The Predator's Pursuit - Part 2 - Strategy & Execution
All predators rely on the consumption of meat as the primary source of their nutrition. This relationship between predator and prey has seen to diverse advancements in the weaponry, strategy, and means of execution in the predator's arsenal. Each predator, whether terrestrial, arboreal or aquatic have mastered their own hunting, killing and feeding methods. Certain closely related animals may share basic methods of hunting, however, the sheer diversity of predators and their corresponding prey ensures an array of hunting techniques to achieve their goal. This can be unexpected and quick, or it may involve long chases or even arduous and terrible struggles. To shy away from these natural phenomena is to blind oneself to the reality of what it means to be predator or prey. However, when perceived unbiasedly is simply another awesome spectacle of the natural way.
Part 1 focused on the weaponry of some terrestrial predators. Here in Part 2, the strategies of hunting and the means by which the prey is executed will be discussed in relation to African canine species.
|Strategy and Execution|
Hunting strategies are diverse and primarily dependent on the particular species of predator and consequent prey, their evolutionary lineage, their physiology, and social organization among a few other factors. The environment also plays an important role in terms of terrain, vegetation, weather and more. In this section, various hunting strategies of predatory canines will be discussed. Part 3 will have a more in-depth look at African felines, and Part 4 reptilian carnivores.
Africa hosts a diversity of species within the biological family of Canidae. These include the African wild dog or painted wolf, various jackal species, foxes and others. Each has particular methods of hunting and general prey based on geographic location and habits of individual animals or packs. Here, emphasis will be placed on the techniques of the wild dog and black-backed jackal.
The African wild dog or painted wolf is known as the most efficient and successful hunter of all larger African terrestrial predators. These amazing endangered creatures are gregarious pack animals with social structures and tactics similar to wolves of other continents. Multiple factors are thought to contribute toward their hunting success, such as pack hunting strategies, relative body size, adequate speed, and especially stamina. Compared to animals such as hyenas and wolves, the wild dog is smaller and does not possess the power to take down larger prey such as a zebra or wildebeest bull alone. Even in small packs, these prey animals may cause difficulties, thus large prey is generally avoided. The painted wolves compensate for this by hunting in relatively larger packs, with tactical prowess and stamina that exceeds that of its prey. Depending on the specific pack and region, some reports illustrate a success rate of above 85% on average per hunt, which may last less than an hour.
When hunting, wild dogs travel as a dispersed pack to track down the ideal prey and circumstance. To locate prey, they rely primarily on their acute scent and hearing rather than eyesight. In general, the hearing of canines ranges between 40Hz to 60 000Hz which far outweighs that of humans at 20Hz to 20 000Hz. Also, a canine's sense of smell is vastly superior as they on average possess over 200 million olfactory receptors compared to 5 million in humans. These senses allow wild dogs to quickly find their way to appropriate prey and makes up for their relatively weak eyesight. Even though their eyesight is weaker, once prey is located, the eyes lock onto the prey and the pursuit ensues.
The primary prey targets for wild dogs are smaller to averagely sized antelopes, though this may vary according to the pack size and general preferences. For example, particular packs in the Serengeti were known for their zebra hunting preference, even overlooking typical prey in search of them, although this trait remains uncommon. Since most of their prey have an average speed faster than they do, the wild dog relies on its stamina to continually pursue its prey until exhausted. This tactic is also shared by hyenas, who display similar hunting techniques. As discussed in part 1, the claws of canines are used for increased grip and speed which helps them to keep up with their quarry.
When in pursuit of prey, a general pattern of hunting emerges. First, one wild dog leads the chase by keeping close to the quarry, while the rest will fan out behind and beside the leading dog. The less efficient, perhaps, too young, old, injured or sickly dogs straggle behind the group at a distance. It is thought that wild dogs chase in a relay. Meaning that if the lead dog becomes fatigued, it will fall back for another to lead the chase. Others believe this is misunderstood since when the prey runs at angles, the flanking dogs easily close the gaps and therefore become the pursuit leader. Using their immense stamina, the wild dogs eventually close the gap as the exhausted prey slows down.
