Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Hulooo The Leader

It is Feb 8th and has been a week since Hulooo & brothers entered into the 40 hectare camp. It proved to be a major adjustment for the young tigers to suddenly find themselves in such a large area, particularly for JenB & Coco.

For the most part, they stayed in the area near the half hectare, or along the fence. Due to Hulooo's intense interests in being together with his human parents, we could only drive into the 40 hectare after putting him temporarily into the half hectare camp. However, our one attempt to guide JenB &Coco to other parts of the camp only managed to lead them to the edge of the tree area.

After my guests were all gone, I had more time today to dedicate to the youngsters. Hulooo, as it appeared to me, has taken a leading role among his brothers, being the older of the three. Because of his intimate bond with humans, why not lead him who will lead his brothers to explore the rest of the large camp?!

I drove slowly along the fence along the open area of the hunting camp.
Indeed, Hulooo, then JenB followed me on their side of the camp, with Coco trailing behind. It seemed to me that Coco had become more independent since entering 40 hectare camp, as I noticed him to be more often on his own. Even now, JenB was more closely following Hulooo, chasing him and jumping on top of him, while Coco kept a distance.

In the far corner of the camp, I saw the 6 remaining blesbok. Cathay and TW had hunted all the other 33 since last October. These six blesbok are not easy prey. They are clever and experienced, after surviving the last few months. They will be a huge challenge to the young tigers who have had no hunting experience up to now.

I turned around the corner of the fence, while Hulooo and JenB made a short cut to catch up with me. I was trying to slow down a bit, in order not to disturb the blesbok ahead in the distance. The blesbok saw my vehicle, and must have judged from their experience that I was still too far to pose any danger, so they just watched. As I drew nearer, they saw the tigers trailing behind, and experience must have told them it was now time to run, and run they did! This caught the attention of Hulooo who, with no hesitation, dashed off in a straight line towards the blesbok,

It was clear to me Hulooo had yet to learn. He was too obvious running in a straight line. This reminded me of his mother and Hope, when they first entered the 60 hectare camp. Time will come when Hulooo figures out the stalking techniques. Surely, there was no match between tiger and blesbok in long distance running, particularly in such an open area, so Hulooo gave up after the first failed attempt. He went behind a small bush, seemingly understood that he was too obvious. Then his attention was caught by that big herd of blue wilderbeest on the outside of the camp, whose grazing was disturbed by the presence of tigers, and who stood there making their threatening noises.

JenB caught up, and launched a chase of the blesbok too, before setting his eyes also on the angry wilderbeest. Just when Hulooo and JenB were focusing on the blue wilderbeest, Coco embarked on his chase of the blesbok. First he also ran a straight line towards them, but as he got closer, he must have gotten, for he went behind one of the two only little bushes. I could only see him sniffing the ground through my binoculars.

For me, this was certainly an exciting moment to witness. This is the start of their hunting training. They now know there is game around. I hope as they get more comfortable in this camp, they will start to understand the link between these "running toys" and food.

Feb 10. It rained overnight, and today was mostly cloudy and cool. Having been fed two days ago, Hulooo and his brothers were still lazy this morning.

In the afternoon monitoring, I drove along the 40 hectare fence, half heartedly expecting Hulooo & brothers to appear from the trees. Having driven half way when no one showed up, I reversed my truck to head back the way I came. When I was nearly at the gate, I saw Hulooo's lone figure walking towards me.

He followed my truck on his side of the fence in his own leisurely pace. I tried to direct him towards the blesbok, but Hulooo was in no hurry, sniffing the ground as he moved. The rain gathered its intensity and lightening and thunder moved closer and closer. But Hulooo did not seem bothered. At one point, he raised his head and saw the blesbok, and made a cheetah style run at it again. A failed attempt of course.

