Pack of Cape Hunting Dogs on the hunt

Sabi Sand | March 2019

In my eight years of training and working as a Professional Field Guide I have never witnessed a pack of Cape hunting dogs (African wild dogs) making a kill! I’ve always just missed the catch whilst staying with the dogs on the hunt and then arriving to a scene where the prey is already dead and the dogs are savagely ripping the carcass apart!

This all changed a few weeks ago when the pack was found hunting around the northern parts of Castleton. Initially they had killed an impala ewe and then lost it to a clan of spotted hyenas. They continued their pursuit after other prey through very dense bush but didn’t catch anything. Finding them at Castleton Dam, they flushed another herd of impala and the chase was on! Trying to stay with them, driving through sand, over bushes and losing them through some thick brush we again found them on the western side of Castleton, but without a kill.

Realising that a few dogs were missing, and after watching the dogs being chased by a herd of elephants, we found one dog, said to be the alpha male, with an impala kill north of Castleton Dam! On our arrival, the dog was nervously engorging himself, stopping every few seconds to see where the rest of the pack was and if there were any other predators making their way to steal his kill. A few minutes passed and the dog left the kill, headed south to find the rest of his pack and we watched a couple of vultures landing in the trees around the carcass.

Leaving the area and heading north for a quick coffee stop, we heard that a male leopard was making his way to the area of the impala carcass but was unsuccessful at stealing it as the entire pack returned in time to reclaim the carcass and, in doing so, treed the leopard!
By the time we were returning to the area of action, the leopard was still in the tree and the pack had finished off their kill. Turning a corner to get visual of the dogs a small herd of impala pronked past us but the dogs weren’t chasing them. It was then that we spotted a blue wildebeest with a young calf in very close proximity to the pack. I knew that if the dogs continued north they would see the calf and that another kill would be on the cards!

My thought became a reality and the dogs spotted the calf! The excitement of witnessing the pack in action was right in front of us, but it was also tough to now see the brutality of nature as a vulnerable two-month-old wildebeest calf was about to fall prey to a pack of thirteen dogs!

The blue wildebeest bull tried to defend the calf for a few minutes but soon realised that he was out numbered! The dogs separated the calf from the bull, and started pulling and ripping it apart from the head and front legs. Throughout all of this, the calf was bleating in agony and trying to get away but struggled and was eventually pinned to the ground with the whole pack feeding on it from the hind legs and rump area.

This again was one of those sightings that I’ve always wanted to see but was extremely sensitive and not a sight for everyone! The dogs managed to finish off the wildebeest calf even though there were a few hyenas circling the area.