GUEST POST by Olivia Smith
The Addo Elephant National Park located in the Eastern Cape of South Africa is, as the name suggests, renowned for its elephant sightings. The elephants here are generally easy-going and very relaxed. The herds mill about watering holes, mothers and aunts protectively watching over-energetic youngsters as they chase and charge, while big bulls saunter down and demand their space at the water’s edge. Incredible displays of elephant behaviour can be seen here, and often intimate moments of affection amongst herd members are witnessed. But past the masses of grey, wrinkly skin, flapping ears and curling trunks, Addo offers a plethora of smaller wildlife to observe. While other species may not get top billing or be amongst the sought after ‘Big Five’, ignoring the smaller creatures while on safari is at your peril, and you could miss some of the most exciting sights the bush has to offer.
On a recent trip to Addo, we were lucky enough to witness a high-speed chase, full of twists and turns, death-defying moments and a cliff-hanger ending. Albeit on the slightly smaller side of the animal kingdom. After partaking in one of our Addo rituals – morning coffee at Domkrag Dam – we slowly headed up the exit road, ready to find out what sights the reserve held for us that day. We didn’t have to wait long. As we crept towards the junction, we noticed a pale chanting goshawk perched neatly on a tree nearby.
Regulars to Addo will likely have seen a number of these sleek hunting birds and this one appears to be a regular at Domkrag, often being sighted around the area. As we sat enjoying our sighting, we noticed an urgency to the goshawk’s stance, a definite direction to its gaze. The gentle scene suddenly changed before us: the beautiful bird that had been perched so serenely on a tree was now hurtling towards the ground, talons outstretched. The next moment a scrub hare darted out from the bush and now not one, but two goshawks set off in pursuit of the frantic animal.
Although cooperative hunting has been observed, goshawks tend to hunt alone, but in this instance, it was hard to tell if the birds were cooperating or competing. The drama unfolded mere metres in front of our car, and thankfully my camera was to hand; otherwise I doubt we’d have truly been able to understand what we had seen. The speed of the birds and the desperate scramble of the hare played out over only a few seconds, but the impact of the sighting was exhilarating.
One goshawk managed to grab the hare, but its prey was large and feisty. Trying to lift its victim into the air, the goshawk lost its grip, and the hare dashed into the bush. The hunt continued through the veld, with only the goshawks visible, periodically diving and swooping. We were left sitting in our car, full of adrenalin and feeling as if we were the ones being hunted. We watched the goshawks getting smaller and smaller, with only the tiniest quiver of the bush to indicate the possible location of the hare. The animals faded into the distance, and we never knew for sure if the goshawks got their meal or if the hare managed to escape their grasp.
Witnessing a hunt for yourself can bring up some conflicting emotions. We all admire the majestic predators, their beauty and skill, the agility with which they move and hunt. But few of us want to see a prey animal lose its life; they too are wonderful in their own right. But unfortunately, that is the way of the wild, red in tooth and claw. But for this slightly cowardly nature lover, a hunt which ends on a cliff-hanger – with neither a kill nor a definite fail – is maybe the best outcome I could personally hope for.
About the author: Olivia Smith is a Communications Officer from London working in rhino conservation. She has spent much of the last decade living in South Africa raising awareness of the issue of poaching and the work being done to counteract it.
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