Lightening was now directly over our head, followed by ever louder thunders.
It reminded me that our neighbour-the big game breeder John Hume, lost 6 precious buffalo from lightening last year. The buffalo were under a tree which was struck by lightening. I worry that such things could happen to our tigers too as they take shelter under the trees from the heavy rain.

Hulooo, however, insisted following my truck, despite the rain nearly blinding his eyes. In a way I am glad since the lightening could not get to him without the trees. I drove slowly and at times Hulooo would take a quick dive into the little bushes nearby to get a bit relief from the downpour.
After a little while, he would emerge again, shaking off the water on his fur, and continued to walk with my truck. Thunders got louder and louder and exploded right above. Suddenly, one cracked right on top of my head, shaking the ground as well as my heart.

Hulooo, as if struck also by electeicity, launched into a gallop and ran on the open grassland in the middle of the rain. Eventually, through my binoculars, I saw his head among the little group of bushes, continuing to follow my truck with his eyes...

A couple of days later, the youngsters made more attempt at the blesbok, under the leadership of Hulooo. Their techniques seemed to have improved some what, using the little bushes to hide from time. But there is a long way to go before they could catch any of these experienced game!

Friday, 13 February 2009

King Henry's First Witnessed Hunt

It was a memory day on Jan 27th. I witnessed King Henry's first witnessed hunt! It was 6am in the morning and I heard distressed bird cries coming out of Madonna's camp. I could not see anything from the side of the fence I was, so I rushed over to the other side. At the far end of the camp along the fence, I saw King Henry plucking a feather off something though my camera lense. Then I saw some thing ran off and KingHenry went after it. Then I lost sight of him.
Some time later, I saw a little cub in the branches under the big tree next to where I saw them first time and saw something was dangling off King Henry's mouth. I tried to get closer, but in an effort to protect his hard earned bread, KingHenry started eating the birdlike creature, with noises of bone being crunched. I was so excited. I hd witnessed Madonna's cub's first witnessed hunt in the wild! I feel like congratulating King Henry, but he took it in such a stride that he just wandered off as a matter of factly, as if he does this everyday. Maybe he does!
It was overcast and cool next morning and all the tigers were cheering and played happily in the wind. A whole Springbok carcass was given to Madonna and her cubs as a normal feeding process. The carcass was laid down for Madonna inside the small feeding camp, from where she normally would carry it back into her camp for her cubs. To our surprise today, instead of carrying it all the way back, she left the carcass just at wrong side of the gate, where her eager and curious son King Henry nearly made a quantum leap into this fearful unknown camp to get the food. Madonna was teaching her babies to get the carcass on their own!
King Henry's full attention was dedicated to getting his mouth on the right place to be able to drag the carcass across. He gave up after a few minutes of unsuccessful tries, and joined his mother and sister in the trees to play. But his heart was still on the carcass, so he went back to his food again after a few minutes. A king he must be! The all powerful little cub, to my great surprise and admiration, eventually managed to drag the 30 kg carcass across! What an achievement that was! I am so proud of her and I am sure so was his mother!
However, opening the carcass to eat was another challenge and Madonna was determined to let her baby learn this on his own. King Henry tried and tried, standing at one stage with all fours on top of it but sprinbok skin was tough leather. King Henry ended up only eating the eyes of it. He then joined the play between his little sister and mum and they dashed off merrily into the trees.
We know that tigers never learned from their teachers -the small cats- how to climb but our cubs proved the traditional wisdom wrong! Because soon after, I saw King Henry high up in the big tree under which they were first seen by me, with Princess at the lower side of the tree. For a moment, I though King Henry was not able to come down the tree as he tried every position to find a way down. I was worried he might make a desperate attempt by jumping down, injuring himself. Again I underestimated his intelligence. King Henry figured it out quickly and with head down, he climbed down the tree safely.
Having given her son enough opportunity to try, Madonna eventually came and dragged the carcass into the ditch..

