12 March 2018
Endangered Death

There was an incredibly rare and tragic sighting for the Tanda Tula guests this past weekend when two predator species collided. Wild dogs versus hyena. Sadly, it was the endangered species that lost the battle. Here is this astonishing story, told by Luke Street as he saw it.

“Spending time in the wilderness of the Timbavati evokes many feelings for nature loving people. Mostly of calm, of tranquility. However on occasion, one is confronted with the raw brutality of Mother Nature in such a way that it lingers in their memory, sometimes for a lifetime.

It is an incredible experience always spending time with animals in their natural environment and the more one witnesses the more one begins to understand that out here fair play does not always exist. There are moments of utter joy and there are moments of terrible heartache, all of which combine to make it such a humbling experience.

I was headed out on a last morning game drive with a couple of guests and wanted to spend some time with one of the most misunderstood of all animals, the spotted hyena. We set out before dawn in the direction of an active hyena den. On our way Jack, the tracker, 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 as we had already seen these endangered canines on every one of their previous three safaris.

However the tracks continued on the road ahead of us until we came around a bend and there all of a sudden, near a watering hole, we could see a large hyena clan bunched together and in their typical savage nature they appeared to be gorging themselves on something. As I sped up to get my vehicle into a better position to view the feeding hyenas, my heart began to sink. Slowly the full picture came into focus and instantly, with a sickening horror, I realised that these hyenas were feeding on one of Africa’s, and indeed the world’s, most endangered predators, a wild dog.

Now, let me set the record straight, I have seen many interactions between these two incredibly special species over the years and I can only ever recall those sightings as being entertaining. You see, hyena have a knack for being the biggest brutes in the bush and most often they are seen chasing other predators off their kills, in very pesky manner. But not when it comes to the wild dogs. The dogs, in my experience, are the only other species to ever give it back to the hyena and most often they actually came out on top after such an altercation.

This morning was different though. This young wild dog must have been separated from the rest of the pack during a typical high paced hunt, something which often happens. 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 sad for us to witness the poor limp and lifeless body of the dog being flung around by the arrogant hyenas.

After a few minutes of viewing this heart wrenching, 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 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 one of their pack members they immediately stopped.

It was in this moment that I witnessed, first hand, the heartbreak set in with the pack. Some say animals do not feel emotion like we humans do, but I could not disagree more. The dogs suddenly stood still in disbelief, every single one of them, then they slowly started to retreat and eventually came to settle at a nearby dam. There was no usual upbeat play behaviour that morning, a thick sombre feeling filled the air around the pack. It was over, today the war had been lost.”

 

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