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!