The African wild dog is among the most sought-after critters for photographers. Once widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, they are now among the most endangered animals, with an estimated total population of little more than 5,000 in the entire continent. About the size of a border collie, they are a beautiful mottled black, white, yellow, and brown.
Considered the most social of all canids or dog-like animals, wild dogs are almost always in groups. They hunt cooperatively as a pack. We’ve been fortunate to come across them a few times in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, usually resting or sleeping. One evening we found a pack that we had all to ourselves, with no other cars around. They were playing on and near the road, wrestling with each other, grooming, and just wandering around. They were so close that we could have reached out to touch them (definitely not a good idea). You could be fooled into thinking that they’re just cute puppy dogs. But when they open their mouths to yawn, the powerful jaws reveal rows of brilliant white sharp teeth, tailor-made for tearing things to bits.
Dogs usually hunt in early morning or evening, but in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park we happened across a pack of 22 on the hunt during a cool rainy afternoon. While were stopped at a crossroad, we saw the pack run past on the other road. We followed as they ran slowly for a while, stopped for a few seconds while some dogs made brief forays into the bush, then quickly returned to the road. They were being very quiet; it was obvious that they were after something.
This went on for two or three kilometres, then just ahead of the dogs, a couple spooked impala tried making a run for it. The chase was on, as the dogs spread out to attack from different angles. The first impala practically took flight as it made a powerful leap across the road with unbelievable speed, and barely escaped. The second one wasn’t so lucky. The dogs hit it in mid-leap and several converged on it, seemingly tearing it to pieces before it even hit the ground. No longer quiet, the dogs growled as if in a feeding frenzy; individuals quickly made off with various parts. One dog disappeared carrying a leg, while two others ripped apart innards, their faces dripping red with blood. The only other vehicle around was a truck driven by a researcher studying wild dogs. Talking to her afterwards brought home just how unusual our encounter had been. After tracking this pack for several months, this was the first time she had seen them make a kill close to the road. A rare encounter with life and death in the African bush.