According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable a ‘dog in a manger’ refers to a mean-spirited person who refuses to let others use what is wanted by them, yet does not use it himself/herself. This in turn alludes to the fable of a dog sitting in a manger and not letting the ox eat the hay in it even though the dog would not eat it either!
It was at the Kameelsleep waterhole (71 Km from Nossob) in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park that we saw a Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) exhibiting similar behaviour. This particular waterhole is in the form of a water trough, rather than a pool or dam, surrounded by the pale Kalahari sand.
The hyena was already standing in the trough and drinking when we arrived. The apparently tranquil scene included a small herd of Gemsbuck (Oryx gazelle) gathered near the trees and a single Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) positioned close to the water trough.
Every now and then this opportunistic creature would creep ever closer and even mount the edge of the trough to try and get to the water.
Each time it would be rebuffed by the hyena and retreat with a submissive stance to either curl up on the ground for a while or remain standing a short distance away. The jackal kept a sharp focus on every move of the hyena.
The hyena meanwhile had clearly had its fill of water and simply remained standing in the trough. Once it got out, but as soon as the jackal darted closer it stepped right back into the water!
This impasse continued for some time.
A small group of gemsbuck, however, detached themselves from the herd and gave the impression of ganging up against the hyena and marching it off their territory! They did this by grouping closely together with their heads lowered. It was in this fashion that they walked steadfastly behind the hyena for some distance before returning to the waterhole to join the others in the dappled shade.
In the absence of a suitable guide book in the shops within the Park, we were pleased to have brought the 2013 edition of Go! Kgalagadi with us. It was from this publication that we learned that the name Kameelsleep comes from it having been the place where the last giraffe (kameelperd) was shot and dragged off.
Happily, these graceful animals have since been re-introduced and we were able to enjoy some magnificent views of them browsing amongst the trees in the area of Mata-Mata.