Once the leading dog catches up to the prey, it is brought down forcibly with the dog's powerful bite or simply by tackling it to the ground. What ensues is perhaps one of the most gruesome scenes in the animal kingdom. As the other wild dogs close in on the caught prey, they surround it and violently begin to rip and tear sensitive areas on the prey, such as the stomach to disembowel the animal. Even at times putting their head inside the tears to remove intestines while the animal is still alive. Contrary to what it might seem, this method of execution is speedy, as the blood loss and shock kills the animal more rapidly than most other predator-prey killings. The carcass is consumed in haste, at times taking even less than 10 minutes on smaller antelopes. They then return to the weak individuals or pups in the pack to regurgitate their prize for the others to consume.
Jackals are known for their scavenging habits above all else, however, compared to most jackal species, the black-backed jackal is known to be an efficient hunter in regions where it is required. In areas where larger predators are too few or far between to scavenge from, the black-backed jackal consequently resorts to hunting prowess, instead of pure scavenging and simple opportunism. In general, most jackals either scavenge or opportunistically consume ground nest eggs, dig up mice, insects or lizards to satiate their protein needs. However, they are known for their trickery and cunning which is clear in their hunting tactics. Their social organization differs from that of wild dogs, in that they form a pair bond between male and female. They may also be seen with pups or sub-adults who leave their parents when they reach adulthood. Thus, instead of relying on pack tactics and body size, the jackal instead uses their wits.
The jackal's acute sense of hearing and smell reveals to it when a fresh kill is being made, or when a carcass is nearby to scavenge. They may also follow predatorial animals such as lions for the ideal opportunity to scavenge a piece from their kill and use their wits and dexterity to do so unharmed. However, when the need arises for the jackal to hunt, they are quite efficient. Unlike the wild dog, the jackal does not rely on long chases or group tactics, but trickery. Multiple reports tell of the black-backed jackal's crafty tactics which allows it to even kill and consume smaller antelope, such as the springbok, Thompson's gazelle or Impala.
When in a pair, a common tactic is simply to separate a calf or lamb from its parent. One jackal thus focuses on intimidating the adult with bites, nimble movement, and short chases as to prevent it from properly defending its young. The other jackal then simply attacks the vulnerable offspring, usually killing it with a bite to vital areas, such as the throat.
Other incidents report lone black-backed jackals hunting adult springbok. The size of the antelope, along with its horns which provide adequate means of protection could pose difficulty. However, as the antelope keeps its horns toward the jackal, the jackal simply strafes or trots in circles around the prey for some time, only to change the direction of movement when the antelope least expects it. This creates a small window of opportunity which leaves the antelope's neck vulnerable for attack. If the jackal is quick enough, it grabs hold of the neck and negates the ability of the antelope to defend itself with their horns.
Another documented tactic of these tricksters is to sneak up on antelope males from the rear, and then to directly bite and tear at its genitals. Blood is speedily lost from this vital area and quickly has the animals die from shock. Against domesticated animals, such as sheep, they have been known to act erratically, submissively or injured which evokes curiosity in the livestock where they would normally steer clear. When close enough, the jackal ceases its rouse and bites at the animal's neck. Once the prey is consumed, it is then regurgitated for the young back at the den.
To conclude, we can see that a myriad of hunting and execution methods are utilized by the canines of the African continent. These methods vary according to the species of animal, their physiology, social dynamic, preferred prey and more. Never the less, the act of hunting to procure prey comes with challenges and dangers which may bring either good results, or may be fatal when the prey fights back. This relationship between predator and prey, and also predator against predator has seen to the evolution of truly unique and wonderful natural creations. And, although it might seem grim at first, this wild feature is solidly built into the natural way of life, of death and of evolution.