Wed 21 Sep 2011 - Thu 22 Sep 2011
In the wilderness of Africa, it is ‘kill or be killed’. But as we learned in Serengeti National Park, sometimes it is also a case of ‘kill, and eat your kill quickly, or someone else will’. The great cats of Africa – the cheetah and the leopard, at least – were not having much success during our visit.
Our Jeep bumped along the dusty path, creating a cloud behind us that landed on our skin when we stopped suddenly. Fourteen eyes were trained on the landscape surrounding us, ready for any movement, as it indicated life on the plains. Standing up through the open top of our Jeep, we were most likely chatting quietly when Wendy broke in with, “Kill!” This was the moment we had been waiting for. Our eyes darted to where she was looking. A cheetah was in pursuit. I foolishly raised the SLR to my eye and tried to find the cheetah through the viewfinder. Nothing. Lowering it, I saw a cloud of dust – had she really moved that fast? And with that, we lost her. Seconds later, the cheetah returned with a Thomson’s gazelle hanging limp from her mouth. She dragged her prize across our dusty path and we were finally able to photograph the achievement. Excited, eager and quite intrusive, we spooked the cheetah and she dropped the kill to flee into the grass.
The next day we drove past a busy scene. Vultures caught our eyes first, but we soon realized that a cheetah and her two cubs were attempting to eat a Thompson’s gazelle. Next on the scene was a lone hyena. Cheetahs, being the fastest land animals on Earth, are built for speed, but are wimps when it comes to confrontation. While the hyena was approximately the same height and weight as the mother cheetah, it dominated by boldly claiming the carcass as its own. The trio of cheetah sulked away, defeated and hungry.
Later, our driver got a call and responded by driving us toward a rocky outcrop. “What’s there?” we wanted to know, but he had to see it for himself first. We slowly circled around the rocks, and then idled where other Jeeps had parked. They pointed, and we looked, but it was not clear what we were looking for. Then, slight movement indicated it was a leopard, hiding from something. We saw what that something was as we kept driving. A lone tree was the interest of three hyenas. Up in the tree dangled a Thompson’s gazelle. Clearly the hyenas couldn’t climb the tree, so it was just a matter of time. The leopard would emerge, try to consume her meal, and perhaps drop it for the scavengers below. We had to leave in order to let nature take its course.
I suppose the moral of the story is, even on an unlucky day, be thankful you’re not the Thompson’s gazelle!