Written by: Grant Nel
Early November in Botswana’s Linyanti region is just an extension of the traditional ‘suicide month’ of October. Temperatures frequently top 40ºC and you’d be forgiven for thinking that doing a walking safari in these conditions could be rather uncomfortable. However, there are still some spectacular wildlife sightings that would make any discomfort worthwhile, and this was most certainly the case on a recent walking safari with Last Chance Safaris that delivered so much more than anyone could expect.
Elephants, wildebeest, zebra, impala, sable, and tsessebe with newborn calves kept the guests’ big game interest alive while discussions focussed around spoor, medicinal plants and termites. Guests arrived at the newly erected camp a little hot and thirsty but in good humour after what seemed like a great morning of getting boots dusty. Then a hearty, well-earned lunch was followed by the obligatory bush siesta beneath the mokoba trees, covered by a wet kikoi to stave off some of the heat.
Then as we set off for our afternoon amble, Rahel, one of our most loyal repeat guests, remarked: “Wouldn’t it be great to see wild dog this afternoon?” Little did she know how prophetic her wish would be. Within 10 minutes of leaving camp, there they were – a big pack we knew well and one that I had walked with before.
There were 12 new members thanks to this year’s litter of pups and we approached with caution, not wanting to scare them off from their cool siesta spot. One of the sub-adults gave a brief ‘bahrrumph’ warning bark, but the seniors, most notably the alpha pair, barely lifted their heads to spare us look. We sat down (in the blazing sun) a respectful distance away and watched till we had had our fill. Mopane flies and sweat eventually encouraged us to move on, but our smiles and high spirits masked any discomfort that we may have felt.
We continued with our walk, stopping frequently to watch the wide variety of animals that dotted the plains before breaking for a brief sundowner atop a shaded termite mound.
Then all of a sudden pandemonium broke out! Wildebeest, zebra, tsessebe and impala scattered across the plains almost simultaneously, erupting into panicked, snorting flight.
“The dogs are hunting, let’s go!” I cried as I hassled everyone to toss their G&T’s and start moving.
At a pace bordering on Olympic walking speed we headed towards the nearest clearing to try to catch a piece of the action. A minute or two later, it all seemed over and we stood on the edge of the plain literally alone, with not an animal in sight.
Then one dog appeared and then another, and another until all 24 were out in the open. The hunt had been a bust. Or had it?
Along the edge of the plain an impala ram appeared, running straight towards us. Lost from the herd, or just disorientated, it didn’t realise the death trap that lay ahead.
“Stand absolutely still, do not move,” I whispered, hardly believing my own eyes. As the impala got within close range of our group, one dog knocked it down and the alpha female promptly latched onto its nose.
Then the unexpected happened. All the adults pulled back and the 12 young pups were sent in to deliver the coup de grâce whilst mum hung grimly onto the poor antelope’s nose – all not further than 10 metres away from our awestruck group.
And the grand finale was yet to come. When wild dogs make a kill, they almost always set up a protective perimeter to fend off the scavenging attempts of their nemesis – the hyena. And true to form they did this but, to our collective amazement, our group was within that perimeter. Dogs trotted back and forth past us like we weren’t even there, whilst the pups gorged themselves until they were bursting.
Dusk was approaching and it isn’t a wise idea to be hanging out with predators in the dark, so we left the dogs to finish the meal in their own company. We walked in silence back to camp, each consumed by their own thoughts, personal replays, and basking in the extreme privilege that we had been afforded. That evening’s dinner around the campfire was abuzz with everyone’s re-enactments of the drama, and no doubt the story has been re-told several times since.
To read more about Africa’s painted wolves, check out: Africa’s Wild Dogs
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