Now that the female ostrich has found some male companions, we thought it appropriate to stress just how incredible it is that this bird is still around today.
Ostriches typically don’t have a very long tenure in the Sabi Sands. They do occasionally wander in from the Kruger National Park, but the increased carnivore density and the lack of suitable habitat has generally meant that any of them who made it this far either became a meal or beat a hasty retreat back to whence they came. The assumption when the female arrived in late 2013 was pretty much the same, but you know what they say about assumption, and we were all proved wrong as she made the area her own.
We often wonder just how she has managed to survive in an area in which the Makhotini male leopard hunts buffalo calves out of herds, the Mhangeni pride have regularly killed adult zebra and even bigger creatures, and cheetahs – the most prolific ostrich hunters in the Kalahari Desert – regularly rear their heads.
Having said this, I imagine that many predators in this area, when faced with an anomaly such as an ostrich, are simply nonplussed as to what to do. I mentioned just now that cheetahs hunt ostriches regularly in the Kalahari, but those are cheetahs that have encountered the big birds since birth, and have obviously learned the knack of taking on such awkward and potentially dangerous prey. No cheetah that has spent the bulk of its time in the Sabi Sands would have honed his or her hunting skills on the largest bird in the world, so we can likely discount the resident male cheetah as a serious threat.
About 18 months ago on a drizzly morning I watched the full complement of 13 Mhangeni lions walk past the ostrich in single file. Both parties eyed out the other suspiciously, but the pride didn’t approach nor did the ostrich flee. Perhaps the pride and the bird simply viewed each other as a curiosity. Incidents like that have I’m sure played out time without number between bird and predator.
Fast forward to mid-2016 and it seems as though the predators of southern Londolozi are waking up to the fact that the ostrich may indeed present an opportunity for a good meal. The Makhotini male leopard we know already has a varied diet because of the territory he inhabits, and the Mhangeni sub-adults as 3-year-old lions are starting to represent a formidable hunting force. Since they have been spending a considerable amount of time in the same grasslands that the ostrich inhabits, they will likely be coming into far more regular contact with her (and her mate if he sticks around).
The following footage was filmed within a five day period recently:
The leopard chases were actually only two out of four that took place that morning. When reviewing some of the footage closely, it does appear that although his intention was clearly to take the ostrich down, as soon as he got within striking distance he seemed to baulk away. His typical attack method would be to latch onto an animals throat to suffocate it, but in the case of the ostrich that is accelerating up to 60km/h and kind of gangly, how would he go about doing this? Maybe he was chuckling at her goofy running style and couldn’t commit to the leap.
The fact remains that as the Mhangeni sub-adults spend more and more time in the grasslands, and we see more of the Makhotini male (we’ve had more sightings of him over the last 6 months than in the year-and-a-half before that) in the area, the ostrich(es) had better tread far more carefully…