What could you possibly have in common with one of the most feared and hated predators of the animal kingdom? Finding comfort on a full tummy is one shared feature. For us it’s a couch, for a Wild Dog in Botswana, it’s the curve of cool sand left behind from a tire track. Something that conforms to the spine. Something to support the telltale, distended belly of gluttony.
We found African Wild Dogs after several days of searching. We went no further, content to watch them full bellies and all. At first in the hot afternoon there was little action. A few changed places as they sought deeper shade as we observed subtle gestures that acknowledge dominance (or lack of dominance), comfort maneuvers to scratch, stretch, or sniff; one longer foray to the bathroom. Our guides looked up, “did we want to go?” Even our ardent birders declined. Wild Dogs are rare, the opportunity to view them even more so. We’d wait for something to happen. One would roll, two would entwine, young ones got restless and then resigned. This group was going nowhere; they were bloated, full of the life blood of something recently fleet of foot, but not fleet enough, the ultimate recycling.
Dusk approached, we cranked the ISO settings of our cameras up to quadruple digits. Two fat adults moved within meters of our vehicles, seeking comfort in the embrace of soft sand. One less endowed adult, perhaps a young mother, slung low to the ground as she approached the three youngsters as if she were a textbook omega. She took on their exuberant, tooth-bearing kill tactics in style. It was time for lessons. There would be a day when prey would not come so easily and it was her job to see they were ready. Africa brings moments to stare into other’s eyes. That those others live across a chasm of understanding is monumental food for thought.
Perhaps that is why we lingered at watching Wild Dogs. We declined the chance to move on. Their grimaces, gestures and beings emulate dogs, the ones we have at home, the ones that invite us across that chasm again and again. Our most precious relationships challenge us to accept all sides, remnants of human’s elemental anchor-sharp killing skills — survival behaviors, allied in angst at times with social comforts and bonding. This pack, this poignant afternoon, both seem elusive. The answers are there, but our questions are yet unformed….
Crazy about Canids? Try our Yellowstone Winter Wolf trip this January http://www.naturalistjourneys.com/jcalendar/jc_YNPwolves11.htm