“If I hadn’t caught it on camera, I would never believe it actually happened”. These are the words of one of my guests just after this very exciting sighting. Before we get into the detail however, I would like to point out that when we departed the lodge this particular afternoon, we were actually all looking to see some elephants – which had eluded us so far that week.
Rain is something we are always grateful for in Africa. While, it might make the bush a little thicker, the animals a little harder to find and the roads a little more tricky to navigate, it is such a beautiful time in the bush. With rain comes full rivers, an obvious favourite for large groups of elephants. That being said, the increased quantity of water around can make finding elephants surprisingly challenging. You would think it would be easy to locate the largest land animal on earth!
Driving along our main road we spotted a large breeding herd of elephants making their way to one of our bigger dams. Success! Feeling very proud of ourselves, we ambled towards the river with the herd and positioned our vehicle in the perfect spot to watch them bath and drink. As we were enjoying this sighting, I heard that a pack of around 16 wild dogs (painted wolves) were making their way straight towards the dam.
I let my guests know that we had some surprise visitors on the way and we sat in eager anticipation. The wild dogs headed towards the inflow area of the dam, to the softer sand which offered more shade where they could wallow and play in the water. The excitable pups were left to chase each other while the adults kept a watchful eye in the distance. What a sighting – elephants in the background, wild dogs in the foreground, hippos breaching and calling, we thought we had hit the jackpot. But the chaos hadn’t even started yet.
From the south, three white rhino suddenly broke through the tree line which instantly interested the wild dog pack. The dogs approached slowly & cautiously but also with huge curiosity and a confidence I didn’t expect. I could only liken their behaviour to that of a naughty school boy who has just identified his next prank target.
We spent about 30 minutes watching the dogs “terrorise” these rhino. They would constantly rush around the rhinos, in a playful manner but clearly upsetting them. While the mother rhino had to be alert to the danger posed by the dogs to her calf, the possibility of them being a real threat was quite low. The rhino is just too big an animal, even for a large pack of wild dogs. That said, the mother did make her presence known and proved that she was well in control of the situation.
So what about the elephants? By this time the entire herd of elephants had crossed the road into the thicket, we hadn’t even noticed because we couldn’t keep our eyes off of what was happening in front of us. Probably having had enough fun with the rhinos, the dogs decided to see what fun they could have with the elephants instead. Naturally, we followed them.
Unlike the rhinos who allowed the dogs to tease and cause mischief, the elephants were not standing for any of it. In a burst of dust, and with noises only my guests could describe to you, the matriarch charged the dogs with incredible speed, immediately sending the dogs into all directions of the bush. All of our hearts were racing because she could quite easily have turned her focus on us. Luckily she didn’t and once the dogs were well away from the herd, she calmed down again and we could also try settle our heart rates back to something resembling normal.
What an incredible sighting and one my guests will not forget in a hurray. In this contest, I think the elephants might have won, after all they are the boss of the bush.