It’s no secret that most guests want to see a kill, and for that matter, most rangers too. A hot topic that is often brought up and discussed on game drive, at the dinner table and sometimes even on arrival. There is however something far more special about the hunt itself. The set up. The stalk.
The moment you witness a predator lock on to life. Something; whether it’s an impala, a young buffalo, or in this case something as simple as a scrub hare hiding in a dense thicket of undergrowth. Nearly always the predator will spot the prey before you even knew it was there. And many times, you may still struggle to locate it, even though you know it’s there. And it always is. Because nothing is left to chance in this game of hunger and survival.
We watched her eyes narrow, pointed directly at some low-lying shrub. A duiker? A guineafowl? We wondered what it could be in such a small space that captivated her attention so intently. At last we caught a glimpse. A Scrub hare tucked deep within the dappled light of her carefully chosen place of (apparent) safety. The leopardess froze, every inch of her being, apart from her breathing. Absolute silence and focus. And then, the wait…
Predators are immensely skilled at many things but none coming close to their level of patience. Their ability to wait. As long as it may take because at the end of the day, dinner doesn’t wait. And impatience doesn’t pay. In a world with no concept of past or future, it is the present that draws us in. The wild doesn’t have clocks and time is irrelevant, so we sat, with only the impatient twitch and flick of the tip of her tail as time ticked by…
The anticipation. Her frozen energy waiting to burst through. Her restless footing, our bated breath. Waiting for that perfect moment to arrive. The hare sits and feeds nervously, occasionally interrupted by moments of intense listening for any hint or sign of the presence of a predator… Back to feeding. A brief moment of movement, a head turn and its focus shifted onto grooming itself as it sat up on its hind legs. And all it took was that change in focus, a head tilt and the right angle and the leopard leapt into action.
All that pent-up energy, that undeniable instinct, aimed right at the hare. She pounced from her hidden position and in a split second, it was all over. The hare having sensed her presence, sped away at unfathomable speed, too fast even for her to catch. The moment was over and she didn’t even attempt a chase, knowing all too well just how speedy and wily this little creature was. With the hare gone, nowhere to be seen, she slunk away defeated into the darkness of a Tambotie thicket.
Many times, we realise that it is in the smaller things that make up an unforgettable safari experience; the sounds, the smells, the sights, and in this case the sheer touch-and-go thrill of the chase. Even though she may have failed this time, today was certainly a victory for the hare who narrowly escaped the claws of a fearless predator. And while we may still not have witnessed a kill, the excitement was enough to have made us feel as though we had. And we drove home into the sunset with the memory burning bright in our minds.