Under Cover of Darkness, Blood Flows Tonight

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 2 Comments

Read part 1, “Waking from Slumber”, HERE.

The full moon spreads its light across the savanna like fingers running across beautiful long hair. This full moon will reveal a side of Africa few ever get to see.

Under this full moon, blood will flow.

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The lionesses have bumped into a massive Giraffe bull. Though giraffe are part of their diet, they are by no means easy to kill. Inquisitive by nature, some of the younger females in the pride move in for a closer look whilst the adult lionesses lie off to the side and watch. If the Giraffe panics and runs, he could be in serious trouble.

This large bull however has had a few run-ins with the resident pride before. His experience leads him to stands his ground. The lions are weary of his large powerful legs and the injury a well-placed kick from one of these can cause.

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After a few minutes the young lions lose interest and decide to look for something a little closer to their size.

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The pride settles in an open clearing to re-gain perspective of potential prey and what direction to move in to. A slight breeze carries the scent of zebra close by right to the keen noses of the pride. This is exactly what they had been hoping for.

The hunt is on.

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Hyena are often regarded as lowly good-for-nothing scavengers. This could not be further from the truth. The resident clan have killed an adult female wildebeest. Hyenas seem to remind us of some kind of haunting nightmarish creatures, the fictions of our dark fear-filled dreams. They feed quickly and leave almost nothing behind. There’s a strict hierarchy within the clan, and only the strongest and largest females getting the chance to feed on choice parts. Once they have fed their fill they will make space for lower ranking individuals.

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A sub-adult seizes an opportunity to lay claim to whats left of the carcass and drags it out of sight of the full-bellied adults. Their strong jaws and powerful digestive system will see them making a meal of just about the whole kill, including the skin and strongest bones.

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The four male lions, a band of brothers, are on the move. Their keen ears were drawn to the panicked alarm calls of zebra to the west. Although perfectly equipped to subdue and kill large prey such as buffalo and giraffe, these lions are also masters at exploiting any opportunity for a free meal. They know that the rest of the pride are off to the west and if they persist they will likely encounter them.

Not far off a Small-spotted Genet has emerged from a hollow in a dead Leadwood tree. These little cat-like predators are highly nocturnal and are as at home in the tree-tops as  they are on the ground. Tonight he will be in search of small mammals and insects. He has magnificent eyesight at night and combined with stealth and speed makes him a formidable small hunter of the night.

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Close by the large male leopard has managed to get himself into a perfect position, a young male impala not more than ten meters from him. There is no wind to speak of and the moon is about to shift behind a dark cloud. This is what he has been waiting for, master of the evening that he is. In a move to quick to follow with the naked eye, the silent killer strikes!

A swift bite to the neck and it’s all over.

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The impala never stood a chance. The clouds above make way for the moon to shed light on the scene of the kill.

The leopard looks around, making sure there’s no other predators responding to the urgent alarm calls made by the rest of the herd, ringing out across the dark savanna. He seizes the young impala by the back of the neck and drags it to the base of a large tree. His eyes are filled with moonlight as he looks up into the tree, planning his route. Leopard typically hoist their kills up and out of reach of most predators.

In a powerful movement the large leopard heaves himself and the impala up and into the tree. This alone is an astonishing feat, the power generated against gravity by this solitary cat must be immense.

Now he can savour his hard work from the relative safety of the tree.

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The cunning lionesses are responsible for the frantic alarm calls from the zebra. The full moon can make hunting a little more difficult. Prey such as zebra can often see their liquid-like silhouettes moving through the grasses and are able to take evasive action. A stallion was not so fortunate tonight. The lionesses split and worked as a team, with two lionesses charging at the zebra forcing them into another three waiting lionesses, a perfectly planned trap. The hapless zebra was hit hard and tried as best to stand his ground. Within seconds the rest of the pride joined in and he was forced to the ground.

His fate was sealed, tonight the pride would feed and feed well.

Although the bond between pride members is strong, when it comes to feeding it seems to be every lion for itself. Extreme bouts of aggression is common amongst hungry lions around a kill. The growls emitted from the sight of the kill ring out across the grassland. The pride have not eaten well and are hungry. Younger lions need to power their way into a good feeding spot with the risk of being met by a barrage of sharp claws are snapping jaws.

Blood flows tonight and turns the green grass into crimson red.

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The male lions can now hear the feeding lionesses and are now on the trot. They have covered more than four kilometers since first hearing the zebra and are solely focused on what they know has taken place ahead of them. The pride has finished most of the adult zebra, some already moving off to digest their well-earned meal. All of a sudden all hell breaks loose. The first male lion, the youngest of the four, rushes onto the scene sending lions in all directions. He charges in and reacts aggressively to a lioness unwilling to surrender the kill. As he moves in towards her she swings onto her back in both a submissive but protective manner, and he is welcomed with blows to his head. He is unfazed and immediately starts feeding, at the same time joined by the rest of the brotherhood.

The pride were completely caught off-guard at first sight of the young male, and instinctively took evasive action at the thought of it being rogue male’s. They quickly recognize their pride males and settle down close by.

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The  pride has no choice but to relinquish what’s left to their protectors, the kings of the land. This is a small price to pay for them. The males are key in keeping rogue lions at bay, a direct threat to their territory and young cubs. Fortunately tonight most of the pride have fed well, not often the case when four massive hungry males are in attendance.

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The feeding continues into the early morning hours. The pride have settled close by and some of the cubs are playing. They have hunted well tonight and this meal will comfortably sustain the pride for another two or three days. Life is not always easy for Africa’s predators. The challenges they face day to day to stay fit and to survive are very real. As the lionesses groom one another, cleaning the blood from the spoils of the kill, they enforce the strong bonds they have established between themselves.

The male leopard has fed his fill and left his kill high in the branches of a Marula tree. He is drinking from a small waterhole close by, the characteristic lapping sounds drawing the attention of a nearby Spotted Eagle Owl. Soon the sun will replace the moon and embrace the land once again. The leopard will continue feeding on the remains of the impala kill for atleast another two days. By keeping it off the ground he can feed at will and not have to constantly worry about losing his meal to another predator. Although lions can climb they rarely venture too high and onto small thin branches.

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Such is a night in Africa, under the cover of darkness. This is no special evening, nothing dramatic or unique. It is like every other night on this incredible continent. Even as you read these lines something is happening out here. These animals, predator and prey alike, fight a daily battle to survive and exist.

By shedding light into their nocturnal habits you gain a small glimpse into what life is like for these sometimes elusive creatures.

Under the cover of darkness there life lost and life gained.

Under the cover of darkness the predators will come out to play.

If you would like to join me on a privately guided safari and experience these amazing moments for yourself, feel free to mail me by clicking here.

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Marlon du Toit

Marlon’s Links:

Comments 2

  1. Charlie Wemyss-Dunn

    What an incredibly well-written and interesting piece! Brings back very fond memories I have of witnessing two rival lion prides clashing in the dark at Londolozi or witnessing a female leopard hunting impala in the Masai Mara on a pitch black night during a heavy lightning storm.

    These experiences were all on luxury safaris with the parents where I could barely operate a camera! So definitely planning to choose the photo safari route in the future and you guys are first on the list.

    Awesome stuff!

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Hey Charlie,
      This is great to hear!! Even listening to you speaking about those experience makes me wanna jump in my car and rush out back to the bush for another “fix”. It becomes way too addictive!
      We would absolutely LOVE to have you along for a Wild Eye safari. Please ask for any info you might need, and we will take care of the rest.
      Best,
      Marlon

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