Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A leopard ate my chicken

Well, actually it ate my mom’s chicken. As part of my research project to see where our birds are going, over last few days I have had the mist-nets close to the house. This morning, at 5:15am, still without my caffeine fix, I wondered outside into the fine mist of a grey sky.

Fifteen minutes later I was wondering back up the track to the house when I got a prickling sensation up the back of my neck. Striding out in front of me were fresh tracks of a large male leopard. Fresh because the light rain from earlier had not yet dulled the sharpness of their outline in the soft sand. I glanced around to see if in fact the tracks lay over mine from a few minutes earlier, but I had followed a different line down the road.

Up ahead, towards the houses, Cape Bulbuls and a Common Fiscal were rattling an alarm. Was it due to Rania, the housecat, I had seen earlier? Or was it due to something larger?

I cautiously headed up through the garden, looking around expecting at anytime to see the spotted flank of our top predator hiding in a bush. But as I approached the Agapanthus stand at the base of our massive Belumbra tree where a chicken had hatched 9 chicks the previous week, I realised the grass was littered with feathers.

Now, instead of wild bird alarm calls, there was an ominous silence. No little peeping noises from fluffy chicks could be heard. I envisaged the leopard pouncing on the despairing fluffed up mother hen, and then swallowing helpless baby chicks. I followed the feather trail to the edge of the garden and it disappeared into the rocky hillock at the back. I did not wish to follow any further, not wanting to come into contact with him in close confines on the rocky slope. As I headed back to the house, skirting the koppie, my eyes kept searching the rocks and bushes in vain for a sight of the sleek, spotted coat that does so fine a job of hiding our elusive predator.

On a brighter note, half an hour later once the rest of the chickens had been released from their secure room, from various bushes around the garden tiny peeps of hiding chicks could be heard, and most of the cute little orphans were recovered.

That is the first time we have had the leopard move past so close to the houses. We’ll definitely move around at night a bit more cautiously from now on.     

The culprit left his fingerprints on the driveway

One of the leopards of Blue Hill Nature Reserve, maybe looking for chickens

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