Shortly after arriving at Chitabe Lediba Camp, we heard that a pack of wild dogs had been found earlier that morning and so we headed off towards the Gomoti River to see if we could pick up any signs of the dogs. We had not expected to witness what we did later that afternoon.

We found the dogs scattered in the shade of a large stand of trees. Minutes after arriving, some impala ran past, which got the attention of the dogs, but nothing too exciting happened as it was mid-afternoon and too hot. Across the flood plain we saw a small group of 4 or 5 adult wildebeest, with two very young calves. The direction the wildebeest were heading would take them past the dogs by about 200 yards. At first the wild dog’s paid little attention to them and the wildebeest crossed the floodplain and seemed to have left the area.

As the afternoon cooled, the dogs in their usual way, excitedly greeted one another and then headed towards the Gomoti River, where several herds of Red Lechwe (antelope) grazed. Closing the gap, the dogs gave chase on the lechwe along the bank, in the opposite direction of the small group of wildebeest that stood cornered on a small tongue of land that was surrounded by water. Having no luck with the lechwe, the dogs circled back, dropping their ears and walking purposely towards the wildebeest.

A wild dog’s tactic when hunting large prey is to intimidate them into running. This is how they separate the calves from the adults and the outcome is almost always guaranteed in the dogs favour. This they did along with the high pitched calls and intense pressure, which they are so specialized in. Their team work paid off, breaking the rank of the wildebeest, which gave the dogs the gap they needed to get to the calves.

In the chaos that ensued over the next 10 minutes or so, the dogs pulled down both calves, only to be repelled time and again by the adult wildebeest. At one stage, in their desperate attempt to save their calves, the mothers returned and charged the dogs, kicking and trying their best to horn the nearest dog, but they were just no match for this seasoned pack of dogs, that had skillfully removed both calves from the adults, right in front of us.

At one stage the dogs grouped together, sounding their low pitched alarm call, staring towards the bank of the river, which also attracts predators from the river. Shortly afterwards a crocodile emerged, in the hope of scavenging the dogs kill. There were just too many dogs and this crocodile wasn’t large or confident enough to cross the open grassland to steal their kill, so it sat motionless, encircled by the dogs.

Just when we thought it was over, the adult wildebeest returned charging through the dogs. This was almost their undoing, as the entire pack chased and cornered them in a shallow side channel of the river. The wildebeest grouped side by side and repelled the dog’s attacks. At this point, we expected one of the many large crocodiles to appear and end it all, but fortunately for the wildebeest, this didn’t happen. Although during all of the chaos, we looked back and saw one of the largest crocodiles I’ve ever seen, approaching the kill site across the short grass plains.

Whether it was our presence or the sheer pressure from all the dogs that immediately headed over to harass the crocodile, was hard to say, but it returned to the river. This was a good reminder however, that these huge reptiles are always ready to take advantage of any situation. I guess that’s why they have been around for millions of years, unchanged, a perfect “design.”

It is never nice to see animals being killed, especially when its young animals, but the dogs had their pups to feed. The wildebeest will drop calves again next year at the same time and hopefully they won’t make the same mistake of getting cornered against a river when there are dogs around. This was one of those sightings that leaves you drained and unsure of how to feel, as we had seen two young wildebeest killed in front of us. The mother’s obvious stress and anger and bravery in returning time and again, even after their calves were dead, risking their lives and the rest of their small herd, was an emotional scene.

We left the scene as it got dark, with the three wildebeest still knee deep in the water. The dogs were appearing to lose interest and started moving away, hopefully leaving the surviving wildebeest to go on their way.