Tug of War at Chikwenya



Kate MacWilliam


On a safari to Chikwenya Camp in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, I sat contemplating the day ahead. We’d already been lucky with water-based sightings from our canoe, and I now sat admiring the sweeping views of the valley and how the morning light touched each tree – coating the branches and leaves in shades of gold and orange. There was the familiar call of the Cape turtle dove, singing its morning song, one that continues throughout the day, reassuringly telling everyone to ‘work harder’.


From our breakfast table I had a front row seat onto a dry floodplain that morphs into the great Zambezi River; here I could make out a saddle-billed stork, its distinct red and yellow bill digging for insects, while a hippo walked by on the far bank. Herds of waterbuck and impala could also be seen and a troop of baboon paraded to our left, family members swinging wildly from trees, while youngsters chased each other up the base of a termite mound.





We had the best show of all, watching from our table as the wildlife, like us, began to spring to life.


Abraham, our Wilderness guide, also known as AB, broke my gaze, asking if I’d seen the pack of wild dog outside our room. I felt a pang of disappointment. We hadn’t seen them, nor had we heard them. AB must have read my expression as he quickly announced that we would go in search of the pack. He was sure that there was still a chance we could find them.


My companion and I quickly hopped onto the game vehicle, our hearts racing a little faster in anticipation of what we might see.





We were about 10 minutes from the camp when we spotted the fluffy white tails of a pack of painted dogs scurrying between trees in the riverbed. A flock of helmeted guinea fowl appeared right beside them, not at all concerned by their presence, while the dogs stopped and stood at attention, ears pricked and eyes wide.





We then watched as the dogs came into full view of our vehicle. Before we could make out what was happening, we saw a cloud of dust and heard a loud yelp followed by excited squeals. The pack had come across the remains of an impala that they must have killed earlier, and having regrouped, were now fending off their hungry competitors.







The hyena clan backed off but stood waiting in the wings. A lone hyaena then snuck in behind the ravenous pack of three dogs, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Once again, dust billowed and a noisy commotion broke out – the hyaena yanking at the leftover impala while the wild dog, having strength in numbers, tugged back. While this was happening, an African fish-eagle swooped in from the right, eyeing out the remains and making off with a decent-sized piece. It was extraordinary to watch. The tug of war continued until the hyaena broke off, taking the carrion with him and loping into the distance as fast he could go. This was followed by the wild dog chasing after the opportunistic scavenger. The wild dog managed to snatch back the carcass and came bounding back to the tree where they’d first made the kill, all furiously digging into the last bit of impala.







With the kill left unguarded, the African fish-eagle watched from the boughs of a leadwood tree, swooping down once again to find whatever it could from the ‘crime scene’.








One of the female wild dogs was known to be denning in the area and she made a bee-line for the road, leaving the two dogs to feed while she headed back to regurgitate food for her pups.





We watched as the two remaining dogs continued to feed. What a morning it had been. Watching it all, it became clear that the real prize-winner was undoubtedly the fish-eagle. The fearless bird had exerted the least effort of all and had come away with the greatest reward.


Written and Photographed by Kate MacWilliam



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