13 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

The Dismay of Prey

Even as you read this, the antelope of the Karoo National Park are busy re-evaluating their formerly carefree behavior.

Recently SA National Parks translocated lions into this scenic desert park near Beaufort West. These are the largest predators the area has seen in 170 years.

It’s fascinating to see how long-separated predator and prey react to one another. In other desert parks, there have been some real surprises. In 2007, four cheetah arrived in Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock. Everyone assumed they’d obediently hunt springbok out on the open plains, as they do in wildlife documentaries.

But no. These cheetahs headed for the high hills and have set about decimating the mountain rhebuck population, ignoring the tasty springbok on open plains and pretty much everything else except young, unwary kudus. In the absence of other large predators like lions, cheetah numbers have soared nearly tenfold. Mountain Cheetah National Park, anyone?

Meanwhile in Samara Private Game Reserve over the mountains near Graaff-Reinet, cheetahs that were introduced around the same time often behave like leopards, ambushing kudu in dense thickets.

The behaviour changes are not limited to predators. The buffalo in Addo Elephant National Park had long been rather interesting because they were nocturnal and browsed on bushes rather than eating grass. Presumably the habit was started to avoid hunters, before the area was declared a national park in the 1930s.

But then the lions arrived, and the buffalos quickly realised that a thicket at night is the very last place you would want to be with a pride of lion around.

So suddenly the buffalo have become diurnal, and have developed a marked fondness for open areas where they can keep a beady eye out for lions.

Category: Wildlife

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