Published: March 18th 2008March 1st 2008
. . . a what?
While driving along the ring road the other day, Wilson spotted an odd object in the crown of a Bosquia
a short distance from the research center. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it was the remains of a leopard's dinner - a warthog carcass. Earlier today, when I mentioned this discovery to Jake, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to score some sweet warthog tusks, and we set off with a tree pole in hand to try and knock the carcass from the branches. While I stood back and took pictures (and found where the leopard's claws had gouged the tree's trunk), Jake did his damnedest to poke, prod, and pull various branches and bits of dead warthog, but no avail - one of the tusks was firmly hooked around a branch and refused to let go. We gave up after Jake had spent an hour of being rained on by warthog dust and little else to show for his efforts.
The most excitement of the day, however, occurred this evening after dinner when five of us decided to go for a night drive. With Jake driving his relatively new LandRover, Kayna sitting shotgun, and Sarah, Christa, and
Jake vs. Dead Warthog
Jake doing what he can to unhook the stubborn tusk keeping the carcass in the tree.
I squeezed in the back, we set off to see what we could find. I'll spare you my attempt at dramatic prose this time, however, and cut straight to the highlights:
Within the first ten minutes of leaving the Mpala gate, we had a brief view of an adult Spotted Hyena running through the brush as we made our way towards the River Camp in hopes of finding a leopard. Minutes later, on the same road, we caught a glimpse of the Spottie's rarer cousin, a Striped Hyena. The drive was certainly off to a great start to see two species of hyenas in less than fifteen minutes.
Leopardless at the campsite, I sympathized with Christa, who had never seen one, and told her that I'd never seen one in a tree (adding that I'd really like to see such a sight). Well, not five minutes later, while driving along the Ewaso Ny'iro marveling at the plethora of dancing ornaments in the Yellow Fever Trees that were bushbaby eyes, I spotted eyeshine not quite as bright as the rest. It was a ways away, but a shadowy figure much larger than the bushbabies shifted in the crotch of
Sign of the Chui
Gouges in the trunk of the Bosquia
from the claws of the leopard.
one of the trees. With the aid of my binoculars, I was able to report to the rest of the group that it was indeed a leopard. As we raced across a patch of grass to get a closer look, it began to climb upward, but had a second thought and immediately wheeled around and leaped nearly two body lengths straight down to the ground before disappearing into the bush along the river's edge. It was a brief glimpse, but a glimpse nonetheless, of a leopard in a tree, and we were all completely thrilled.
"Now I want to see another cat, but a smaller one this time," I said aloud, dreaming of a serval or caracal.
While we never saw either of these species, we did tear off into the bush a good 100+ meters from the airstrip to chase down promising eyeshine that turned out to be a dik-dik. As we made our way back to the airstrip, however, Kayna spotted what she thought was a genet. Closer inspection revealed a much better find - an African Wild Cat! A somewhat ironic find, since this is the only species of small cat I've ever previously seen
The remains of a leopard's midnight snack.
(in Africa, anyway), yet I was the only person in the car that could make such a claim (while others had seen both serval and caracal on more than one occasion). Not that it particularly mattered - I was still enthralled to see a wild cat. As we chased it through the bush a bit, playing ring-around-the-tree to get better looks, I tempted it to stop a few times with my "kitty-kiss," providing us with some excellent views of the species supposedly responsible for nearly all domestic cats in households around the world today.
After the wild cat, we had a bit of a dry spell, save for some of the more regularly seen and predictable nocturnal suspects. While the four of us passengers were scoping deep into the bush for the glint of any suspicious eyeshine, Jake had his eyes on the road ahead, and saw something the rest of us would have easily overlooked: immediately beside the road were two striped skunk-like creatures. Zorillas! As one scampered off into the bush, the other, an adolescent and quite small (and cute), stuck around and spent a good twenty minutes interacting with the car. At first it was curious,
A very blurry picture, but you get the idea of what, exactly, a zorilla is.
sniffing around, not quite sure if it should return to the safety of its roadside den. Then it started getting quite cheeky, squaring off with the car in a sort of side-stance with raised tail, threatening to hose us with a foul-smelling musk. We couldn't help but laugh aloud at the cocky little bugger as it made short mock charges in this position before hastily retreating, hopping back and forth on all fours.
Just meters down the road from the pair of Zorillas we saw a small rodent hop across the road. Jake immediately ejected from the driver's seat to pursue it on foot and, although he never caught it, was able to identify it as a Flat-footed Gerbil. This was my third and final of "firsts" on the drive, along with the adult Stripey and Zorilla. We capped the night with great views of a family of six Black-backed Jackals sitting in a glade.
I should also add to our list of sightings, however, the hare that didn't quite make it out of our way this evening, succumbing to the (un)natural selection of a speeding LandRover. Unfortunately, after the creature had surprised us all but jumping immediately
in front of the vehicle and passing underneath, it still required a coup de grâce. Jake took it upon himself to finish what he started and (don't read this if you're squeamish), while holding the hare's hindfeet, swung the limp body with full force at the front right tire, sending a small red mist into the beam of the headlights. One of the more gruesome examples of a final "blow of grace" that I've seen, to say the last. Kayna then requested to keep the dead rabbit as a gift for a friend with a pet eagle-owl, so Jake tossed it onto the hood of the car, where it stayed until we made it back to the research center. So, to try to end this entry on a more positive note, think about the orphaned eagle-owl that now has a greater chance of survival because of this fresh bush meat! Ah, the circle of life . . .
There are more photos below