Wild Card member Jean Paul Acquaviva was not only lucky enough to see a brown hyena in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. He saw it make off with an unusual prize.
“I left Urikaruus camp early one October morning and drove towards Twee Rivieren, expecting to be alone on the road for the first 20 or 25 kilometres. Around Montrose waterhole, I happened upon a small group of springboks in the Auob riverbed and noticed some anxiety in their behaviour. They were watching something upstream. I thought maybe I had missed the action, so I drove back about 200 metres and watched the dry riverbed carefully.
“I saw nothing. Starting the car again, I looked at the other side of the road. There, on the crest of the slope, the unmistakable shape of a brown hyena’s head appeared.
“Half hidden behind the crest, the hyena was watching the riverbed. I stopped and was able to take several shots before the hyena decide to walk down the slope.
“Its attitude seemed determined and once the hyena began to move, it walked straight to the riverbed. Crossing the road, the hyena disappeared behind some trees. Soon afterward it appeared again and I understood why it was attracted by the riverbed: it was carrying the intact hindquarters of a cheetah!
“Now the hyena wanted to cross the road to reach the hill, but my presence was a problem. I decided to give it a wide berth and saw it crossing the road in my rear mirror about 100 metres back.
“I slowly reversed the car and watched it walking up the slope. The weight of the carcass slowed its pace, causing the hyena to stop twice to rest. Likely feeling exposed, the hyena didn’t try to eat any part of the carcass.
“Reaching the summit of the hill, it disappeared. I can only imagine the hyena stopped at the first secure spot it found to begin its feast.
“Initially, I thought the unfortunate cheetah had had a bad encounter with lions. Later, however, I had the opportunity speak with zoologist Margie Mills who studied cheetah in the Kalahari for years. She said it was more likely the cheetah had been killed by a rival male cheetah who was trying to mate with the same female.
“Once more, the Kgalagadi delivered some unusual sightings!”
According to Dr Matthew Schurch of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project (who is also currently involved with a cheetah identification project spearheaded by field researchers, Gus and Margie Mills), the now-deceased cheetah was called Smith:
“Smith was born around December 2007 with two siblings, a brother named Smit and sister named Caster. They were born in the Marie’s se Draai area of the Nossob river.
“The sibling group was separated from their mother (a Marie’s Draai Female) some time in September 2009, when they were spotted around Melkvlei. They then proceeded to move to the Aoub river, where they stuck together for a further year until Caster eventually decided to move off on her own.
“But Smith and Smit were inseparable, roaming the entire length of the Aoub river as a formidable coalition. They were an extremely recognizable duo (Smit has quite a scarred nose), and were very regularly seen by the park’s visitors.
“We are currently unsure if Smit survived the incident that killed Smith but we know that Caster is still alive. At some point in mid 2012 she moved back to the Nossob river and is now seen north of Nossob.”