Death Dance – Article By Talitha Jansen
Having only been living in the bush for a short time but always having an immense love of nature the events I witnessed showed me I still have a lot to learn to truly understanding nature and her inner workings. This week has by far been an extraordinary experience that I will not forget.
On Sunday evening the curtains opened and Africa’s finest put on a jaw dropping show! An old buffalo bull who had been lying under a tree at the watering hole outside our home the whole day had relocated himself onto the electric fence, we assumed he had been injured sometime previously.
Later that evening we heard distress calls from the buffalo and what appeared to be the sounds of bone crunching. On closer inspection in the yard we saw a clan of hyena had caught him and were now eating him alive! The normally silent evening air was broken with hyena calls, laughter, grunting and painful long deep moans from the buffalo. A short while later 3 lioness’ arrived and after some commotion and a display of aggressive growls and snarls they took over the kill.
The smell of the fresh blood and stomach contents were rich and hung in the air with the dust. There was not a breeze. The hyenas built in numbers and the veld was alive in every direction, the house was surrounded with yellow eyes and the calls echoed and ricocheted up the valley, louder and louder, the excitement mounted as they ran up and down building up courage to attack! The atmosphere was intense. The hyenas were uncontrollable, their excitement and agitation was evident, the smell of blood and fresh meat was driving them into a frenzy! Eventually after many mock charges and low pitched howls they moved in and took the kill back, eating with much fervor, whilst now fighting each and making a riot of grunting and growling! The hyena’s numbers kept building and it became evident that two different clans were now competing for the carcass. In the close distance we could hear the leopard’s raspy growls, she too was under attack from the hyena, a fight ensued and she was surrounded. Eventually she managed to clamber up a tree to safety. She was badly mauled on her ear and neck and her front paw was definately injured. She remained in the tree until well into the next morning when she felt sure it was safe to come down.
In the close distance the sounds of elephant trumpeting and hyena laughing nervously could be heard. The exhilarating performance was so much to take in that it took awhile for to actually absorb everything and realise it was not an animation. The hyenas continued to feast and fight amongst themselves, completely unaware of the racquet they were making. It was 2 am, we retired for the evening unable to contain the thrill of what we had just witnessed. The curtains closed and the sun came up.
Awaking Monday morning the entire episode seemed like a dream. Opening the blinds we became aware of the presence of a large male lion. (Later we found out he has been named War Lord and had killed a hyena the previous night when taking back the carcass) We drove down to the scene and saw another 3 lioness’ with the Male.
The kill was now being dominated by a very sickly lioness. Her complete skeletal structure was exposed showing her once vibrant figure was now merely a coat hanger for her dirty parasite infested coat. She was also limping badly and blind in one eye. She growled aggressively at us as the drove past. She most certainly had TB. The other lions drank slowly from the watering hole and then moved on, she remained at the carcass the entire day. She was limping slowly now and again to the water and then straight back to under the tree to guard her only means of survival.
Monday night we sat outside on the patio eagerly waiting to see what the darkness would bring. Would the hyena come back and try steal the carcass? Would the lioness be strong enough to fight or would she too be fall prey and be taken by the scavengers? Most importantly we were interested to see how the lioness and leopard would react to each other. Both were badly injured and fighting to survive.
Every now and then we would pick up the female leopards eyes, she was trying to approaching the water, careful not to alert the lioness who was lying only meters away. After a tedious 2 hours she finally arrived at her destination, every 3 steps taken resulted in a rest. She drank for what seemed to be several minutes. The lioness did not get up or acknowledge she was even there.
Eager to get a closer glimpse of the leopard we made our way to bottom of the yard and started videoing. She walked right up to the fence sat down to rest and looked at us. Now frozen, barely breathing we watched her barely 2 meters away! She was battling, breathing heavily and still bleeding at the neck, she was exhausted. She made her way slowly to the corner post of the fence and lay down to rest in a small bush. The action for the evening seemed to be over.
Tuesday morning, sun up. The lioness was still guarding her carcass, the vultures begin to arrive. I watch the lioness from my window, she is struggling. She cannot drink long enough to satisfy her thirst before having to turn back to chase off the few vultures who have arrived, this continues the whole day and she cannot rest. The smell of the carcass has draw more vultures and the scene becomes eerie as the sky turns grey. At dusk I photograph the lioness drinking with vultures overhead i a nearby tree and I wonder silently what the night will have in store for her. I turn to go back to the house, she growls in a low deep tone as my movement catches her one eye. I sigh deeply and try to mentally prepare myself should the hyenas return tonight and the scene plays out badly for this lioness. The sun sets, it is colder tonight and the bush is silent. Later as darkness surrounds us so does the faint calls of hyena in the distance, I take a deep breath and exhale. I hope again she will make it through the night. The curtains open, the hyena are here.
