While working out in the bush we very quickly learn to expect to be surprised by the inner working of mother nature. Nothing is a certainty! However, there is one concept for sure that we get our heads around fairly quickly. The cycle of life will happen throughout all niches, ecosystems and environments whether we are there to witness it or not. Animals die so that others can live. At times we may be faced with some difficult sightings and are confronted with the harsh reality of life – and death- in the wild.
During my childhood, I would love to sit and watch many different wildlife programmes on the TV, and very quickly change the channel or look away if anything gruesome was about to happen, (ie. an animal about to kill another). Since working at Londolozi, something shifted for me. Armed with more extensive knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of each species and their will to survive, I was no longer watching something occur secondhand but rather experiencing it first-hand. Each story unfolds in front of you where you are also engaged in an environment on many different levels and senses. It holds you and captivates you so deeply that you can’t look away because you are part of it.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
Now don’t get me wrong. The moment of death is never one I find easy to process but being there to witness the entire process is certainly a powerful experience. From the build-up and stalk to the patience of the predator. The final launch and athleticism of both predator and prey each fighting for their lives and in the end the final result being one’s life being taken to sustain another’s.
The Hosana Male arrived in mid-2018 and is now dominant over Othawa, rarely seen on Londolozi's western boundary.
Without a doubt, one does become somewhat desensitised to the shock of witnessing another life being lost. The more exposure you have to something the more palatable it becomes. But by no means am I saying that it is easy to watch or that we enjoy the actual death even though one is desensitised.
Initially seen as a young male in 2016, this leopard only properly established territory on Londolozi in mid-2019
In a previously written blog, Josh Attenborough, Londolozi Alumni, scrapes the surface on whether animals have emotions. We cannot deny that we as humans do have the capacity to empathize and feel and therefore we do form some type of emotional connection to the animals we see and in particular to the predators.
I say this as we have a closer relationship with the predators in terms of following them a lot closer and focusing on each individual animal that we see. Tracing lineages and family lines and getting to know their movements in a lot more detail. We are intrigued by the elusiveness and scarcity of the predators and drawn to them more so than the prey animals.
Whereas we focus less time on identifying an individual impala due to the much higher numbers and less complex individualistic lifestyle. So there is less of a connection to the prey species.
A pretty young playful female found along the river to the east of camp
The harsh reality in the wild is that animals will die, most of the time these will be prey species such as impala, bushbuck and other herbivores. But we cannot turn a blind eye to the staggeringly competitive world these animals live in. Whether it be intra-species competition for the rights to territory or inter-species competition over resources such as food.
There is, on the odd occasion, a situation whereby a predator loses its life. Possibly having been killed by a larger more dominant predator or through a fight for dominance and territory with another individual of the same species. Or possibly, even, a male killing a female who is protecting her young or sadly was not submissive enough to the males.
So how do we then adjust to being confronted with a harsher reality?
Just like strangers, we have no internal connection to them whereas with someone you have met more than once and can recognize a different bond is established. Jess Shillaw wrote a tough blog on Leopard Kills Wild Dog where she had witnessed the Flat Rock Male kill a wild dog, or when the reputation of the Tortise Pan Male was soiled after killing the Ximungwe Female’s cub and is discussed in the blog Nature in its Rawest Form: the Death of a Leopard Cub. You can’t help but feel the loss.
However, if we had to strip away our human emotion and consider this world as it is for them, survival. If we took into account the fact that they do not emotionally relate to each other as we do. They see members of another species as competition for resources and do their best to eliminate such competition. The young are viewed as weak and the vulnerable as an easy food source. If we stop to think about the territorial pressures placed on individuals and the pressure to hunt to survive, we can then only get a glimpse of understanding how simple in some ways this world is. They exist because they need to survive.
It is much easier to vilify situations that occur far less than ones that occur often. If we consider that humans tend to relate more to an individual than to a group and in the context of this blog, to a single lion or leopard over an entire group of impala. Do animals make us more human? Or do we hope we can make animals more human? Either way life in the wilderness is about survival. When faced with any threat to one’s life or the primal need to survive we cannot vilify predators because we are denying their innate instincts… of which we have no concept.