Mad Dogs and Englishmen… or Wild Dogs and Americans

Mad Dogs and Englishmen… or Wild Dogs and Americans

Reflections on Them vs. Us

As some of my readers might have noticed, I am extremely fond of animals, animal images and animal metaphors. Some say that animals differ from humans in that they don’t possess souls. I challenge anyone to live with critters for a bit and to uphold that theory. All the animals who’ve chosen to live with me (and it has been their choice) most definitely have souls, deeper souls than many of the Homo sapiens I’ve known.
Last fall, my husband and I took a trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. One of the highlights was an up-close sighting of a pack of wild dogs. You can see just how close we were to them by the outline of the vehicle in the photo. These are a seriously endangered species. Our tracker had only seen them twice in ten years. Our guide had only seen them a few times and said we were the luckiest safari he’d led, as we’d seen “the big five” and “the magnificent seven” in just three days. The wild dogs were not even on the list as a remote possibility. Why set tourists up for disappointment? I had never heard of them, in any event, so it hardly would have mattered in my case. But suddenly, there they were, cavorting with their newborn pups, like any family, frolicking and enjoying life. We watched them for a very long time in awed silence before giving up the spot and opportunity to another Land Rover from our lodge.

“They were so adorable, so loving,” I remarked to our guide.

“They’re ferocious,” our guide informed us. “You should see them when they get their teeth into an impala. Not a pretty sight.”

“But that’s their food,” I objected, taking the side of the appealing little creatures. “We human kill one another simply because we can’t get along.”

The guide smiled. “Yes, that is true,” he said. He was an appealing fellow, an Afrikaner who only guided with one Zulu tracker. They took vacations at the same time so that neither one would ever be out in the bush without the other. They were a marvelous pair. “Even so,” he added, “I don’t think you would like to see it.”

At the next lodge we visited, we were on safari with an American couple who travel to Africa on a regular basis. He is a skilled photographer, and she simply loves Africa. They were on the lookout for a kill.

“Have you ever seen one?” I asked.

“Almost,” she said. “The kill is so quick that you can easily miss it. They jump at the throat and bring the prey down instantly. So I didn’t really see the actual kill, but I did see them eating.”

“I don’t know if I would want to see that or not,” I told her.

Her answer was quick and to the point, “It’s nature. It’s what happens out here. It’s what has to happen.”

Of course, I thought. How did I imagine they would eat? It’s not a zoo. It is a rule of the bush that the animals are never fed, and water is only brought in the worst of droughts.

I thought about the wild dogs again, how small they were in comparison to the graceful impala that they hunt. One impala could probably feed the whole pack, I would think. And once they were sated, they would sleep and then travel on until they were hungry again. They would not need to kill more than they could eat, and they would not kill unless they were hungry.

The wild dogs have no wish to eliminate the impala. That would be foolish. They are, after all, their dinner. They have no grudge against the impala. They don’t unite to run them out of the bush. There is no “them versus us.” One impala for dinner is plenty for everyone, and tomorrow there will be another hunt somewhere else along the way. It is the nature of things, the circle of life.

The next day, we finally did chase the lion kill of a rhino. The guide got the word over the radio and yelled, “Hang on!!” Our Land Rover hurtled over rocks and brush. We ducked down in our seats to avoid tree branches and to stay inside the cab. When we finally arrived, most of the pride had finished eating and were napping in the sun. Vultures were gathered overhead, waiting in the treetops. The rhino was not exactly recognizable, but the guide was able to point out where a lone cub was still feasting on the exposed ribcage. In spite of myself, I was fascinated. And again, one rhino was quite enough for the whole pride.

blog-SouthAfricaJust days ago, the world watched as babies were suffocated with poison gas. A young Syrian man stood holding his dead infant twins. The world watches as children march across continents, pitch tents on roads to nowhere, their families dead or lost, hopeless to envision any kind of a future. And world leaders dine in extravagance. I am not innocent. I also often dine in extravagance.

The older I get, the less hope I hold out for either mankind or myself. It seems reasonable to me that we could all help one another to live decent lives. Or so it seems. I sign petitions, write some letters, make a few phone calls, donate here and there, and I write. And often it seems, the only real thing I can do is to write.

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