I recently prepared some talking points for a seminar on effective teams and while searching my archives for illustrations, came across notes I had made almost 20 years ago about a remarkable hunt I witnessed in Ethiopia. In all its cruelty (I always feel for the prey), I think this true story offers a few tiny lessons.
It was a really hot afternoon in the Awash National Park, one could feel and see the air vibrating in the heat. We decided to take a trip down to the Awash river, more to escape the heat at the camp site in the air-conditioned comfort of our truck than expecting to see any animals in the mid afternoon blaze. So much for knowing what the future will bring.
Even before reaching the river, we saw a large herd of impalas grazing peacefully on the dry savannah, not far from the tracks we were traveling. The next thing we observed was a pack of African wild dogs, probably more than 10, in the distance. They stood completely quiet, watching the antelopes, big ears pointing up, listening intently. No one moved. We didn’t either.
The next few minutes were tense, the hunters observing the prey and (I’m sure) making plans, while the impalas yet had to pick up the scent of danger. Then suddenly the hunt started. Watch that speed of the two leading alpha dogs! And the resulting confusion in the impalas herd when all of them instantaneously realized the present danger. They darted away, seemingly in many different directions. The dogs were communicating loudly to coordinate their movements and the dust filled the air. The wild chaos lasted only a few minutes until two adult antelopes were separated from the herd, running far out in the opposite direction. The hunting strategy seemed to work so far.
We drove into the terrain to follow the wild hunt a bit closer. I remember secretly hoping that this would be one of the rare 10-15% of hunts that fail for these wild dogs. For a while it seemed that the two impalas might have a slim chance, but soon it was evident that only one of them would. The chase was intense and high-speed. The dogs vocalized their messages to each other all the time, and the coordination of their circling and zigzagging was absolutely fascinating. When the leading dog got tired out, another dog took over. And so it went on for close to an hour, until they got their prey.
I have to say I was very impressed by the collaboration exhibited by these wild dogs, Africa’s best hunters without comparison. In the course of this chase, they communicated continuously, coordinated their actions, helped each other out, and showed extraordinary understanding, commitment and endurance to reach their goal. Maybe something there to learn from.