We had only just left our Okavango camp in the early morning, when we came across a pack of African wild dogs that were hunting. It is hard to stay with dogs on the hunt in a game drive vehicle, and after a while we lost them. Whilst they were in thick brush, they had killed an impala. By the time we got there, most of the kill was already eaten. A group of spotted hyaenas were in attendance, and there were a few skirmishes between them and the full-bellied dogs. The dogs began to move off, as the hyaenas finished off what little was left of the carcass. With the food almost done, there was little need for competition between the dogs and hyaenas.
The dogs had spent the whole morning moving along the edge of a Delta channel, looking for a safe and shallow place to cross. Each time they had tried to cross, the deep water had turned them back. They kept moving, looking for the right crossing place. Crocodiles pose a very real threat to African wild dogs, and they go to some lengths to avoid deep, open water.
The spotted hyaenas kept on following the wild dogs. They were hoping that the dogs would hunt again, and wanted to be close by so that they could try and steal the dog’s kill. In some places wild dogs lose a high proportion of their kills to spotted hyaena. The dogs eventually came to a green marshy area alongside the channel. It was a perfect area for photography. The dogs were milling about, a few of them scanning the water for danger.
I noticed one wild dog hanging back from the rest, and getting very close to a young spotted hyaena. I was surprized to see the two animals approach each other almost playfully at first, and then the wild dog jumped away. What happened next suprized me even more. The dog and hyaena approached one another again, cautiously at first, and then began to smell each other, even touching noses at one stage.
A bigger, older hyaena then made its approach and sidled up to the younger hyaena. All three animals were clearly showing a lack of any aggression. Their movements were slow and cautious, and they had their tails lowered.
The hyaenas then walked around the back of the dog, sniffing its’ rear, but the dog moved away a little. The hyaena tried again to circle around the rear of the wild dog. It is typical of hyaena to try and smell other hyaena rear ends and genitals during greeting rituals. The wild dog allowed them quite close but not within touching distance, moving away each time. All three animals then stood for a little while, before calmly moving apart.
This curious coming-together of these two species was something quite unusual. As competitors, they typically don’t tolerate such close proximity of each other. Typically, wild dogs will chase spotted hyaenas away, especially when they have pups, or when they have a kill. Hyaenas are quite likely to ignore wild dogs if there is no food around, and sometimes the wild dogs ignore spotted hyaena. If the wild dogs have make a kill, the hyaena will usually try to steal it. Whether they succeed or not depends on how many hyaena there are as well as how many wild dogs, and who is hungrier. Clashes between the two species can lead to injury or even death, and both species will ramp up their aggression levels depending on how they perceive the threat from the other animals.
Watching this meeting reminded me of the solitary wild dog that lived with a few groups of jackals near Mombo camp, also on Chiefs island, after she lost the remainder of her pack. That female also used to greet young spotted hyaena too, when she first began living solitarily. That dog was forced by circumstance though, to live alone, and her social instincts became stronger than her own sense of identity. The dog I am writing about here though, was not solitary, and was part of a healthy and successful pack of its own kind.
Seconds after this, things returned to ‘normal’ when a few of the wild dogs launched a sudden attack on the two hyaenas. They drove the hyaena backward, into the shallow water, and pressed home the advantage of their numbers. The two hyaenas snarled and bared their teeth, but moments later they broke and ran, with wild dogs snapping at their vulnerable hind quarters.
The dogs broke off their chase quickly, and without any more hesitation, went splashing through the channel.
Moments later, their tails disappeared into the woodland, and that was the last that we saw of them for that stay. I lead several photosafaris each year to Botswana, spending time in locations where we have a good chance of encountering African wild dogs. To find out more, check out my 2016 schedule.
Thank you Grant this is a nice and interesting report wish I was there again and indeed it reminds me of the documentary of Solo a wild dogs tale. It is vey sad that it is not possible to buy the DVD yet in Europe in US you can order but not for Us your images are as always great and tell the hole story again with a different end thank you. good luck waiting for more reports and images
I was also reminded of the solitary dog that used to live at Mombo, and perhaps this one has a shared ‘friendly’ gene with the dog that was called Solo. I have not seen the movie about ‘Solo” yet but expect to see it soon.
I was lucky in that I spent lots of time with Solo over the years, even when she was in a pack of 7 and then 3 dogs.
The big difference here was of course the fact that this dog was part of a successful pack, and still being friendly, if only for a short while 🙂
Two of my most favorite animals! Must have been wonderful to watch this unfold. Thank you for the story and your magnificent photos.
Also two of my favourite animals, and I always find it exciting to watch interaction between these species.
Wonderful words and stunning photography. Thanks Grant, it’s always a pleasure to keep abreast of your animal antics… 🙂
Love all your work but particularly the Wild Dogs as I’ve just come back from photographing a pack of 7 for 10 days. What a thrill but also very demanding. I am still looking very closely at all my images to see how I might have been more successful. What are your thoughts on why the Wild Dog is so challenging to photograph. I found it particularly hard to get a sharp image when I had no light in the eyes. Perhaps the lack of contrast due to the black patch around the eyes, which by the way are so beautiful. Thanks for your thoughts in advance. Barbara
Hi Barbara, i find it hard to get photos of wild dogs that really have impact – for several reasons. They are quite small in relation to a game viewing vehicle, so that often means that one is shooting downwards at them, which makes them look even smaller, and is not my favoured perspective. I always try to position the vehicle so that it is as low as possible, sometimes even in ditches or depressions, to help get the dogs closer to eye level for a better perspective. The dogs dark faces also can make it a bit hard for focus to lock on, as you mentioned – but if the light is good, then that is less of a problem. I make sure to use a single focus point when i need precise focus like with the wild dogs, and i am taking portraits where the eyes have to be sharp. I spend as long as I can with the dogs, to try maximize the chances of them doing something that makes for good photography. Most of the wild dog sightings that I enjoy often dont produce good photo taking opportunities – because of the reasons above, and also because the dogs move around so much once they are active…
Incredible shots! The patterns on the wild dogs are so interesting. Unlike any other animal I can think of.