For those not well acquainted with Africa’s smaller nocturnal inhabitants, a Wild Cat might not sound like such an incredible thing to encounter. And in some areas of the continent, these generally shy felines are seen quite regularly. At Londolozi, however, they aren’t. I’ve been working here for almost 8 years and have yet to see one in the reserve. I’ve seen their tracks, but the genuine article continues to elude me. Pangolins – considered by some to be the holy grail of wildlife sightings – are almost common by comparison, as I’ve been fortunate enough to see four or five.
So when ranger Guy Brunskill returned from drive claiming he had footage of not one but TWO African Wild Cats, one of them with a kill, I was hesitant to believe him!
Guy and tracker Shadrack Mkhabela were returning to camp for dinner when the beam of Shadrack’s spotlight caught the reflection of two eyes.
Guy takes us through the sighting:
Shadrack stopped me and told me to reverse as he’d seen something in the spotlight. We could see the back of whatever it was, but from our initial view through the grass we thought it was only a scrub hare, as the colour was the same. Then it turned to face us and from the position of its eyes, Shadrack immediately exclaimed that it was a Wild Cat! We were really excited as I’d never seen one here before, and this one was far more relaxed than I would have expected it to be. We were watching it from about thirty metres away and it didn’t seem fazed by our presence at all. It kept looking around, and the reason suddenly became clear as a kitten emerged from the grass! We couldn’t believe our luck. In began nuzzling up to its mother just like a domestic cat, and after a minute or two walked a couple of metres into the grass where it picked up an already dead rodent, which looked like a Bushveld Gerbil. The mother had most likely killed it and was giving it to the kitten to play with.
Both of the Wild Cats suddenly tensed up, then ran off, and moments later a hyena came running in out of the darkness. It moved straight to where the dead Gerbil had been dropped by the kitten and devoured it as easily as you or I would eat a grape.
I’ve seen leopards getting robbed by hyenas before, but African Wild Cats? That was a first for both Shadrack and I!
What Guy, Shadrack and their guests saw was incredibly special. African Wild Cats are primarily nocturnal, which accounts in large part for the scarcity of sightings here. The high density of other larger predators of Londolozi is also most likely a contributing factor in keeping their numbers low, as even their tracks are seldom seen. Some rare creatures like Aardvarks we know are here based on the footprints and evidence they leave behind, but Wild Cat tracks are not often recorded.
Since this sighting there have been two further glimpses of what looked like a Wild Cat very close to the original spot, so our hope is that the female might be setting up shop, and it won’t be years until the next small feline like this is seen…