Spending time in the wilderness invokes many feelings for nature loving people. Mostly of calm, of peace. However on occasion, one is confronted with the raw brutality of Mother Nature in such a way that it lingers in their memory. Sometimes enduring for a lifetime.
There is nothing more inspiring than spending time with animals in their natural environment and the more one witnesses the more one begins to understand. There are moments of utter joy and there are moments of terrible heart ache. All of it is what makes the natural world such a humbling experience.
I recently headed out on drive with a couple of guests in the early morning. It was their last drive with us at Tanda Tula and I had planned for it to be dedicated to one of the more misunderstood of all beasts, the spotted hyena. We set out before dawn in the direction of an hyena den in the south, I wanted to show my guests just what this species had to offer and there is nothing better than to show people the humble begins that all hyena share.
Along the way and as we went through a river crossing my tracker, Jack, alerted me to some African wild dog tracks on the road moving in the direction we were headed. I remember remarking to my guests that we would not be following up – we had already seen the gorgeous canines on everyone of their previous three game drives. They understood and agreed with my decision.
The tracks persisted on the road ahead. Until we came around a bend in the road. There all of a sudden near a watering hole we could see a number of hyena bunching together and in their typical savage nature, appeared to be gorging themselves on something.
Now, let me set the record straight, I have over the years of my career seen many interactions between these two incredibly special species and I can only ever recall those sightings being entertaining to say the most. You see hyena have a knack for being the biggest buggers in the bush. They so often see other predators off their kills, in a classic pesky manor. But not the dogs. The dogs in my experience were the only other species to ever stick it back to the hyena and most often come out hilariously on top of the altercation.
This morning was different though. As I speed up to get my vehicle into the best position to view the feeding hyenas, my heart began to sink. Slowly the full picture came into focus and suddenly I realised that they were feeding on one of Africa’s and indeed the world’s most endangered predators. The dog must have been separated from the rest of the pack during a typical high paced hunt – something that often happens. This time however, the young wild dog came short and I can only presume that the clan of hyena managed to snag it before it could get away and without the support of the rest of the pack it really stood little chance.
It was incredibly saddening to witness the poor lifeless body of the dog being flung around by the animosity filled hyenas. It was over, the battle had been won.
After a few minutes of viewing this incredibly sad yet thought provoking sighting we noticed that the rest of wild dog pack was moving in quickly from the south lead by the alpha male. They must have been alerted and thus attracted to the scene by the ghostly sounds of the excited hyena. They looked ready for war but upon witnessing the sheer number of hyena and the lifeless body of their pack member they immediately stopped. It was in this moment that I witnessed firsthand the heart break set in. Some say animals don’t feel emotion like us humans do, I couldn’t disagree more. The dogs suddenly stood still in disbelief, every single one of them. They slowly started to retreat and came to settle at a nearby dam further south. There was no classic play behaviour that morning and a thick sombre feeling filled the air around the pack. The war had been lost.
I will never forget this sighting.