Tuesday 15 October 2013

Getting catty about Africa

For a trip that was meant to be all about the rhino, I'm happy to say that I came into contact with an awful lot of cats during my 12 days in South Africa. Not 'awful' at all of course: they were just beautiful, even this one, Moya, at the Endomneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre, who after being totally relaxed about being patted and petted by a series of slightly anxious tourists, suddenly swiped at one man's face, drawing blood. A bit more rehabilitation needed there, it would seem. There were caracals and servals too, and African wild cats that looked just like domestic moggies, though rather more fierce, even when they were playing.
Then there was a leopard strolling around camp at night, where our group had been blithely moving through the trees between our cabins. There was a genet there, too, with its long, long tail, prowling around the braai at the edge of the circle of lamplight, pouncing on thrown scraps of meat.
I saw lots more cheetah at Phinda: a couple of cubs with their mother in the dusk, another two in a boma, or enclosure, awaiting relocation and which I watched from the back of a ute nearby standing alongside an impala carcass the same as the one they'd just been thrown. Cheetah eat fast, as they're prone to attack by leopard and lion (there's no solidarity in the African cat world) and always on the watch. They start at the rump, because that's got the most meat, so if they have to run, they'll at least have had decent a chance for a good feed.
They also tire themselves out when they run down their prey, so that it's not unusual for the actual kill, which is by strangulation, to take longer than anyone would like because they haven't the strength left to grip really tightly. That's how it was when we watched a hungry quartet, a mother and her male cubs, catch a young nyala antelope. It's pretty gruesome (actually not pretty at all) to watch an animal literally being eaten alive, and wailing.
And then there were lion, a pride of five staring back as I stood nearby in that ute still with the bloody carcass at my feet; and later a fabulous muscled single lion with what looked like a combed mane. Then, finally, there was Missy, who staked out my bed as her own at the family home I stayed in for the last night, and who I would happily have brought back with me to my own home. If the present incumbent here would ever have allowed it.

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