Just another day in Africa?
Well, it certainly started out that way. Leaving the lodge in the early morning light, the stunning sunrise was similar to many others that I had seen on previous visits to this particular game reserve. None of us on the game drive vehicle had any idea what awaited us, just a few kilometres away.
Our Field Guide was alerted to a disturbance a short distance off our chosen route by an unexpected dust cloud hanging in the still morning air. “Let’s go and investigate” were Kevin’s words as we turned left and headed towards the yelps and bellowing that we could now hear emanating from the cloud.
The first inkling of what could be hapenning was when we found this distressed female buffalo. Standing just off the small gravel road, she was wide-eyed and lowing frantically, it was her that alerted us to what we were about to experience.
The following images, taken over a 20-minute period are NOT for sensitive readers.
What we discovered as we came around a corner was this pack of Wild Dog pups, that had brought down a 4-month-old buffalo calf…right in the middle of a side road. It turned out that this was the pack’s first kill and although the adults were standing by, none of them stepped in to help the youngsters complete the kill successfully. It might be for this reason that the actual incident took as long as it did.
Wild dog fact #34: It is possible for an adult dog pack to strip a fully grown Wildebeest to hooves, skin and horns in under 10 minutes. Their Latin name, Lycaon pictus, means ‘Painted Wolf’. And much like the wolves in Europe and the USA, they are amongst the fastest eaters in the wild.
The bellowing of the dying calf was NOT easy to listen to. I was able to almost block the sound out as I recorded the incident. The other guests on the vehicle did not have any distractions and as such, it became an emotional and immersive experience for them. It is not easy to witness a violent death, as this one was, however, it was a teaching outing for these pups who HAD to learn how to kill in order to survive into adulthood.
This was probably the hardest moment to watch. The fear in the eyes of the young animal is almost palpable. Unlike the adults in the pack that understand how to kill quickly, here it was a struggle to subdue their prey and kill it in an efficient manner. The nose was one of the first parts that were attacked at it was an easy target, but although it looked bloody, this wound was not fatal.
With so much blood around, I was amazed that teeth remained almost a pristine white. Ripping into the flesh left the dogs with bloody fur but their teeth were unsullied by the carnage that they wrecked on their meal.
I believe that it was for that reason that the Mom still waited off to one side. Perhaps at some visceral level, she thought that there was still a chance of survival for her offspring? Soon after taking this image, the female moved off to rejoin the herd that had kept walking during this interaction.
At last the pups seemed to have gained the upper hand. The violence of the actual act had made way for the noise of feeding.
Wild dog fact #56: Unlike many predators who will squabble over prey, Wild Dogs will share the spoils and even take food back to their den for the elderly, the infirm and the youngsters who are not yet old enough to partake in a hunt.
Lesson learned! This youngster raises its head to survey the surrounding bush for the adults in the pack. Was it looking for validation of a job well done? To anthropomorphize this event and the effect that it had on me and the other guests on the vehicle would be a disservice to this pack. What I did discover, was that after waiting for more than 4 decades to experience an event like this, it makes me realize that this is the constant battle that plays out between predator and prey every day. In order for one to survive, another has to die. In the African bush, that is the natural ebb and flow of life and death. It is not like being a witness to murder as in instances like this, it is done for sustenance rather than sport or pleasure