs, they drank, and lay down on the cool rock. (Have a look at that raw bloody rump!)

At their leisure the hyenas left, following the same route that the dogs had taken, and were no doubt going to trail them again in case they hunted once more. One of the hyenas was clearly feeding cubs, as evidenced by her swollen teats, and both seemed able to ‘laugh’ off the pain in lieu of the free meal.