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Amazing hunting techniques in the Savannah

Amazing hunting techniques in the Savannah

IN the African Savannah the cheetah is identified by two lines which run from the eyes to the lower part of the mouth, lions are have whiskers and small white lines which run from one side to another of the lower part of each eyes, these are important feature which influence how, when and where the two predators work.

A lion is a very large, robust cat, with a longish heavy muzzle and a long tail with black tassel at the tip. Males develop mane beginning the third year and varies individually from blond to black. Lions are found in open plains and most sparsely in thorn bush areas. A cub of a lion has brownish spots that fade by three months but may persist on belly as adult. As carnivores, lions feed entirely on flesh of the mammals.

The anatomy of this cat plays an integral part in the methods used to kill the prey. Social structure of a pride often determines what type of prey would be hunted. In a similar way, the physical appearance and social structure of African lions contribute to their successful hunting techniques.

The colour of lions varies from yellow to reddish brown, depending on their habitat. This colour pattern provides excellent camouflage to the lion when stalking the prey and blends well with the grass or bush of their habitat. A lion is an expert in hunting at the age of two and most habitually hunt in large groups ranging from two or three to 40 lions. The size of the prey determines the hunting technique. When hunting a large animal such as a buffalo or giraffe, lions work jointly. A single lion can, however, hunt and kill small animals

Lioness does most part of the hunting activities and when hunting for large prey, they encircle a herd and work mutually to isolate and kill a single animal. Thus, it is a highly organized battle. When females are hunting is groups, they utilize their extreme stealth to stalk prey as closely as possible. Once they close in on a herd, it is then they choose the closest and easiest prey. Their attack is a short burst of immense energy and when the prey is brought down, it is usually killed by strangulation as lionesses bite the neck and snout area and consequently suffocate the prey.

Lions have long and curved canine teeth, which facilitate them to hold their prey firmly and pierce the thick skin of the prey. Their sharp, backward slanting papillae (small nipple-shaped protuberances on the tongue enclosing the taste buds) assist in stripping the meat from the bone and the hair from the hide of the prey.

African lions prefer hunting mostly when lighting conditions are poor such as early morning, late afternoon and at night. Their intense sense of smell and hearing alert them when prey is in close proximity. The pride either walks in single file or fan out in a loose formation when searching for prey.

Once prey is spotted, the lion lowers its head and body, staying close to the ground without losing sight of the prey. When the prey looks away or start feeding again, the lion will creep closer. Bush and savanna provide good camouflage during stalking and lions use all the cover available to hide. They can remain motionless for long periods while waiting for the prey to look away or feed.

From a distance of 10 to 30 meters away, the lion quietly bursts from cover and launches itself at the prey. The rest of the pride usually follows. Lions do not have the stamina to chase prey over long distances and most of the prey can easily outrun the lion, therefore it is important for the lion to get as close as possible to the prey before it starts the attack.

The say of “ladies first” does not hold to lions when it comes to feeding. Although lionesses usually do the hunting, the male lion will feed first. The females then follow and share what is left of the meal after which the cubs will be allowed their share. Lions are not very fast animals even the animals they hunt know it. A wildebeest can achieve a top speed of somewhere around 80 kph and maintain it effortlessly and even a humble warthog can manage almost 50kph. In fact, such is the disparity between predator and prey that many of the faster species don’t even bother to run away at full speed, when they are chased by a lion.

Consequently, lions have developed two main hunting methods. The first is a version of grandmother’s footsteps, in which the lion stalks from cover to cover with a final burst of speed at the end. If spotted, the lion will sit up and stare nonchalantly into the distance. The second method is to find a bush close to something the prey needs-usually waters points-climb in and wait. This has the great advantage that the lion can catch up on sleep whilst technically “out hunting”.

Major threats to lions include loss of habitat from deforestation, and from expansion of agricultural lands and urban areas. Lions may lose their natural prey and be forced into smaller and smaller territories to find food and shelter, bringing them into contact with humans. Lions that attack domestic animals can be shot legally in many African countries. Diseases such as canine distemper have been spread from domestic dogs living near parks to lions and other wild predators.

As populations decrease, inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity can become a problem, making effected lions more susceptible to disease, infertility, and physical abnormalities. Illegal hunting or poaching for skins and body parts also takes a heavy toll on lions.

Conservation groups devoted to saving lions in collaboration with the government should establish parks, reserves, and other protected areas for lions in the wild. Additional conservation measures can include zoos and special facilities where lions can be protected and bred in captivity. Efforts must also be made to reintroduce lions back into areas where they previously lived but had now disappeared.

On its side, a cheetah is among big five carnivores found in most of wildlife protected areas in Tanzania especially in national parks. The species is scientifically known as Acinnox jubetus, the most specialized mammal of the cat family. The cheetah has tawny colorations with white underparts, colored hair around the neck, fluffy hair on the belly and the chest.

