Kgalagadi sightings – when a predator becomes prey

Kgalagadi sightings – when a predator becomes prey post thumbnail image

Imagine going on a leisurely drive in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, only to witness a killer Kgalagadi sighting, that of a predator removing another predator from the food chain. Sightings like these could leave many sensitive viewers shocked in horror, questioning why exactly it happened.

Simon Smith recently visited the Kgalagadi for a week-long holiday and was driving back to the Twee Rivieren Rest Camp, one of three main rest camps in the park. On this drive, he spotted a caracal crouching among the remains of a dead tree. “It seemed to be looking up into the tree above. I got the binoculars out and spotted an African wild cat as the source of its interest,” says Simon.

Caracal spots African wild cat in a tree.
A caracal looks up at an African wildcat in a tree in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Photo: Simon Smith

The next move would come as a surprise to many nature lovers, making it a truly special Kgalagadi sighting. “In a flash the caracal rocketed up the tree, forcing the terrified cat to the very ends of the flimsy branches. After a few moments clawing at the bark where the wildcat had been lying, the caracal moved closer forcing it to do what none of us was expecting.”

The African wildcat was left with very few options and decided to jump. “We couldn’t believe what we were watching,” says Simon. “Just when we thought we’d seen it all, the caracal made the same incredible leap from the same height. The caracal sprinted off in pursuit of the little cat as both of them rocketed to the next available tree. They covered close to 50m in what seemed like a millisecond.”

African wildcat jumping from a tree
An African wildcat jumps from a tree in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as a caracal closes in. Photo: Simon Smith

The next move was the final blow. As the African wildcat started hurtling up the next tree, the caracal leapt at the cat from a few meters away – hitting it mid-ascent and subsequently throttling it below the tree. The caracal was not interested in eating the cat. “We returned that afternoon to find the body untouched. We assumed it had been a simple case of dominance and competition.”

The caracal lands after jumping out of a tree..
The caracal lands after jumping from the tree in pursuit of the African wildcat. Photo: Simon Smith

This behaviour, called mesopredator predation, is not unusual in the wild. This takes place when an apex predator, which in this case is the caracal, takes out a mid-ranking predator to prevent competition for food. Lions killing leopards, lions killing cheetah and leopard killing cheetah are just a few examples.

The Kgalagadi is a brilliant location for special sightings. It was Simon’s first visit to the park. “I would recommend the Kgalagadi to visitors as it just offers such a diverse array of fauna and flora. It can be green and wet in summer and extremely dry and arid in winter. The whole desert is alive from insects and mice to snakes, the predatory birds and the array of wildlife. It offers excellent birding opportunities throughout the beautiful landscape,” he says.

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a vast wilderness area protecting the Kalahari region of South Africa and Botswana. The Namibian border lies to the west.  

About the photographer

Simon Smith lives in Durban and is passionate about surf and wildlife photography. Having explored several of Africa’s wildlife reserves, he has been able to convey his love for wildlife through some truly eye-capturing images. As a published and award-winning photographer, Simon’s ultimate passion is getting into the African bush and behind a camera. His images are a small testament to Africa as the ultimate photographer’s paradise. Follow him on Instagram to see more of his images.

The African wildcat caught by the caracal. Photo: Simon Smith
The caracal kills the African wildcat. Photo: Simon Smith

Have you ever had any special Kgalagadi sightings? We would love to hear your stories and experiences in the comments!

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