Changing Planet

Witness an Epic Clash Between Wild Dogs and Elephants

It was a late afternoon in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park when Sabine Featherby of Baines’ River Camp came across a rare pack of wild dogs that had just brought five pups out of their den site.

“The last time I saw wild dogs in the Zambezi Valley was in 2006,” remembers Featherby, “so seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild again was very exciting!”

The pack was completely at ease, enjoying an afternoon siesta and hiding from the November heat.

4 Pups at play
Photo by Baines’ River Camp

“We had the wonderful opportunity to photograph some of the pups,” Featherby says. “An elephant bull joined the scene and proceeded to feed on a bush about 20 meters from the dogs.”

In the midst of such a tranquil scene, nobody could have predicted the pending chaos.

As the sun set over the escarpment, the entire pack moved into the open area, where the pups started to play—their distinctive high-pitched giggles echoing through the bush.

“Everybody was focused on the interaction between the dogs,” Featherby says “And then, without warning, the elephant bull charged the dogs at full speed. He was trumpeting and flapping his ears as the pack scattered away.”

 

6 1st charge
Photo by Baines’ River Camp

The other adult members of the pack gathered their courage, moved in, and chased the elephant from the den site.

The trumpeting alerted other elephants in the area, and a group of four bulls strode into view. One of the elephants charged, but the adult dogs fended him off, and forced the four bulls into the surrounding bush.

Photo by Baines’ River Camp
11 2nd charge
Photo by Baines’ River Camp

Five minutes later, another lone bull appeared and determinedly charged at the pack.

The dogs were on their feet in an instant. As the bull got within a few yards of the canines, he dug his front feet into the soil, kicking up a cloud of dust.

For a third time the dogs showed no fear, sending another elephant running.

17 4th charge
Photo by Baines’ River Camp
18 4th charge
Photo by Baines’ River Camp

As if this wasn’t enough of a hint, one of the formidable four elephants gave it another go. But the dogs were highly agitated and reversed the bull into the trees.

It was 4-0 to the African wild dogs after 20 minutes of tussling, and the elephants finally cut their losses and left the scene.

The light was fading, and having enjoyed almost 45 minutes with this pack, the vehicle left them in peace.

“It was truly a sighting of a lifetime,” says Featherby. “One that none of us will ever forget.”

Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel magazine, and now provides digital content and expertise to various African lodges, NGO's and travel companies.In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros and blogged about the journey. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News .Contact: paul@paulsteyn.com Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
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  • Kenneth R Wilson

    My wife just bought me a subscription to National Geographic, but getting all the things in the email is a great bonus… I love the videos.

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