Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life

Article excerpt

Darkness was closing in and one of the sheep was lost. A search party formed. On my Kenya farm big cats, African wild dogs and hyenas abound. Livestock left out overnight are almost sure to be devoured by morning.

I've had a blind cow grazing in the safety of the garden croquet lawn pounced upon by eight lions and turned to a pool of gore between the peg and the hoops. From dusk to dawn we protect our cattle and sheep in a boma, or night enclosure. The lions go upwind and pee to spook cattle into a stampede from a thorn boma, but ours are made from sturdy Welsh-style dry-stone walls that will prevent any sort of break-out.

In the gloaming we spread out into the grasslands. When I saw movement I assumed my eyes were playing tricks with me and then I saw it was a cheetah. My heart sang, to speak the truth. I would have left it to its kill but the herders gave a great whoop and advanced at a run. The cheetah, a male with its head soaked in blood, scampered off into the ocean of grass and was lost in the last of the day. The sheep's carcass lay in the grass.

'Rejoice with me, ' I murmured, 'for I have found my sheep which was lost.' But Apurra, the shepherd whose flock it was to care for, laid the half-consumed dead animal on his shoulders angrily and walked away down the hill.

We slung down the sheep carcass on the ground outside the kitchen and my children, Eve and Rider, came to look at it. I raised the animal's head and showed them the puncture marks on its throat, four holes - but there was no other sign of a violent death. The cheetah had run down the ewe, a plump, slow and easy target compared with the gazelles on the high country. He must have caught up with almost no effort and suffocated the prey by clamping his jaws around the creature's windpipe. The major limb bones were hardly touched. The cheetah had consumed most of the hindquarters and succulent innards by almost gently sucking the meat out from under the hide.

'At least the cheetah got to eat half the animal, ' I said thinking out loud. I reckoned it must have consumed more than 25 kilos of meat single-handed, which was not bad, given how relaxed his pursuit must have been. Apurra looked at me openmouthed. …

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