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Notes from the Field: Katie Solari - An Evening with Wild Dogs and Hyenas

Hyena in Botswana

On our evening drive we were on the search for wild dogs and their pups that we knew were in the area. Suddenly, a line of six dogs come out of the tall grass, walking right past a seventh laying in the grass that I hadn’t even noticed was there. They walked right by our car, seemingly unaffected by our presence. They were on the hunt and couldn’t be bothered. When the adults disappeared into the bushes we drove on and succeeded in finding the den with the pups playing with each other on top of a sand mound while mom and a young male alertly watched over. Never had I thought it would be possible that we would be seeing wild dogs, let alone pups. But for me that wasn’t the highlight of the evening drive. 

Wild dog puppies in Botswana

Once the sun went down, we took out the spot light and started driving back in the direction of our camp site. Our first stop on the way back was a hyena den where three adults were watching over the youngsters. We could hear the young underground but they did not come above the surface as the adults seemed very agitated and were keeping them in their safe space out of sight. Our next stop would come a little ways from the den when we heard a piercing scream that sounded like fighting cats. Gareth, our amazingly knowledgeable and experienced guide, whipped the car around to investigate the commotion and we saw two hyenas fighting over an impala carcass. One hyena ran by our car with a leg bone in its mouth as another lifted its head up above the grass to reveal an entire rib cage in its mouth. Gareth said that the impala was likely the evening kill of the wild dogs that we saw march out onto the hunt so determinedly earlier that evening. Apparently, neither the wild dog pups nor hyena young would be going to sleep hungry that night.

But for me, the most moving part of the evening came on our way back to camp when we passed a herd of impala, all of their eyes shining back at us as the spot light swiped over them. They were alert and at full attention, not like the usual impala herds that we had passed on previous night drives – just eyes in the tall grass relaxed and resting on the ground. This was the herd that had just lost a member to the wild dogs. Even after seeing and hearing the adorable pups of the predators, I couldn’t help but feel bad for this herd and the impala that was killed that night… and to be grateful that I was merely an observer driving through this ecosystem and not a part of it. 

Katie Solari in BotswanaKatie Solari is a Postdoctoral scholar in the Hadly Lab