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Spotting a black-headed heron. Check. Looking on as the black-headed heron devours a rodent. Check. Watching a caracal appear from nowhere to kill the initial hunter… Unbelievable! By Arnold Ras

You might expect wildlife interactions to be the sole preserve of game parks like Kruger and Addo, but you’d be wrong. You can also experience the thrill of the chase in meadows and forests. Just ask Kelsey Green from Hoekwil in the Western Cape.

Almost every day she drives through Wilderness and the Garden Route National Park. It was while driving past the gate to Ebb & Flow rest camp, one late afternoon in November, that she spotted a black-headed heron. With her camera on the passenger seat and the heron searching for prey close to the road, Kelsey made the most of the opportunity.

“I tried to get some nice shots despite the rainy weather, following the heron as it caught a small rodent and swallowed it whole. My attention was focused solely on the bird for about five minutes and as the heron was about to move out of my sight, I got ready to drive off.”

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Suddenly a flash of russet whizzed past in Kelsey’s peripheral vision. “My first thought was that it was a spooked duiker or grysbok until I managed to pinpoint the heron and saw a caracal hanging on to its neck. I was shocked…”

“When the caracal tackled the heron, I heard a quick snarl, followed by the flapping of the heron’s wings. The bird was dead within seconds after which the caracal picked up its catch and carried it into the forest.”

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Unbelievable scene

“As I work in conservation, I have had the privilege of seeing some pretty amazing sightings in the Kruger National Park and other big reserves. Wildlife sightings like this are not as commonplace in the Garden Route, so it was particularly special. It was drizzling with rain the whole day and I had only my 50mm lens with me – the photographs are not the best.” We certainly aren’t complaining, Kelsey!

Ever so elusive

“I’ve been weirdly lucky with caracals this year and have had four different sightings in the area since I moved here in January. I’ve never seen a caracal hunt or kill before, so it was really special. I reacted instinctively by taking photographs, but when the caracal disappeared into the forest, I sat there for several more minutes trying to fathom what I had just seen. Now I always watch that spot by the railway bridge over the Touws River carefully every time I drive past!”

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Did you know?

  • The caracal is the largest of the African small cats.
  • They can jump up to 10 feet into the air to catch their prey.
  • They are opportunistic hunters with a varied diet, ranging from rodents and small antelope to birds and even reptiles.
  • They will partially pluck the feathers from birds, especially larger ones, before eating.

Sources: Smithers’ Mammals of Southern Africa. A Field Guide. Peter Apps. 2012. Struik Nature;
Urban Caracal Project.

What happens when a caracal in the Kruger National Park sets its sight on a group of warthogs? That speed though! Video courtesy of Latest Kruger Sightings.

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