As photographic volunteers at Zimanga Private Game Reserve (South Africa) we were on our usual morning activity of tracking wild dogs. After being on the rocky trail for a few hours, we eventually caught up with the pack of six. Over the course of the next half hour, we followed the dogs as they strategically made their way along the road, and adrift the sickle brush, in a formation that is indicative of hunting.
Eventually the wild dogs emerged from the thicket only to find themselves face to face with a herd of elephants. There were approximately fifteen of them and they weren’t pleased that the pack of wayward dogs had entered their area. The dominant “tusker” took the lead and gathered the others into a group. The adult elephants placed the adolescent elephants between themselves and proceeded to cross their trunks, much like a web, in order to create a barrier and defend the little ones.
The wild dogs meandered as if they had no concerns, but the elephants were none too pleased with the dog’s presence. The dominant male elephant presented his ears and started to charge the dogs with the rest of the elephants in tow. Due to their immense size, the elephants gave the illusion that they were moving in slow motion, but lets not be mistaken, these elephants were moving at about 30km/hr!
The wild dogs casually paced away from the giants, remaining just out of danger from the charging pack. It was almost as if they were taunting the elephants. After a short period of time the dogs stopped running and preceded to rest, seemingly, a safe distance from the angry elephants.
As we sat and watched, fascinated, we realized that the elephants were obviously not satisfied with their effort to dispatch the wild dogs. Again the elephants banded together and proceeded to charge the dogs for a second time! Much to our amazement, the alpha male dog immediately identified the vehicle, from which we were taking pictures, as a safe haven and led the rest of the dogs behind it to take refuge. As they quickly darted behind the vehicle, we realized that the dogs had placed us between them and the hostile elephants. It was truly a testament to the decision-making ability of this very young alpha male. At a mere year and a half old, this wild dog is wise beyond his years.
Meanwhile, as the dogs gathered behind the truck, our group of photographers found ourselves in a perilous situation. There we were, standing in an open back truck while ten elephants loomed in a united front stamping, fluttering their ears, and trumpeting in a threatening manner. It was difficult to feel comfortable standing our ground, but it was required. In this particular situation, it would not have served us (or the wild dogs) to retreat. The stand off lasted for about five minutes, all the while, the elephants kept encroaching on our vehicle.
Finally the wild dogs had enough entertainment and trotted off into the distance as if nothing had ever happened. The same can’t be said for our group however. We all spent the next thirty minutes calming our hearts and discussing how fortunate we were to have experienced such an encounter. It is indeed rare to be a part of
such a scene. What a blessing.
Post by: Conservation volunteer, Byron Goggin.
Byron is a 13-time Emmy winning Director of Photography, currently creating programming for Discovery Channel, National Geographic, History, the BBC and many other well known networks.
Susu Hauser is a cinematographer – producer/shooter.
Elle Pollard is a professional photographer.