Wild Men, Wild Women & Wild Dogs: Cutting-edge, cooperation for Competition

Wilderness Workshop No.15




Wild Dogs or Painted Hunting Dogs as I often prefer to call them, are an exciting pack animal to observe if you have the privilege to be out on safari. They have great playful energy and enjoy greeting each other with mouthed-kisses. This is one of their ways of saying:


“Hey you are family, let’s hang out together”.


They are not only cooperative hunters, but breeders and feeders as well. They submit all their celebrated, individual idiosyncrasies to the wellbeing of the pack. So if you want to reflect on what enhances teamwork, they are an inspiration.



The origins of the word “competition”, actually means to “strive together”. As we observe the African wild dogs we can learn how each individual working together enables the pack to perform extraordinary feats, for example capturing a kudu. This is an incredible feat when you consider that a dog weighs about 25kg and a female kudu about 170kg They challenge the charring competitive spirit of “let’s exploit someone weaker so I can be stronger”. Instead, they encourage the community or team connectivity that embraces:


“You are because I am”.



The wild dog pups form a strong bond with their fellow pack members from the moment they are born by eating, playing, and even sleeping as one unified pack. This is worth emulating to be a successful sporting team it is worth developing friendships and relationships of trust that extend beyond match day, I know of many rugby players who are still friends 40 years after initially playing together as a competitive team.


In the section of video footage chosen for this Weekly Wilderness Webinar, we focused on a wild dog hunting strategy called: “The Trap”. This particular pack of wild dogs hails from Huluhluwe-Umfolosi Game Reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal. They are a pack of 8 adults and many newly born pups. So there are many mouths to feed. While the “puppy-sitter” stays behind to protect the pups, the other 7 adults head out to hunt. The terrain they chose is dense bush, and the particular prey they are seeking is a male Nyala bull – a sizeable foe.

Their strategy is to send out a scout or forerunner to find the prey and flush him out, while the rest of the team waits in formation in a well-formed line that will capture the fleeing prey like a net. The scout is initially disadvantaged by being colorblind as he is unable to see prey standing still in the shadows of the trees. He is undeterred and uses his sense of smell when his skillful sight is compromised.



The professional understanding for a sporting team is that each individual has a role to play. When performing that action the player has more than one skill he can call upon. The mindset is not to give up if one course of action is not available, but to be resourceful and use other tactics instead.


The nyala is alerted to the presence of the wild dog scout by a colleague sharing his terrain – it is a vervet monkey who chatters, agitatedly from the tallest branch to his own clan that a dangerous predator is snooping around. The nyala moves to escape and is spotted. The scout now changes roles and becomes the driver of the hunt with the prey now insight.

Again we see the wisdom of an individual in a team having versatility and being able to adapt to the right moves when the opportunity presents itself. However he is unable to bring down the nyala on his own, so the other team members need to be alert, aware, and adapt too otherwise the change in direction could cost them the pursuit of their goal.



Fortunately for the pursuing wild dog, his teammates have heard the change of direction. Wild dogs have amazing antennae-like ears that are rotated like large sonar dishes by 19 well-trained muscles. The strategy line moves left to capture the fleeing prey. Two of the dogs heard the change and the other 4 dogs align their bodies to their teammates' change of direction. It is their experience at hunting together that makes this magically connected movement p0ssible.



There can be many times in a sporting competition where the opposition can choose an unexpected tactic. The ability of the opposing team to adjust accordingly can turn potential defeat into victory, or lose them the game. It is a split-second decision dependent not only on hours of self-disciplined physical preparation but also practice after practice that brings a knowledge of each other that builds bonds that flow intuitively.



The nyala is caught, the goal is achieved. All team members feed without bickering as to who should get the major portion, and food is carried home and regurgitated to the nursemaid and pups. Without the collective, there is no survival for an individual in a wild dog pack, or a sporting team. The wild dogs provide a visual and experiential model that our greatest successes come from mutual aid and cooperation.


If you would like to join in with Weekly Wilderness Webinars please email me wildernessencountersafrica@gmail.com

so I can send you the zoom link to connect in



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Mandy Young

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