The ultimate bush experience started with a ringing telephone. It might sound strange but I urge you to keep reading. It all happened one Saturday afternoon when I got a phone call from Hannes, one of the new field –coordinators at the College. He told me that on their return from Orpen gate they noticed a lot of vultures around the borrow pit. Sensing something was up Hannes, myself and one of the trainers went out to investigate. As we got out of the vehicle I noticed the remains of a female Impala carcass. I cast around a bit and noticed a track that at a glance I took for a Hyena’s back foot. Hannes and Theo pointed out a line of trees in the distance where there were a lot of vultures. There was a clear trail leading from the Impala carcass in that direction so we decided to follow it.
As we got closer we saw a few vultures hanging around and the same “Hyena” tracks found earlier so we knew we were still on the right track. We approached more cautiously as most of the vultures were sitting in trees and that normally indicates that the predator was still in the vicinity. That’s when we heard the distinct sound of vultures squabbling on a kill a little to our front left; we moved closer to get a better view and saw a lot of them fighting over the remains of some poor animal. When we got around to the kill we noticed that it was a fully grown male impala. The carcass was pulled apart but none of the big bones were bitten through, not even the ribs were fed on. What struck me most was that the entire neck skin was pulled over the impala’s head like a turned over sock. Somewhere in the back of my mind it registered Wild Dog, but because we haven’t seen Wild Dog around the College for around 18 months the last thing any guide would do is stick his neck out and say: Wild Dog killed this Impala. I needed more evidence. The vultures had obliterated just about all the signs around the carcass so we cast around and found more “Hyena” tracks. The tracks weren’t all that clear but they definitely lacked in size of a fully grown Hyena and it were distinctly dog like. I was just explaining to everyone that I think it was most likely Wild Dogs that killed the Impala and how I got around to that answer when I heard it…. A growl bark followed by high pitched twittering!!
I spun around and ran in the direction beckoning everyone to follow me. After about 200m I came around a small scrub and there not 50m away we saw a couple of African Wild Dogs on a termite mound looking at us. I saw some more movement in the grass behind the termite mound and managed to positively count six dogs, but I knew that there must be more. It later transpired that we saw part of the same pack that has been seen around Orpen and Kingfisherspruit during December. A pack of 23.
During my 11 year stint guiding in the Greater Kruger National Park, a good portion of that on foot I have seen some spectacular things on foot: Leopards mating, a Honey Badger that almost succeeded in biting off my big toe, I have been charged by elephants and lions, but nothing can compare to the feeling of seeing those Wild Dogs standing on the termite mound looking back at us giving a low growl warning not to come closer. As soon as the rest of the pack was out of sight the two on the termite mound turned around and trotted after them. I know it is a cliché, but all I can say is: “Awesome!!!”
This marked the first of a spate of Wild Dog sightings around the College and just this past Friday I saw them again close to the borrow pit. This time I counted seven adults and six pups around three to four months old. Until next time.
Senior Field Coordinator.