Also you can tell that this is a cheetah by looking at small dots on its skin with the end of its tail tip usually white. The easiest ways of differentiating cheetahs from leopards is that they have “tear stains” from eyes to mouth. However, this species has long and thin legs, small feet with blunts, except dewclaw. A head is small, round and foreshortened face.

The height of a cheetah ranges from 70-90cm and weighs between 35-65kg, the male weighing 10kgs heavier than the female. These carnivores are found almost everywhere in the world except Equatorial forests and deserts. They are well distributed south of the Sahara - in the savannas and they are rare in Northern Africa and Asia.

The cheetahs are very specialized to prey of antelopes, such as the gazelles and their related ones, springbok and blackbuck. Optimum cheetahs’ habitats include the cover in form of bushes, medium-length grasses not tall ones and broken grounds. The cats are also found in miombo woodland zones where animal of preys are reedbuck, Oribi, Juvenile Roan and Sable as well as warthogs.

Cheetahs are diurnal and territorial. Females are solitary while males in most cases do live in coalitions. The coalitions are formed by either mother with sub adult cubs, young adult cubs recently separated from their mother or just a coalition of males from different families. Socially, adult females are as shy as other cats.

A cheetah conceives in a minimum age of 21-22 months, with an interval of 18 months between birth and the next conception. The gestation period ranges from 90-95 days with average litter of 3-4. The female which is about to give birth withdraws into a cover where she gives birth and very carefully hides the cubs. The cubs are born with weight ranges from 150-300g and by this time they can only crawl, turn their heads and give out very churring calls.

As it is to almost all carnivores, the cubs begin practicing catching and killing for themselves well before they become independent. Normally the mother brings back the gazelle fawns and lets the cubs try to kill them. Between 9-12 months, cubs may hunt and catch small prey like hares for themselves while the mother remains on the sidelines, watching and helping to bring the prey back in case it tries to run away since the cubs in this age can rarely make a kill.

Hunting activity of a cheetah is the most attracting thing to watch. They mostly hunt during day light time and is rare to see them chase a prey by moonlight or in dark nights. They have different techniques of hunting like, coalition kind of social behavior which helps them as their vigilance increases and they can easily chase and get the prey in a short time.

Cheetahs have also some adaptations which play a great role while hunting. Their fast speed of between 90-120 kilometer per hour enables them to capture their grey easily although they lack stamina during their quickest runs. In order for the cheetah to capture the prey, it has to overtake it within 300m and if fails to do so within that range, then its breathing rate goes up to 150/minute and its temperature rises. For that matter it has to cool down for a half an hour before trying to chase and kill a prey again.

In order to sight the potential prey, a cheetah utilises different natural features available in the bush like termite mounds or trees with low branches which allows the cheetah to climb and see afar. The animal has different sprinting range of 50m or less depending on the terrain, prey’s behavior and dispersion patterns.

The cheetah can get close to within 60-70 meters before the animal takes flight, and then cheetah sprints at them, accelerating to full speed only after selecting a particular best prey. Alternatively, it can walk in semi-crouched position with head lowed to shoulder level, freezing in the midstride if the prey looks up, lying crouched and sitting. This happens when there is cover available.

A cheetah can easily unbalance the faster running prey by striking rump, thigh or hindlegs with downward or sideward stroke of a forepaw. The victim crashes on its side and even flips over and, sometimes breaking a leg. And if the prey runs slowly or stands and cheetah behind it uses the dewclaw to hook at the back and pulls backward causing it fall on its side. When the animal is still struggling, a cheetah uses its legs and chest to hold it down. Suffocation is the common way used by most carnivores to kill the prey, but as far as cheetah is concerned, suffocation is done from the preys behind.

The amount of meat eaten by a cheetah at one time is about 14kg which last for 2-5days without hunting again, cheetahs, do not hold meat between their paw and do not return to its carcasses as it is done by biggest carnivores, rather it rakes dirt over the leftovers before walking away. Sometimes, it flees away and surrenders the kill to other carnivores like lion, leopard and hyaena to rescue its life.

Tourism is a threat to hunting cheetah, especially when trucks are concentrated at one area for purpose of watching and taking photos from them. This can alert preys as the cars keep coming closer and scare them away before they come within cheetahs chasing range. The presence of a long queue of trucks on the road can actually act as a barrier to a cheetah from reaching the next side of the road where the animals of grey might be grazing.

Such convergence of tourist trucks to watch a cheetah hunting result into wastage of time and energy with no food to this innocent spotted carnivore. Cubs of cheetahs become victims as they get lost from their mothers during hunting as result of unnecessary disturbances caused by irregular movements of these tourist vehicles. 

Glass diamonds nearly sent me to poverty

As always, I had a dream…….and in ...

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Author: Reginald Stanislaus Matillya

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