porcupine dilemma


The weather, the animals' behaviour and listening to my guests' requests are only a few of the many things I keep in mind while planning my game drives. This particular game drive went just as planned and this in itself was strange because the only predictable thing about nature is its unpredictability. I never anticipated that the two porcupines that ran across the road were going to play such an intricate role in the way our game drive was going to turn out.


It was another beautiful morning and we were out on drive searching for a pride of lions and their cubs. While driving I looked over my shoulder to see my guests enjoying the scenery while baking in the winter sun. Returning my scanning gaze to the road and bush I saw an unexpected movement coming from my right. All eyes on the vehicle were synchronized onto the two porcupines dashing out of the tall grass and running across the road. Porcupines are known to be nocturnal animals and to find two porcupines moving around during daytime was unusual. The porcupine moment lasted only so long before we continued with our game drive. The drive was filled with impala, zebra, giraffe and rhinoceros before we tasted the success of finding the lionesses. We had ample time to enjoy the interaction between the cubs and lionesses before we started making our way back to the lodge. The guests were clearly disappointed to hear that our morning safari was coming to an end and that we were going to slowly start making our way back. I reminded them that we still had quite a drive back to Bush Lodge and a lot could happen in that time.


leopard on the hunt at sabi sabi


Still baffled with the porcupines that ran across the road earlier that morning I decided to drive back the same way. I was extra attentive when entering the area where we had seen them when something suddenly caught my eye. Without hesitation I brought the vehicle to an absolute stop and grabbed my binoculars. There it was, an unexpected male leopard sitting on a termite mound looking back at me. Polly (our tracker) kept his eyes fixed on the leopard while I slowly steered us into the bush inching us closer to the termite mound. The leopard kept our attention and therefore none of us saw the burrow next to the leopard. The sighting went beyond our expectations when the leopard got up and all of a sudden disappeared into the burrow. I had a brief moment to explain to the guests that dormant termite mounds like these become shelters to warthog families, porcupines and animals like the illusive aardvark. After my explanation, we stared at the burrow for what felt like ages before the leopard reappeared, head first. It was a lot to take in all at once but we all soon realized that the burrow had to be very large on the inside in order for him to both enter and exit the hole head-first. The leopard came down the termite mound to what we thought was going to be his morning resting place. Lying down he re-established our attention with the sounds of crunching bones. Repositioning the vehicle to get a better look we all stared in wonder. The male leopard was chewing on the remains of a porcupine. Could this be one of the porcupines we saw this morning?


leopard hunting porcupine


Honoured and at the same time horrified, we sat and watched the leopard feeding. Hunting a porcupine could be quite the dilemma and eating it even more so. To get to the soft and tender parts he must first remove those sharp quills that could so easily cause an unwanted infection in his mouth. While feeding, the leopard kept lifting his head and staring at the hole as if it was haunted. There was still plenty of meat left to eat but something inside the burrow kept his attention. His interest with the burrow finally got the better of him and he got up. For a second time he went into the burrow. There was a sigh of relief when he emerged empty handed. Although none of us could see or hear any commotion while he was down the burrow we were almost convinced that there was something else there that he was interested in. Adding to all the aspects of this sighting we became more and more convinced that there was a possibility of there being another porcupine down that hole.


leopard eating a porcupine at sabi sabi


After attending to the porcupine remains for a short while longer the leopard got up, turned his back on the termite mound and left. We followed him to an opening in the bush with a water puddle hidden in the long grass. After lapping up enough water to quench his thirst we watched how he then lay down to rest. We waited in anticipation for him to return to the mound, but after quite some time we realized that he wasn't going to move soon.


That afternoon our curiosity lead us back to the earlier scene, only to find the remains from that morning. We drove around, searching the area for any clues as to where the leopard could have gone but had no luck. We continued our drive with a lot of porcupine questions unanswered, so we ourselves experienced a bit of a porcupine dilemma.


by: wim vorster (safari manager)



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