by Leon van Wyk
Something which I have observed throughout my guiding career is a phenomenon which I like to call “predator fascination”. A large number of species exhibit behaviour which is characteristic of predator fascination. Even we as humans experience the feeling. The majority of our guests feel more drawn towards a predator than towards a herbivore, and even some guides in the industry show a tendency to focus their attention more on carnivores than on herbivores.
Out in the wild, the phenomenon is evident among a multitude of species, from the smallest birds to the largest land mammals. Next time you are out on a game drive or a walk, look for evidence of predator fascination. If a leopard is walking along a road, not actively hunting, and is spotted by a herd of impala, it is more likely than not, that the impalas will snort their alarm at the leopard, but will also follow the leopard, for some distance, keeping their eye on the predator to see where it goes. They stretch their necks out, open their eyes wide, and are clearly fascinated by the predator, knowing it to be dangerous to them. Vervet monkeys in trees will also get extremely excited if they see a leopard nearby, especially if the leopard is active. Even if the leopard is showing no intention whatsoever of hunting the monkeys, they keep uttering their chattering alarm calls, until they lose sight of the leopard.
Sitatunga female keeping her eye on a snake.
If a snake is seen moving through the branches of a tree, and is spotted by birds, these birds are certain to utter their own alarm calls, and also determinedly mob the snake. Other birds in the area, clearly fascinated by the possibility of seeing a predator, will congregate in the immediate area, and add their own particular versions of abusive vocal assault to the snake. A slender mongoose might attract similar hostile attention from whatever birds might be in the immediate area.
If an elephant bull approaches a water hole, and sees a buffalo bull lying peacefully nearby, he is most likely going to pay little attention to the buffalo. If, however, there are a couple of lions lying close to the water hole, the elephant is not likely to ignore them – he is far more likely to advance aggressively towards the lions, letting them know in no uncertain terms that they are not welcome.
A bird of prey, such as a Dark chanting goshawk, perched on the upper branches of a dead tree, will frequently attract the attention of smaller birds, one of which is likely to be a fork-tailed drongo. Drongos are very plucky birds, with the confidence and fearlessness of a Jack Russell. They will repeatedly swoop down and mob the eagle, sometimes pecking it on top of the head! If the goshawk eventually decides that it has had enough of being abused, it is likely to fly off, but the harassment does not end here…the drongo continues to pursue the bird of prey in flight, almost “riding on its back” as it takes the attack to a new level, constantly using obscene bird language as it drives the unwanted predator further and further away.
A dark chanting goshawk with his feathers ruffled after being harassed by a fork tailed drongo.
Almost any predator, when it exposes itself out in the open, is likely to draw the attention of some or other creature that is fascinated by it. Most creatures that are fascinated by predators don’t keep quiet about the fact that they’ve just seen a predator. Guides and trackers use this fact to great advantage, as by following up on the alarm calls or signs of animals that have seen a predator, they greatly increase their own chance of finding such predators.
Next time you see a major predator that is active, whether it be a cheetah, leopard or lion, look around you to see what other creatures might be fascinated by this predator. Also listen for agitated sounds or alarm calls, even of birds which might have seen the predator. If you see nothing or hear nothing out of the ordinary, you might think for a moment that this “predator fascination” story is a lot of nonsense. Oh, yes? Pause for a moment longer. You are watching the predator, aren’t you? Why? Predator fascination, of course!