We jump in the Landy and take a drive to the action. We find the lioness right next to the carcass which is now completely overrun with hyena, she is growling at them but she does not get up. . She is not strong enough to fight and she is out numbered. We watch a mommy hyena steal what is left of a front leg and take it back to her cub, he is cute and fluffy and very excited with all the noise and action.
We circle back to see where the leopard is hiding, earlier she was still limping badly and her wound had not stopped bleeding. We found her afew meters away under a bush, I prayed she would stay hidden. Just then we see War, his eyes are fixated on the hyenas directly in his war path, he walks silently with purpose. His eyes glow as he sets off at full charge. We battle to keep up with him, dust is flying and as he hits the hyenas at the carcass full on. We hear the yelps, focus the spot light , he has caught the pup! Four hyenas now move in around him, they want to save the pup, we hear bones crunching and the bush is hysterical with laughter and growling. War drops the pup and charges off into the surrounding hyena.we listen closely to the scuffle in the dry river bed below, he has caught another hyena. More carnage. We turn our sights to the first victim his back appears to be broken and he is completed dazed, falling over and spinning around, he tries to sit up but just falls all over, some hyenas are brave enough to stay and watch but do not go closer. In the now silence of the night we can hear Wars heavy breathing, he is still close by. He makes his way back taking hold of the first hyena, the sharp yelping continues as he repositions his large jaws and this time we hear as the neck is snapped and the hyenas now lifeless body drops to the ground.
War rises up and walks off slowly and smugly, the dust from his charge causes him to sneeze several times. We watch him walk off into the distance, completely shocked and amazed at what we have just witnessed. He comes back, the 3 lioness’ in tow. The ladies make their way to the dead hyena, inspect it and walk over to the injured lioness. It would appear they are familiar with her and are protecting her. Was she once a fourth member of their coalition?
War marks his scent everywhere and then walks off in the direction he came from, the killing spree is over. We follow them all the way to the river and loose them in the vegetation. We return home in silence, pondering the main reason for his grand arrival this evening at a kill he did not participate in or even consume. It was pure hatred.
Wednesday morning we let our pointer Wallace out for his early morning ritual of inspecting the garden. My husband Dawie notices he is on point at the fence, he then focuses more closely and realizes the dog and the leopard are face to face with only a thin wire between then. He calls Wallace who then started barking, the leopard is alarmed by the unfamiliar sound and takes off into the bush. She is still injured and still around the house, not a good sign. The lioness spends the entire day lying motionless in the sun and I wonder if she will eat the hyena but she does not venture near it.
We take a drive as the sun is setting, she is still breathing but has given up growling at us. We take a few photos of the leopard, she seems to be walking abit better but is getting skinny and must need to eat. Later that evening the hyena return, more cautiously this time. They consume everything that is left on the buffalo, War does not arrive to stop them.
Thursday morning 5:30am I notice in the semi darkness the lioness has come to drink. I remain at my desk, Dawie says I am getting too attached to her emotionally. She lies drinking for a long time, it is not easy for her and she appears to be weaker and very exhausted. She glances around and her gaze stops at the carcass, it is now merely an empty rib cage and a set of horns. I carry on working and try not focus on how hopeless her future is.
Colin arrived later that morning to euthinase her, the wind must have carried the news because she was now nowhere in sight. After a brief drive around he left, relieved that she had maybe moved on and would pass away naturally in the bush. I continued working. Around lunch time movement catches my eye, she was back to drink. I called Colin and went outside to watch her so she could be more easily located this time. She no longer growled at the sight of me watching her from the safety with my fence, she had become used to the endless photographing. She walked slowly and graceful along the shrubbery, stopping and rubbing lovingly where War had marked. The rumbling of Colins bakkie could be heard in the distance, he came into view and I gestured to where she was lying. He shook his head, she was in a bad state. He took out his rifle. I turned away, walked back to the house and felt my heart break inside my stomach.
The suffering was over and I knew it would take some time for my heart to understand what my mind already knew. It was the right thing to do. Walking to her lifeless body I saw that she should have been in her prime her paws were massive like her will to survive. This week had proven to be just too much for me.
I get back to the house, heavy hearted and clouded mind. I breathe out, tears roll down my cheeks. I gaze out the window in a daze. A whirlwind of dust and leaves form in the driveway, she is on her way in peace.
“Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.” ~