Wild Dogs in Conflict

We were at the zoo shortly after opening.  Many of the animals hadn’t even come outside.  Those who had were very lively, as if treasuring the time before the heat rose or perhaps these last few lingering moments of privacy.

When we arrived at the African wild dog enclosure, the dogs were wide awake and very active.  Each one had a fresh bone on which meat clung, vividly red in the soft, dappled light of their tree-shaded space.

One dog – I called him Oscar for no reason at all – decided that a single bone wasn’t enough for him.  Although his bone still had meat on it, he left it and trotted over to where another wild dog – call him Joe – was working over his bone.  There was ample yipping and snapping, as well as quite a lot of whining and squealing.  Their open mouths were oddly triangular, the insides as dark as their coats.

Joe kept glancing up at the closed door behind him, obviously hoping someone would open it and give him an easy escape.  No one did, though.  Indeed, despite all the fury,  the conclusion seemed foreordained.  Joe was clearly not much of a fighter.  In a short time, Oscar had stolen Joe’s bone.

Head high, Oscar carried his prize over to his chosen post (which happened to be right under the windows through which Jim and I were watching).  He then proceeded to go back and forth between his two bones, worrying off the meat and, in general, seeming very satisfied with himself.

Joe was not happy about his loss, but it became rapidly apparent that he was a timid soul.  He made a few feints as if he was going to come over and try to reclaim his bone.  However, the merest glance from Oscar would send him scampering to his barren corner.  Oscar was very pleased by his dominance, so much so that when Joe went to the small pond and settled for a drink as a poor substitute for his lost bone, Oscar decided this was the purest impudence.  Leaving both bones behind, he charged into the water and drove Joe away.

Now, Oscar and Joe weren’t the only wild dogs in the enclosure.  There were two others who, to this point, had ignored all the fuss in favor of concentrating on enjoying their own bones.  However, Oscar’s claiming the pond was apparently too much for them.  When Oscar drove Joe out of the pond, then settled himself in for a leisurely drink that proclaimed him King of the Pond, this pair – let’s call them Butch and Sundance – charged over.

Working as a team, Butch and Sundance charged Oscar, making it very clear that they did not agree to his claim that he was King of the Pond.  For a few breathless moments, the pond was transformed from a quiet water-feature into a swirling mass of three wild dogs and splashing water.  Before long, the battle surged out of the pond and into the enclosure at large.  Oscar was big and tough, but Butch and Sundance proved the old adage about there being strength in numbers.

Although we saw the white flash of teeth, we saw no blood.  Nonetheless, the three dogs’ yelps and cries made it very clear that they were all quite serious about their contest.  In the end, Oscar surrendered the pond.  Something like tranquility returned to the sun-dappled space.

And Joe…  Did he go retrieve his stolen bone?  Did he seek out any of the four bones that had been abandoned?  He considered both options.  We watched him edge near to where the bones had been left by Butch and Sundance, only to shrink away as if they were still standing there.  We watched him circle to where his stolen bone rested.  In the end, all the bones remained untouched, as staunchly guarded by Joe’s fears as they would have been by their actual owners.

The moral of this story?  There isn’t one unless you choose to give it.  This is just what we saw when we went to the zoo early, soon after opening, when most of the animals had not yet come out into their enclosures.

6 Responses to “Wild Dogs in Conflict”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Nature gives us so much to observe. A full story told in the simple behaviors of some wild dogs. Who needs a script? Just watch and wait. We can add cool music and voice over’s later. 😀

  2. paulgenesse Says:

    Hi Jane,

    African Wild Dogs are fascinating. I learned in college they they are the most successful carnivores in Africa. They succeed in their hunts far more often than lions, and their pack nature helps them survive well. The sad news is that diseases from common dogs is reducing their numbers, as man encroaches on their historical territory.

    Thanks for sharing this scene with us, Jane.

    Paul Genesse

  3. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I want to give Joe a bone. 😦

  4. heteromeles Says:

    I agree that you get to see the really fun stuff when you go to the zoo really early or really late, especially on weekdays. That’s my preferred time as well.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    Much as I enjoy going to the zoo with the kids in my life, I prefer to go with just Jim or an adult friend or so. Kids race by, collecting animals they’ve seen as if they’re counting coup. Adults will stand and watch one type for a while. Often a story unfolds…

    There was a the day the baby zebra went over to provoke the ostrich and the two ended up racing around together….

  6. Chad Merkley Says:

    A very cool story. And I appreciate your point about there not being a moral unless we choose to make one. Morality and meaning are human inventions. Nature just is.

    And I wish I lived close to a really nice zoo. The nearest ones are in Seattle and Portland, both close to four hours away. Oh, well. I just have go and find wildlife to watch instead.

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