The Sunday News
IT is not called wildlife for nothing. Life in the wild is not only survival of the fittest but also of the most shrewd and merciless. In the jungle it’s a live and let die scenario where you eat or be eaten. For predators to survive, they need to perfect their art of hunting and the prey species also need to devise means to evade the sophisticated methods of the predators. Predators are those animals that kill others for food and prey refers to those that are hunted and eaten. Predators use a variety of methods to hunt. The method utilised depend on the unique features and adaptations the animal possesses and also on the characteristics of the particular “turf” in which it hunts. The size and behaviour of the prey that it specialises in also determines the methods and tactics applied.
Running down prey
Some predators chase their prey down and pounce. This manifests in two ways, some hunters such as the super-fast cheetah will set up the prey and chase at high speed and catch. Such predators are naturally “built for speed” and their bodies are light and flexible to support their hunting method. They also have a good purchase on the ground as they run. The second manner in which predators run down prey is through sheer endurance. Such predators are able to run for very long distances following their prey until it tires and they will feast on it. African painted dogs use this method. They don’t exhibit much speed but they do not wear out easily and they will begin to tear chunks of flesh from their victim while it is running. When the victim has bled too much and lost large chunks of tissue and muscle, it will fall and be eaten. The dogs do not feel the need to kill the animal first, in fact they seem to enjoy the idea of feeding on a live meal to the extreme extent that they may attempt to balance it to stop it from collapsing.
This is a technique of hunting where the predator approaches the prey stealthily and in concealment. Animals in the cat family including lion, leopard, caracal, serval and wild cat typically hunt in this manner. From this family, only the cheetah does not stalk prey. After spotting, the cats will engage in a careful stalk followed by a quick rush and a powerful pounce with the paw. These animals are not gifted with speed but they have a special padding under the foot that muffles sound when they walk. Their claws are retracted into the sheath while stalking and only released when they rush to attack. The cheetah on the other hand has non-retractable claws which provides a good grip on the ground while on the run.
This method is used by selective hunters which will not take just anything that is within their reach. A cheetah, for instance, will stand at a vantage point and observe a herd of its victims from a distance to select the perfect individual for lunch, just the way a person would examine the menu card in a restaurant to pick just the right food item to suit his appetite. After identifying the prey, the cheetah will walk steadily towards the prey, while the whole time keeping its head high to avoid losing sight of the chosen meal. When the herd of prey sees the “eater” approaching, they will scatter in panic and it is possible that some will pass very close to the cheetah without seeing it, but the cheetah will simply not be tempted to catch the stray ones within reach. It will keep its focus on its choice. The cheetah will not begin to run until its victim begins to run then it will take off in a bout of speed up to 112 kilometres per hour. However, due to a small heart, the high speed can only be maintained for a maximum of 300 metres.
Not all predators are as selective as the cheetah in their hunting. When a scenario such as described above happens where the prey scatter and some inadvertently run in the direction of the predator, some predators will take advantage and pounce. In fact some predators capitalise on creating such pandemonium so they can catch who-ever comes within reach.
There is an old age fallacy that hyenas never kill their own prey. While they are lazy and given to scavenging, hyenas do hunt when very hungry. However, in a number of cases they look out for the weak individuals to pounce on. Their targets include the sick, injured, old and frail, pregnant and those giving birth.
Some predators including jackals, hyenas, wild dogs and occasionally lions will take advantage of their numbers to attack and dispossess other predators of their kills. It is indeed survival of the ruthless.
This method is where animals assist each other in their quest to kill their prey. It is used by animals that generally associate in groups such as African painted dogs, jackals and hyenas. Lions will use this method when prey is scarce or when hunting big animals such as buffalo and hippo which may be a challenge to bring down if hunting as an individual. Even male lions take part in this kind of hunt. Across species, different responsibilities are allocated in order to successfully kill their prey.
Intelligence is the ability to covertly gather information that can be used to place one at an advantage over opponents or competitors. Some predators will not look for who they want to eat but rather for who will kill what they want to eat. When vultures see an impala foraging it is of no use to them because they cannot kill it. They instead look for a cheetah who will kill an impala or any other prey. Hyenas will also look for vultures and monitor their movements such that when they see them getting excited, they will know they have seen a predator chasing some prey and they will run in the direction the vultures are flying. Just the moment the cheetah kills its prey, vultures are perching in the surrounding trees and a moment later, hyenas invade the scene. Animals are not dumb, if they were, they would not survive the jungle. Humans can learn something from the cunning, genius and shrewdness of some animals.
– Phineas Chauke is a Bulawayo based tourism consultant, marketer and tour-guide. He can be contacted on email: [email protected], mobile: +263776058523 twitter: @phinnychauke619