“Ghosts… I tell you they are ghosts”
“Ghosts that leave a clear trail of pug-marks in the dust”?
“I mean when last have you seen one?”
I nod my head in submission.
“Not in a long time…”
“And yet, there are the tracks…so clear that a blind man with a stick…”
There is a rustle in the grass, a mere five meters to our left. The grass explodes away from us
It is a streak of red, and it disappears in the undergrowth.
“Ghosts you say?”
Ashley and I are on the trail of some of Kaingo’s smaller cats, or rather, smaller predators. We are under no illusions that our task may be almost impossible; most of our target species are nocturnal or crepuscular. They do, however, leave their distinct tracks in the dust for us to follow.
The red streak that we saw fleetingly belonged to none other than the caracal. Shy, retiring and immensely powerful, they are arguably the largest of the ‘small cats’ of Kaingo.
We have seen tracks belonging to serval as well, but even Jacque’s strategically placed camera traps have rarely produced photo evidence of their existence. Large-and small-spotted genets tend to be more visible, especially by spotlight late at night, whilst the local African civet regularly patrols the area back of the Elephant lodge for scraps and the odd millipede.
We have African wild cat as well, but with the unchecked inbreeding with domestic cats, it is arguable if they are still pure-bred.
There are mongooses too; water mongoose with its shaggy coat and an insatiable appetite for fish and crabs, the slender mongoose with its black-tipped tail held like lions’.
Banded mongoose we have lots of. Mongoose pan is one of their favourite hideouts. They hunt scorpions, insects, and the like among the rocks, chattering away as they feed.
I have seen where the dwarf mongoose has made their home in the bowels of a disused termitarium, but these animals, barely larger than a rat, tends to elude my attention.
White-tailed mongoose, striped polecat, African weasel, honey badger…
“You know what gets me?”
“No, but I am sure that you are about to tell me”.
“We do a lot of walking and driving. We put in the hours, and still, these animals allude us. It’s not fair!”
“How does fair come into the equation?”
“They are all small, have great camouflage, and are expert hiders. We are lumbering bipedal.”
“Ever thought of luck?”
“To see one of these smaller predators you need luck. A lot of it. And time. And then it must be in the mood to show itself. It is not impossible, but it may be hard.”
We walk in silence. A banded mongoose flashes over the path in front of us. Another, and then another. We sit down as the troop crosses the path. Youngsters stop, sit on their haunches and then hurry along. One gets hold of a beetle. Crushes it audibly. For a little while, we are part of their lives.
“What did you say about luck?”