AT A KILL IN THE KRUGER – TWO ACCOUNTS OF INTERPRETATION

My many years guiding international visitors to the Kruger have provided me with fantastic opportunities to explore the different aspects of life on the African savannah. Whether we are looking at the actual animal, or simply at its signs, the interpretation of the ecology and behaviour of the animal or event is always fascinating.

‘At a kill in the Kruger’ is an interpretation of two great sightings. A female leopard and her cubs with their porcupine kill, and two lionesses on their impala kill.


The leopard’s patience!

There were two reasons why we waited two and a half hours for a leopardess with to come and fetch her porcupine kill metres away from the vehicle.

The first reason is that we wanted to see a leopard close up, and the second reason was I knew she would return. This story is about the reasons I knew she would come back and fetch her porcupine kill.

She had cubs with her (about 3 months old) and her success rate for large mammals, (I consider the porcupine as relatively large) is hard work.

Female leopards on territory need priority access to that area’s resources in order to raise their cubs. She is the only one that can ensure the proper development and education her cubs will need in order to survive. The ‘resources’ in her area do not make it easy – in fact they make it extremely difficult for mom leopard to teach hunting techniques, and how to kill effectively – even if it’s a porcupine.

Food defends itself in the bush, and this particular rodent – the porcupine – can make a lasting point about defence.  The leopard would have grabbed the head of the porcupine and tried to flip it over – the porcupine would have spent most of its time trying not to let that happen. In this case the porcupine was killed.

The kill must have happened in the early hours of the morning; we arrived while the mother and her two cubs were beginning to feed.  The leopard wasn’t visible but I knew she was still there. I switched off the vehicle and began to wait, this leopard would not leave her kill, I knew that, and a test of who’s resolve and patience would last. The odds were in my favour that she would come back while we were still watching, the sun was coming up and the carcass would soon begin to send out messages to vultures and hyenas.

She had cubs to look after and our presence at the kill site would concern her but as time moved on, she would have to learn that we were incidental and posed no threat.

It took two hours for the leopard to return the 20 metres she needed to fetch the porcupine. We were still there and my guests got some really good observation – particularly about the patience and ability of a leopard to disappear into the grass 20 metres from them!

I talked about camouflage. The hunter’s tools, learned behaviour and survival out in the bush. We talked about predator and prey relationships and the symbiosis between the two. We listened to the morning, as the birds woke up, and we began to understand the challenge of patience on the African savannah.


Have you got the stomach to watch dung beetles?


ungry lionesses hunting and a young impala ewe ruminating, the herd watchful but in this instance, not attentive enough – and then suddenly there’s a warning, the ox-peckers fly up into the air shouting, impalas scrabble to their feet and scatter, jumping high up over the brush, kicking their hind legs vertically and barking out warnings – all except one impala – the one that wasn’t fast enough. The first lioness grabbed her from out of the grass and the second lioness hanging on her hindquarters. There was only time for one last bleat before finality, a sporadic jerking of the legs, a better grip by one of the lionesses and then she was ripped apart like the rope tearing in a tug-of-war dual.

Each lioness took their share and panting, crouched over the spoils to eat. We watched, along with a lone male hyena that was in the right place in the right time. The lionesses were 10 feet from us when they began feeding.

The impala was barely recognisable after just 10 minutes; she was young enough for her skull, vertebrae and o