Epic wildlife sighting

As guides we are often asked about our ‘best sighting ever’. This was comprehensively the best and worst sighting of my guiding career; a supreme predator interaction, yet to the detriment of an animal which most guides view as their favorite animal. A ‘best sighting’ which I hope never repeats itself on my watch again.

One cool autumn morning at Kirkman's Kamp in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, my tracker and I came across the Charleston Pride of lions who were hunting along the southern bank of the Sand River. 

Soon after locating the lions, another dark shape on the river caught my eye, then another and another. Wild Dogs! It was a pack that we know well and suspect have a den on the property. All five of the adults were trotting next to the water channel toward the lions. 

Oblivious of the imminent danger, one by one the dogs started crossing the Sand River northwards. For them to drop into the water they had to jump off quite a steep sand bank. As soon as the last dog took the plunge the Charleston lioness was off at a rate of knots. She covered the sandy beached area in no time before pausing at the sand bank. 

Chaos was about to ensue. With one massive leap she was in the water right beside 2 of the dogs. They had no clue what hit them. One dog leaped to the right of the lioness and missed a flinging paw by centimeters.

The other dog was not as lucky. With one hit from the lioness the dog went flying into the shallow water before two bigger splashes announced the arrival of the two young males. They went straight for the injured dog and within seconds all three lions were holding on to the now fast perishing hound. 

Only the head of the dog could be seen as the rest of its body was covered by tawny shapes. The bigger of the two male lions pulled the dog free with one massive heave.

The lion dragged the lifeless body to dry land before the dog gave one big yelp and tried to get away with its front legs. It was suffering from a broken spine as the hind legs were completely immobile. A swift bite from the lion to the neck silenced the dog once more, hopefully for a last time.

Shock and and tears were etched on the faces of onlookers as the severity of the attack hit home. Distant barks from bewildered members of the pack could still be heard over the sound of hearts thumping in chests.

I scanned the opposite bank of the Sand River to identify which members had reunited and which individual had perished. I looked at the mutilated body of the dog next to us and the harsh reality slowly set in. The distinguishable dark markings around the face were very apparent as we identified the dog as the alpha male wild dog.

The loss of the Alpha Male was a tragic break for this pack. But the ending is not all bad. In mid April 2014, before this tragedy, we had found a den site but we were yet to see any pups!

Just days after the tragic loss of the alpha male, we visited the site, and soon enough, from the depth of a hollowed out termite mound, came the beautiful baby pups to greet the pack when they returned from one of their hunts. 

How will the dynamics of the pack now change with the alpha male gone? Would they move den sites? Which male dog will take over the ‘alpha’ position? These are all questions that will be answered in the coming weeks as we watch this pack recover from this horrible loss... a loss that is often suffered by wild dogs in areas where lions rule supreme, but very rarely documented first hand. 

Photos copyright Jaques-Pierre Joubert and Roan Ravenhill

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