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November 13, 2018

Flight, fight or trick, all to stay alive

Ijsvogel
Ijsvogel

Living from day-to-day is ferociously earnest for most animals including human. When in a “life and death” situation, even the smallest and seemingly harmless animal will become deadly, in an effort to remain alive.

Each day, a mouse lives in fear of the crawling grass snake. But if confronted and pushed to the wall, the little thing will hurt the snake and may escape being eaten.

A baby trout is very weary of the clean water in the streams of Mt Kenya. From the bottom of the deepest part of the river, he can see the silhouette of a pied kingfisher perching on a branch overhead.

Any time, the monsters will swoop down into the stream and pierce through the tender body of the little fish and carry it above the water, to gobble it in the freshness of the morning breeze.

In the plains of Maasai Mara, the mongoose feed in the early morning, periodically standing up on his hind legs to scan for dangers from the sky.

No matter how frightening the world may be, there is not a beast that will not attempt to stay alive. A butterfly sees a child’s hand coming towards it and flies away. A rabbit runs before a dog. Even a worm hears the farmer’s hoe slicing through the soil and ducks quickly.

Flight is not the only means of attaining safety. Some animals play dead, if they know the enemy likes to eat what it kills. From the instinctive order of the insect world to the intelligent social actions of the higher animals, survival is a matter of cooperation.

When a cheetah is seen by a bird, yet the cheetah does not hunt a bird, the bird will warn the grazers by shouting a danger cry.

But it is the bravery of the parents when defending their offsprings that is the most interesting. Bravery alone has been the mighty asset in the struggle for existence.

My favourite story of animal courage describes a duel between a black-backed jackal and a female Thompson Gazelle that fought for the life of her kid.

One afternoon in the Mara plains, I was driving through on my way to a late lunch after a long morning game drive. I noticed a puff of dust rising behind a croton bush some distance away.

A jackal was running around in a circle, pursued by a female Thompson Gazelle. I realised the jackal tried to capture the gazelle’s kid and had been attacked by the infuriated mother.

The jackal, knowing he could not outrun the gazelle to the edge of the bush, and not relishing close encounter with the gazelle’s sharp horns, tried to discourage her by running around and around the croton bush.

My excitement mounted as I saw a little gazelle kid arise from the dust, stretch and take several faltering steps towards the mother. Seeing the baby was up and fearing that the jackal might try again, the mother redoubled her effort.

She closed the gap between her and the jackal and drove her weak but very sharp horns into the back of the jackal and he went down in a heap of dust. He was up instantly but his hindquarters were bleeding. In desperation, he turned on her.

I held my breath. Jackals have very sharp tearing teeth, just like domestic dogs and can slit the toughest skin. But their first encounter had injured the jackal and also diminished his confidence as a hunter. He quickly turned away and tried to make it to the bush.

Sensing victory, the mother gazelle went for the kill. She rammed the rear end of the jackal with all her strength, pushing her horns all the way to the stomach. When the dust settled, the mother gazelle stood astride the dead jackal.

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