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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

“Wild dogs? On the airstrip? Yeah I’m coming!”

4 min read

This blog was written by James Frost, a Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. Each student takes a turn as camp manager and writing a blog is part of the experience.

Two weeks. Just two weeks in the bush and everything seems to have happened all at once.

I am James Frost, a ‘fake Aussie’ as one of my new friends has named me recently. Half Australian, half South African and all human, I was born in Australia and then moved to South Africa, which is the opposite direction to most people. We’ve been at Bushwise on the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) campus for two weeks and have had some pretty incredible experiences.

After doing some serious theory busting for the first week, we finally started doing our first game drives. Each vehicle had a trainer with them and six members of each driving group had about an hour each to drive throughout the concession that SAWC is based on. I had the first go on Tuesday morning and we hadn’t been driving for more than fifteen minutes when we came upon some wild dogs. 

These dogs are a part of the Orpen Pack and their alpha male has very floppy ears, one of the ways to identify them as wild dogs have massive home ranges that they traverse. These home ranges can be as large as 1000km² however, 500 - 600km² is more common. The dogs will traverse this range regularly, often covering great distances in a day. A big pack like the Orpen Pack hunts once a day most of the time. Impala is one of their favourite foods and mostly they will target smaller antelope. However, there are reports of certain packs going for much larger prey like buffalo but this is very rare behaviour. Melchize and I have affectionately named the Orpen Pack alpha male ‘Floppo’ due to his ears. 

It’s not the first time we had seen this particular pack either. They made a kill right on the fence line on Monday evening. Myself and three others watched it happen. Although, to be fair, we barely saw any of it. An impala burst out of the scrub, bolted across the airstrip and hit the fence at full speed. All four of us immediately turned to look in the direction she came from. And then the dogs came, dead silent and would have looked quite scary had they not been bouncing above the tall grass like painted dolphins. 

Once the front runner was in the clear it caught up to the impala who had gotten up and was a little dazed. There was a slight scuffle as another dog caught up as well, a single anguished call from the impala ewe a,nd then dead silence. None of us could get decent photos because it was so dark but soon all of us had a chance to see one of the rarest sights on the planet. Quite often the dogs start feeding before their prey is fully dead and will tear into it with wild abandon. Our trainers have told us stories of dogs eviscerating prey on the run and the guests looking rather sick upon witnessing their brutality.

By the next morning there was nothing left of the carcass and the dogs, after greeting me in the morning, were off and had made it quite a distance away from campus when we finally caught up to them. They were spread out, buried in the long grass snoozing off their meal from the night before. I was driving, as I mentioned previously, and we crept past them slowly when, out of the bushes, appearing like a breaching whale was a spotted hyena. 

From what I’ve observed in the last few days and from what I’ve been told by Fred (one of our trainers), hyenas follow dogs around hoping to glean scraps from their meals. The dogs aren’t a fan of this and will harass the hyenas, driving them away from their kills. We were fortunate enough to see this on Sunday night when the dogs first appeared. Yes, we saw the pack three days in a row. The younger dogs had backed a hyena against a bush and were really bugging it. 

Eventually the hyena found an opening into the bush behind it and soon the dogs got bored and went off for a nap. This particular hyena next to our vehicle was looking rather concerned. She was looking for the dogs very carefully and was also staying downwind of them. This meant that she roughly knew where they were at all times. She was careful to stay near enough to them that she could follow them when they started hunting but just far enough away to avoid suspicion.

Just three days. That’s all it took to learn an incredible amount about one of the rarest creatures on the planet. We saw them hunting (briefly), saw them playing and relaxing. Saw the interspecific competition with hyenas, even had a chance to see how they reacted to an elephant running through their midst. If I’ve taken anything away from the past two weeks it’s that there’s going to be a lot of experiences, a lot of insane little moments that need to be respected, shared and treasured. Both with the animals and with the friends we’ve made.

Would you love to experience wildlife firsthand like James? Apply today and make it a reality!



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