Saturday morning was an early rise but so worth it! We were up to do some filming of camp at first light with colleague Caroline Culbert and some Marketing guests but the sky was overcast and the light very ‘flat’. Not to waste an opportunity we decided to head out into the bush and see what we could find. Within a few minutes we had spotted a large male leopard resting in a tree. Closer inspection revealed it was Blue Eyes, enjoying the cooler weather and surveying the land. We were hoping he would climb down to take advantage of the weather conditions and do a bit of hunting or territorial marking.
After a few minutes of admiring his size and beauty, all packaged together in an elegant straddle of the tree, we heard some black backed jackal alarming to the North. Within seconds Blue Eyes seemed agitated yet excited as he moved around the bough, focusing on something below. Suddenly a lone impala sprinted past and the moment was lost. As we sighed at the potential of a photo opportunity lost, we all heard the sound of hooves, it sounded like the cavalry coming round the corner. I quickly lifted my camera and fired off a few shots as a dazzle of zebra came out of the bushes some 50 feet away. We then noticed that there was a little zebra a few weeks old following its mother and behind them were the rest of the herd and behind them some hyaena in hot pursuit! The zebra were trying to protect the youngster as the hyaena herded them like sheep dogs and loped close behind, though not quite close enough to taste their hooves.
The engine was started, location and sighting called in and off we sped after the chasing hyaena. Their gaping mouths, calculated strides meaning some stayed just behind the zebra and others off to the side preventing them from breaking ranks, sapping the energy of the group. The zebra tried to turn and head into thicker bush where they hoped to lose the hyaena, but it was to no avail; every turn they took the zebra were herded back as the clan of chasing hyaena seemed to grow. Eventually in the zebra’s hysteria of trying to get away, the hyaena managed to isolate the foal as its energy levels dropped and it could not keep up with the rest.
The end of its short life was swift as the clan pulled it down and started feeding, five mouths turned to ten which in turn grew to twenty. It was over in minutes. Bloody faces, cackles and screams as they jostled for place; a young hyaena, surely the princess, allowed to carry off a leg unchallenged as the rest were now fighting for scraps. Seconds later calm grew over the Delta once again as the rest of the zebra looked on, helpless in their attempts to protect the young.
A truly gruesome end to a strategically thought-out chase by marauding predators. Whilst it was hard to watch, it was humbling and educational to witness how the hyaena grouped the zebra, herding them; how the zebra didn’t run past the baby but kept their bodies to the best of their ability between hunter and prey; and how the patience of the hyaena won the day, earning them more respect than I believe they are given, as they are often only seen as bone crunching scavengers, milling near the bottom of the food chain.
The drive was not over however, as we headed back to Blue Eyes who by now had climbed down his tree. He slinked in and out of the palm islands, posing for us along the way, drinking at a small water hole and letting us witness to his territorial marking rituals for the next few hours. An amazing drive in the amazing ‘place of plenty’!