Friday, 6 January 2012

Murder, bullying and theft in the Serengeti

Murder, bullying and thieving occur on a daily basis in the Serengeti. It is here that large quantities of animals gather on these vast plains and play out the tribulations of life and death. It is a delicate balance, in which each plays out his part in the story.

The Serengeti plains and rich grasses support vast quantities of herbivores. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, large quantities of buffalo, 500,000 Thomson’s Gazelles and more than 100,000 other animals including large quantities of the small deer including dik dik and impala. The herbivores strength is in their numbers, but because they are so numerous, they also attract the natural predators.

The predators are the lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas. Some of them will hunt alone; sometimes they will hunt in packs depending on their family situation. Lions sometimes hunt together, sometimes alone. One of the great sights in the Serengeti is the sight of a co-ordinated attack by lionesses that form part of a pride. They will each quietly take their positions, one to chase the prey from behind, one lining up on the side, with another to cut off the escape route. Although they are acting on instinct, it almost seems they have their own walkie-talkie; such is their co-ordinated pursuit of their prey.

 Once one of the lionesses has their prey in her jaws, the others will join her to try and kill off the victim. Lions do not have giant jaws, and they are not strong enough to kill their victims instantly, hence they sometimes have to keep squeezing until the victim finally gives up their agonizing fight. Sometimes the pack will arrive, including Big Daddy, and they will just start eating the victim alive! Murder is not clean and simple in the Serengeti.

Lions will attack practically all the animals, depending on the situation, even buffaloes, elephants and giraffes at times. These attacks make fascinating viewing, and are not always successful for the lions.

Leopards are smaller and faster than lions and will tend to concentrate on smaller prey. Their attacks are not as co-ordinated as lion attacks and will often involve a sole leopard. Leopards have a distinct advantage against the bullies of the Serengeti; they will often take their prey and store in up in their tree larder, beyond the reach of other predators who fancy a quick dinner. Even so, lions that smell the prey may come along and jump onto the tree, almost shaking it in their frustration at not being able to get their hands on it. It is a bit like the bullying boss at work who comes round to your office to remind you that he is the boss, and that if there is anything that he fancies in your office, you should, of course, give it to him.

Hyenas work in gangs. These guys look like cowards, and their ungainly gait and sorrowful expression seems to indicate that they regret what they do for a living, which is probably as close to being full time bullies as you can be. Though hyenas look like losers, they do not give up, and when more and more of their kind show up, they can be ever braver, even shoving lions off their dinners at times. More often, however, they will move in when lions, and other predators have already had a good meal.

When the hyenas move in, the vultures will be waiting for their turn. The vultures are the undertakers of the savannah, who just happen to eat their clients. They are appropriately dressed in black, and are not discreet and quiet like you would expect undertakers might be. But, they leave their clients beautifully prepared to return to the earth from whence they came, just the pure white bones, and ready for the termites to take their turn in the recycling process.  

There is no time for regret and remorse in the Serengeti. Once a wildebeest has been caught by a predator, other members of the herd will often return and take a last, sorrowful look at their colleague, before they move on. Buffalo are more aggressive, and the herd will often return to try and rescue any of their family or friends who have been caught by lions. Sometimes they will be successful, trying to circle their colleague and help him move away from danger.

Most of the predators will look for cheap take-away meals, which they do not have to pay for. Thievery is rife in the Serengeti. Making a kill is hard work, because not only catching the prey is difficult and requires a lot of training, speed and skill, but also the actual killing of the prey is an exhausting process. Often a predator will have to wait hours before actually achieving the kill, if they are working by themselves. So if there is a cheaper way to get a good dinner, most of the predators will take it. Lions will think nothing of stealing another predator’s kill. Neither will hyenas if they have the support of their gang.

So here we have it, murder, bullying and thieving are daily occurrences on the plains of the Serengeti. The clues are everywhere, but they disappear very quickly as life goes on at a very intense pace. There is no police force to enforce the law, but as everyone knows the rules already, they just go about their daily lives.

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