— 3 March 2010
— in East Africa Project
Today was a crummy day for research. We sat with our carcass for five hours this morning and nothing came. Around 11AM there was a whirlwind of bird activity with vultures and eagles alike flying over, but no one landed. Then we got over run with sheep and singing Masai children, who curiously asked us if we poisoned the meat, which they noticed we had put out. Interestingly, this is the general sentiment when people see what we are doing, they assume we poisoned the meat. We explain that we are doing reasearch and assure them that we haven’t poisoned anything and are in fact trying to learn more about the wildlife so that we can help conserve it.
In the afternoon, we were driving along searching for future places to put carcasses when I noticed something rushing through the grass. We were driving on an elevated part of the road. Usually when you see something moving fast it turns out to be the top of another car, so I didn’t get too excited. Then I looked ahead – the gazelles were quickly fleeing, spreading wide across the plains. Looking back at the rushing form and ahead to the gazelles, it was clear who was about to die. The singled-out gazelle leaped wildly and swerved, but it was no hope the cheetah was fast on its tail. Within seconds, the two had vanished in the grass ahead of us. Did she get her? As we moved forward to see, I noticed another smaller cheetah with a large tuffed mane, obviously a cub, following as well. She stopped looking desperate and lost as were we. Then she chirped. I’ve heard it before but it really is an odd and unflattering sound for a cat to make. Like a chick, she spread her mouth wide and made the noise again. A low growl could be heard up ahead and we followed the cub to her mother. She had gotten the gazelle. It lay flat and immobile in the short grass. The mother was heaving, breathing so hard she looked like she might collapse, eventually she did. The cub dug in. Ripping and chewing with its canines it made a delicate incision and was soon covered with blood. Then the bone crunching started. As the cub ate, the cars started to come our moment of solitude with the cheetahs was over. Amazingly, we were the only ones that actually witnessed the kill but like vultures to a carcass, the tourist vehicles were soon pulling in everywhere around the cheetah. Desperate for a tasty morsel of the action and perhaps a good photo, they crept closer and closer. The mother looked on nervously and then Wilson noticed a new arrival. A hyena was wandering the grass ahead. With all the cars around it was sure to realize something was up. The mother cheetah joined her offspring and ate as much as she could.
When the hyena arrived I figured the cats would flee, but instead they stood on and raised the hair on their backs and glared angrily at the hyena. Then they moved off slightly as the hyena ate and then dragged off the carcass. At this point a large truck passed the crowd and a tucking baby gazelle got up and ran (this one’s for you Blair). The mother cheetah picked up on it immediately and amazingly given her exhaustion she went in for the second kill. Crouching low, I watched her race up to the baby who swerved around but was easily nailed. The cub soon joined and once again the cheetahs were eating.
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