Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Cathay a Role Model & Huwaa a Born Hunter

April  5, 2012 On the Trail of Prey

Cathay was sighted on the prowl in the middle section of the Tigers Roars camp this morning.  Guess it was time to hunt as the last kills of three antelopes were a few days ago. The cubs were nowhere to be seen. I drove to the riverine area and waited. After some time roars came closer and closer and it turned out to be Cathay calling her cubs. I followed her movement up the hill where she lied down, where all her three children were frolcking in that same area, all the time within my eye view but well camouflaged in the golden grass! But how did Cathay know they were there?!

Soon she got up and walked off and one by one her cubs followed, chasing and jumping on top of one another along the way.  Huwaa and Beta disappeared into the trees inside the riverine area  following mom’s trail but Alpha had another plan and went in a different direction. Well, I thought all of them found their places to rest for the day as it was 8.30am, even though it was not a very hot day.
I was calling it a morning but decided to drive the long way out. I was  however taken by surprise when I saw Cathay with Huwaa and Beta in the middle section of the camp along the fence. It dawned on me that Cathay had gone back to gather her kids on a hunt! Slowly Mom and cubs moved forward in the direction of the blesbuck. It was evident the children were at the early stages of their hunting training, as Huwaa made an attempt at the antelope too soon, scaring them away. In between the wait, the cubs either played with one another, or molested their mom to kill time. Only seven blesbuck remained and it wouldn’t be so easy to hunt, especially with the cubs being more a hindrance than help. Patience is a learned skill even for the most lethal of all hunters -the big cats.

At one stage, the blesbuck ended up behind the three tigers, though a long distance away. Cathay turned around and started walking back with patience and resilience. Just when I was thinking what a great pity that Alpha chose to be lazy, when I suddenly saw him trailing behind the blesbuck in the opposite side of the camp! I apologized to him for having misjudged him.  The Blesbuck is however a formidable enemy and a tiger could never catch them by outrunning them.  Patience, judgement and strategy are however in a good hunter’s favour and Cathay has plenty of that, plus years of experience.

Eventually the blesbuck ran across the camp into the riverine area with dense vegetation and trees. The tigers started moving back.  I guess Cathay’s strategy is to push the prey into the tree-lined riverine area where it would be easier to hunt.  I however had to leave to attend a conference call.

April 6 2012 Huwaa’s First Witnessed Blesbuck Hunt
Early this morning, Cathay was tracking the blesbuck again, sniffing the grass, & teaching her cubs by example. The cubs followed suit. Huwaa was marching forward much ahead of her family, moving quickly among the grass but was soon joined by the rest of the family. The tigers zig-zagged, playing along the way, heading with great intent towards the blesbok in the far distance.  Cathay, to show her cubs that patience pays, would stop and lie down from time to time and watch, while Alpha and Beta did not yet grasp the meaning of that, and constantly pestering Cathay. Huwaa was charging forward leaving everyone behind. The blesbuck got more and more skittish and eventually they ran across the camp to the opposite side of the camp towards the riverine area. Cathay turned around to follow and disappeared into the big donga.

Suddenly we glimpsed a blesbuck that has fallen behind the herd, likely having tripped on a stone.  Before we knew what happened, Huwaa appeared out of nowhere like a flash of light and landed on top of the unlucky beast! What a spectacular hunt! I had underestimated Huwaa,  the sweet cat full of nervous energy.  I quickly drove up to her kill site, finding her mouth tightly wrapped around the blesbuck neck like a real hunter, not letting go.  Beta had also arrived but was giving negative help by dragging and biting the leg of the blesbuck. The blesbuck was still struggling but Huwaa held on. In about 5 minutes, the prey finally stopped moving and Huwaa kept holding on for a little more, making sure the prey was dead.

How proud I am of her! This is our first witnessed hunt of blesbok by Huwaa and she has already proven her skills.  Thinking back how sickly she was while being hand-reared at zoo, and that the warnings by the zoo vet  that she might not live long due to her heart echo and that we ought to treat her with ultimate care, I feel, yet once again, that we have proven a natural environment for the tigers does wonders. A wild creature belongs to the beautiful nature, no matter where it is. They certainly don’t belong to cages.

Mom Cathay, despite she must have been hungry, didn’t interfere through the entire process. She let Huwaa drag the carcass towards the shade of a bush, but Huwaa’s effort was stunted by her brothers who tried to drag it to another part of the world. Cathay intervened, picking up the carcass and dragging it next to a bush,  and leaving it there for her cubs while herself went a distance away to watch. What a wonderful mother she is!  Huwaa, like all tigers that have just made kills, needed a rest and let her brothers tackling the hard skin of the carcass in turn. They eventually succeeded tearing a hole through the butt allowing them to feed. Mom came over another time to drag the carcass closer to the next & bigger bush. I can see her intention-as the sun was shining harder and the cloud dissipated, she wanted to get her family and their food to better shade. All this time, she didn’t put in a single bite into the carcass. After a while, she got up, and started off probably for another hunt.

