We all know spotted hyenas are dogged by some tenacious misconceptions, but every so often, the cackling carnivores live up to the stereotype of thief and plunderer. 

On a recent game drive through the northern reaches of South Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve, field guide Sean Zeederberg and his safari guests found themselves in front-row seats for a showdown between two classic adversaries: a pack of wild dogs with a freshly killed impala and a hungry hyena set on looting some lunch. 

Wild dogs might be high-speed pack hunters of the highest order – they've been described as the "ultimate cooperative persistence predator" but their relatively small stature makes them vulnerable to kleptoparasitism from rival carnivores, spotted hyenas chief among them.

"Hyenas over the centuries have wised up to the success of the wild dogs and are often seen trailing behind packs at a distance, waiting to steal their kills," writes Zeederberg over at the Londolozi blog.

Having successfully chased down and dispatched their impala prey, the Londolozi pack seemed keenly aware of just such a threat: the dogs quickly got started on some quality feasting, but remained visibly on edge, a sentry posted at the ready. "One dog always stood guard and circled around the rest as they fed. [They seemed] very alert and nervous, each dog popping its head up to look around in between each mouthful, as if knowing what was about to happen," Zeederberg recalls. 

Sure enough, mealtime was soon interrupted by a barrelling hyena. By this time, the dogs had eaten well and not much of the carcass remained, though a few choice organ morsels certainly warranted defending. 

With the hyena's burlier form and bigger jaws stacked against the dogs' strength-in-numbers offensive – and both carnivores armed with some impressive vocal skills – what followed was pandemonium on a suitably grand scale. 

"By collectively mobbing the hyena, each taking turns running in from behind to try bite it on the hindquarters, the dogs put up a good fight," writes Zeederberg. "The hyena almost appeared to sit on the kill and defend it while calling for reinforcements. By tucking its tail in and sitting down, it tried to prevent any further damage to its behind, although still coming out with numerous wounds."

Showdowns of this nature can certainly swing both ways, but despite the dogs' best efforts, victory wasn't on the cards here – especially with other hyenas arriving to the scene, drawn in by the commotion.  

"The wild dogs did not back down even though they were already on the losing side, proving the effectiveness and value of existing in packs. As the reinforcements of their arch enemy arrived, they swiftly abandoned what remained of the impala kill and moved away."

The hyenas, meanwhile, were left in peace to divvy up the scarps.