Jen-B & Bros Enter 40 Hectare Camp
Jan 30th came. We were about to let Cathay's cubs go into a new stage in life, by introducing them into the 40 hectare camp, where they would learn to hunt, as there are still 6 blesbok left from the hunts made by their parents in the last few months. But first we must pull their parents back from 40 hectare into the Tree camp, where Hulooo used to live. To get to the tree camp, Cathay and TW have to pass through the 9 hectare camp. The afternoon before, we opened the connecting gate to the 9 hectare. Haven't been here for a while, Cathay and TW refused to go further, sniffing around the new fence under construction to establish a new camp within the 9 hectare camp. They must be wondering what this new fence was for, since it did not form any enclosure of any kind.
After a while, I decided to let them stay in the 9 hectare to explore for the night, confident they would be hungry and ready to be enticed into the Tree camp. Indeed, it was peacemeal to do so in the morning of Jan 30th.
Afterwards, we let JenB and Coco out into the 9 hectare camp, leaving Hulooo in the quarantine camp for the moment. The two were having a field day, chasing one another merrily in the grass and stalking one another in the bush and trees. They were also interested in their parents, thus refusing to go any further. Eventually, we tried using the food truck to seduce them, but even food could not compete with the new smells of the 9 hectare camp, even less the appeal of their mother and father. They ended up back in the area next to the Tree Camp, watching their parents with great interests. As the sun shone on with great intensity and it was time for day dreams,I left the young tigers there for the day.
Afternoon was also no success to get them into the 40 hectare camp. As we tried ways to lead them on the right track, the young tigers must feel as if we were playing a game of hide and seek, and ended up stalking me and our staff. It was certainly great fun but no objectives achieved. I also discovered that they were scared of the pool of water collected in the little stream that ran through our camps, although they had submerged them in water trough before. They snarled at the dark water. Was it because the water looked too dark and they feared the unknown??
I started to through little stones into the water. As the circles from the fallen stone expanded, they became very interested. I also asked our team to cut some pieces of meat to throw into the water. The cubs seemed more interested. Coco at one stage got into the edge of the water, and must have liked the feel of the coolness of water, as he searched for the piece of meat. I start to strategize more ways to get them into water in the near future.As the sun started to set, we left them to explore the 9 hectare camp for the night.
Next morning, we embarked our endeavor to get the cubs into the 40 hectare again. As Jen-B and Coco showed some sign of hunger, Cleve tied a blesbok to the truck and the cubs followed, stopping to explore the environment from time to time. It was not too much of an effort to get them enter into the half hectare camp connecting to 40 hectare. They have never been here before so the millions of new smells attracted them to explore. Eventually, we left the carcass on the 40 hectare side of the fence that they could see from the half hectare and let them make their moves at their own pace. 20 minutes later when Cleve went back to check, both Jen-B and Coco had successfully entered into the 40 hectare camp!
In the afternoon heat, when we saw them again, the two brothers were walking along the fence, probably exploring, but probably also looking for Hulooo. When we got closer, I saw Jen-B's belly was wet, which meant he might have gotten into the river somewhat. However, when he tried to cross the river, I saw that he was still very cautious, tiptoeing as if afraid to touch the river water. Clearly, they need Hulooo to show them that the darkish looking stream contains the tiger's favorite essence of water.
It was time to get Hulooo into the 40 hectare camp. Being very bonded with humans, it was an easy job to get Hulooo through the 9 hectare camp to the half hectare camp. He simply followed us along his side of the fence, rolling and jumping in the long grass, tree-climbing and running wild merrily, along the way. When he reached the half hectare camp, however, he was also fascinated by the thousands of fresh smells of various grasses and sniffed around and around.
Jen-B and Coco came over to greet their elder brother, which prompted Hulooo to make a speedier move into the 40 hectare camp. Hulooo, despite a slight hesitation, jumped into it and joined his brothers. It was as if they hadn't seen each other for a long time. They embarked on a game of merry chase and disappeared into the trees.
Feb 1, 2009 Laohu Valley Reserve