Well we certainly had a “Good Friday” ourselves!

April 7 2012 Harvest

If yesterday was a good Friday, today was certainly a better Saturday for both tigers and humans at Laohu Valley. To start with, we were able to get a glimpse of Madonna’s beautiful little daughters  by the stony riverbed, who are still indistinguishable from one another. While we were  waiting for Madonna’s cubs to appear from the trees, Madonna came along the river line, calling her cubs. After a few minutes, her three daughters indeed emerged out of the dense vegetation, happily running towards mom. However, instead of resting where we could see them, Madonna leaped into the thicket with her cubs following closely behind.
I was soon able to find out why.  Madonna’s family was in fact heading towards the 40 ha camp where Cathay’s family reside. Just when Madonna’s cubs had appeared from the trees to answer her calls, our Dutch student Kimberly’s voice had also came through on the radio-Cathay had just made a kill!

A while later, Sanet and I drove up the hill to observe Cathay’s family and saw Cathay leisurely walking about. While we were just wondering where she hid her catch Sanet spotted another tiger dragging a carcass into the trees on the other side of the little river.  We reckon this could not possibly be the blesbuck Cathay had just killed as it would be silly of Cathay to drag her kill from up the hill all the way across the river to the other side of the bank  & away from the trees. This must be another kill, particular since the antelope seemed pretty agitated and running around in the distance.  On closer inspection through the binoculars, it turned out the dragger was Huwaa. So this little girl must have made yet another kill!!

We wondered if any other blesbuck had lost its life and started counting what was left. But with the blesbuck running it was hard.  Repeated attempt to count yielded however the same number of 16, while an hour ago Sanet counted 21. Could this be true that Cathay’s family caught five antelope in a matter of one hour? It is hard to believe but this happened before when Hulooo brothers went on a rampage, catching 9 blesbok in a row.  I drove around the camp to get a better count and in the end had to resign to the fact, that a total worth of US$1000 of antelope were taken by Cathay’s family this morning. I am sure Huwaa contributed a couple and I also hope the boys, Alpha and Beta, learned a trick or two.

So Madonna must have heard the commotions in the distance and gathered her cubs to the battle ground to share some excitement.

April 8, 2012

Another 3 blesbuck missing by the end of the day….

Friday, 6 April 2012


Sisi, in the morning of Feb 6, before I let you out of the house into the vastness of Laohu Valley Reserve while I was leaving , I picked you up and said to your pretty little face: “Don’t you dare to ever leave me. Please wait for me to come back again in a couple of months”.

So where have you gone now?? It’s over four weeks since you disappeared without a trace. You have never ever left me since you and I become friends in 2006. Each time I was back at Laohu Valley, I was looking forward to finding you inside my bedroom already waiting and without fail. And I was each time greeted by your excited sweet little voice. You showered me with affection with your pretty little head rubbing my cheeks. You showered me with love by watching me quietly in the middle of the night. You kept me such good company during the day if there were no other people around. You waited for me patiently on the big tree if I had guests in the house, as if guarding me.

Many a solitary nights passed with you besides me purring contently. You kept that wild side of you, the genes you inherited from perhaps a blackfooted cat father, to yourself, but it betrays you none the less-the shyness that kept you away from other humans. But you were always there for me. You would emerge out of anywhere whenever I called out: “Sisi….Sisi…”, and you have always run to me excitedly, out of trees, bushes or from the top of my roof.

So where have you gone?? I worried about you each time I left. I investigated how to get you to London without putting you into quarantine but knew you wouldn’t be happy in an apartment in a big city with no trees to climb, no bush to hide, no mice to catch, and no shining stars to behold. Therefore I wanted to wait till both you and I are old, so none of us could travel any more.

So why have you gone? I was so proud of you, your wild genes  and boasted often to friends and visitors about my friendship and bond with you-my “million dollar wild cat”. Even though the worry that I may one day return to Laohu Valley without finding you around always lurks around the corner, I never ever expected this to happen, and so soon too.

Did I put a curse on you when I spelled it out loud to your little face forbidding you to ever leave me? Perhaps I should not have said that to you?  Perhaps you are just playing hide & seek with me? I cant think of any reason why you are gone: You are too quick to be taken by a jackal, too smart to have a fight with a caracal, too athletic to fall from a tree, too cautious to touch a porcupine. Or perhaps you are poisoned by a Cape cobra? Or perhaps you were poisoned by neighbouring farmers’ jackal control traps? However, you never wandered that far away…

Or perhaps you simply decided to have an adventure somewhere!
But wherever you are, you should know I am always waiting for you, to return to me one day.

Li Quan from Laohu Valley on April 5h 2012