It has been more than two months without a sighting of Solo, the lone wild dog who became famous for ‘befriending’ jackals, protecting and feeding them at Mombo – something that guests and staff alike have been privileged to enjoy for the past four-and-a-half years.
Solo was part of a larger pack that used to terrorise the floodplains around camp – impala, red lechwe and kudu were all easy prey to their speed and agility. That pack was sadly reduced to three when they were caught in an ambush set by lions and most of the surviving dogs left the area, with three deciding to stay. Shortly after this the trio was reduced to one: Solo. The guides were unsure if the other two had been killed or simply moved off in search of their pack members, but Solo was not leaving, she was staying put.
At first, it was thought that her condition would deteriorate due to not being able to hunt in a pack as she had her whole life; however, it was soon apparent that her skill was no match for her prey, mostly impala. Solo, being alone, had the advantage of not having other dogs break cover or alert the prey. She could wake up, yawn, stretch and set off on the hunt, often bringing down her prey within a few hundred yards of her resting spot.
Whilst her survival was amazing, what was even more fascinating was her desire for companionship. She started taking it upon herself to share her kills with the local black-backed jackals and, even more so, their offspring. This phenomenal interaction was caught on camera and documented by Brad Bestelink in Solo, A Wild Dog’s Tale.
Further to her relationship with the jackals, in which she eventually connected with at least four known parent couples, was her interaction with hyaena. The hyaena would tolerate her and even greet her in the late afternoons at the airstrip before watching her set off on her hunt. They would lope as close behind as they could, knowing that she would be successful and they would be able to bully her off and get a meal to themselves. This amazing change in temperament towards a wild dog is uncommon as hyaena and wild dog usually tear into each other whenever possible.
It was impossible not to have a smile on our faces as we would watch the greeting rituals and Solo bounding off with a few hyaena and a couple of jackal in hot pursuit. Her connection with the jackals was so strong that she would slow her hunts at times, waiting for the shorter-legged canines to catch up. At night, before lying down, she would call to see if her companions were near, a haunting call that would resonate around the area.
The last sightings of Solo happened around the same time that a pack of five bachelor wild dog entered the area. It is not known if the pack chased her off or, as our first thoughts were, whether she joined up with them. However, having the nature she did, she may have shown signs of aggression to them as they neared the jackal den and they could have responded. She would be no match for five young males. The males have been seen since and unfortunately their numbers have not risen to six.
Another hypothesis is that time simply caught up with her. She was a mature female when the pack disbanded and so she could have already been in her twilight years. Slower reaction times when it came to lions, tussling with a large male leopard, the wrong step and a snake bite, so many different options can be played over and over again in one’s head, the answers unknown, the questions limitless.
A final thought could also be that she simply moved out of the area. Fires came through the northern part of the concession just prior to our last sightings of her and this cleared out a lot of the dead grass. With the new area now lush, flatter and green, it attracts herds of impala, red lechwe and zebra. She may have simply moved territory to escape the hyperactive playfulness of the five young wild dog and for a quieter life with other jackals.
There is still hope that she will be seen back in the immediate area as the seasons change with her band of merry companions following. While we do not know where or how she went, what we do know is that we were all the better for having been privileged to witness this remarkable story play out in front of us, immortalised in our memories, in photos and even on film.
Solo: a solitary wild dog changing perceptions of the remarkable wild world we live in.