One Red-Rimmed Evening

One Starry Night
24 Dec 2021
Up to Date and Ready to Go
8 Nov 2022

A tawny Eagle cautiously approached the shallow water hole, its edges softened by the deepening glow of evening in the quiet of the African bush.

The great raptor waited to make sure all the chicks and animals on the ground were paying attention. He was a great teller of tales and hoped one day his tales would be recorded in a large book that would last forever.

An indolent hippo kept a beady eye on us as we closed the day with sundowners, sheltered in a flimsy wooden hide. When the shadows had lengthened significantly, we talked about getting back to camp, lighting the fire, making supper. As we began to gather our glasses and the remnants of our snacks, a sense of movement, frenetic through the dry grass, the drum of fast hooves stopped us in our tracks.

An impala ram in full flight erupted into view, closely followed by a wild dog. They passed within metres of us, both silent with different intentions. The impala fled straight through the water, the wild dog hesitated, not hungry enough to get wet.

The Tawny rose in panic and took refuge on a dead tree. The hippo emerged from its wallow, radiating wavelets of ripples, unsure whether to be indignant, angry, or unmoved.

The antelope hesitated on the steep bank, assessing whether he was safe or not. The predator, seeing his prey’s hesitation took off at once, the chase renewed. They disappeared over the bank. Before we had finished exclaiming at what we had witnessed, the speed of it all, the dog returned and flopped into the wet mud. For a couple of minutes only, soon he was up again and back over the bank.

A second wild dog appeared, its face dark with blood; then a third, also well bloodied, all needing the mudpack.

The sun disappeared in a blaze, leaving a sky of delicate apricot, which gradually turned orange and then blood red as darkness encroached. Night falls quickly in Africa.

We recovered from the adrenalin rush of it all and were finishing packing our baskets when we heard excited jabbering. One of the dogs loped past us once more and greeted two newcomers, young pups finally catching up to the adults, late to the feast. We wondered if it was safe to leave the hide and walk the fifteen paces to our vehicle.

The painted wolves, as Lycaon Pictus are also known, were happily reuniting on the edge of the water, so we took the chance.

The Tawny Eagle was thirsty. It had been a long, dry spring day in the African Bush. Not many species were fully awake after winter so hunting involved more effort. He’d spotted a rival riding the late afternoon thermals on his way to the water hole so, after landing, he took his time about approaching the water’s edge, and was even more cautious about drinking – short sips rather than the long, slow swallow he would have preferred.

The hippo hadn’t moved much from yesterday – lazy cow. The Tawny didn’t think much of hippos.

When he was sure the skies were clear, no enemies visible, he stepped further into the water, enjoying the cooling sensation on his claws, the water trickling down his gullet. There was a group of people in the hide watching him, others in a vehicle. They liked watching him and he didn’t mind.

Suddenly there was a disturbance, a whooshing of grass, the fright of panic in the air. He took off as an impala ram at full gallop thrashed through the water, momentarily stopping a wild dog that obviously wanted it for supper. Wild dogs are not good swimmers.

The eagle took refuge on a dead tree trunk.

Silly impala, instead of keeping going, it stopped on the bank, thinking the dog had given up on him. The hesitation was all the predator needed to take off once more, energised at the scent of victory. The impala was slow to respond.

A movement to his right caught his eye: another two dogs, crouched, waiting in the long grass behind the dam wall. The impala ran straight to them.

They were chewing the first chunks of his flesh before he was dead.

The Tawny wondered what scraps would be left for him.

The hippo was irritated. The water was too shallow to cover all of her and the sun was burning her back. She knew she should find another pool, but the effort of moving was too great. Who knew how far she might have to walk before she found deeper water. At least her tummy and legs were cool, and she could get most of her head under water when the heat overwhelmed.

It was an apricot sunset, the colours in the sky deepening as the day ended. There were people in the hide, having drinks and chatting gently, another crowd closer to her in a vehicle. They were no threat.

A Tawny Eagle swooped over the water and landed on the opposite bank. He was anxious, kept looking into the sky. It was spring so he was probably concerned about a rival. She had seen another eagle circling earlier. Most of the animals in the bush were nervous about drinking. It was when they were most vulnerable, especially to attack from lions and crocodiles.

She closed her eyes for a zizz before setting off for a night of grazing, when a commotion nearby interrupted her doze. A flash of movement on the periphery of her vision, a splash close by, she turned around fast, fearful of the unknown. The Tawny took off over her head, she saw an impala leaping through the water, terror in its eyes, passing centimetres in front of her nose.

On the shore an over-excited wild dog was undecided which direction to take. The impala reached the bank and hesitated, sensing the dog was no longer behind him. She tried to tell him to keep running, but fear deafened the young ram.

The dog chose the longer route, less mud, but it took too long for the impala to realise the danger was still there. By the time they disappeared over the bank the dog was nipping at his heels.

A few minutes later she saw a dog slipping over the back, blood dripping from her tongue. She cooled his tummy in the black mud, then trotted back over the bank. Shortly a different dog arrived, dressed in a tracking collar, his face dark with blood, his leg stained bright red.

Three of them. They usually hunted in bigger packs. Wait, what is that? She heard an excited yapping and two young pups joined the adults. Not sure they got any food, but they were happy to see each other.

The Tawny Eagle saw it all from his perch on the dead tree.

And so, to the Impala, who never did get to write his side of the story.

I was the loser in the fight for females this year and had formed an alliance with four other rams my age. But I hadn’t given up hope of having my own herd, my own young. There were a couple of ewes the older ram hadn’t covered yet – I had to time it right if I was to take them from him.

I was pretending to graze while watching the two who were on the edge of the group, so I didn’t notice the shadow creeping through the grass until he jumped at me. A Cape Wild Dog! I was running before I thought about it.

My hooves flew over the ground barely making contact. He was close behind. Way too close.

We came out of the grass and onto a road, I saw a car, some movement in the little shed as I ran past. People. Would they stop him?

The dam was in front of me. I ran straight into and through it, praying there were no crocodiles lurking. It was too shallow.

I saw the hippo, was vaguely aware of a huge swirl of water as she turned to face what she thought was a threat, but I was on the bank before she could get her jaws open. The dog was no longer behind me. I stopped to catch my breath, every sense quivering. I heard the hippo: run, you aren’t safe yet. Where to? Long grass, thick bush, anywhere my movements would be hampered. Before I decided I heard it behind me again. How could it have got here so fast – they don’t like water!

I jumped off the wall into the thick grass along the stream bed. Too late I saw the two shadows in front of me, felt my legs go as jaws snapped at my throat. I tried to run but they were on me, I could hear their jaws tearing at my flesh as the sky went slowly red above me.

The Cape Hunting Dogs write their annals in the sand of the land, depositing legend and ode in unlikely outposts.

We had got separated from the main pack while hunting a couple of days ago. I wasn’t too worried. It happened. We would find them again, we always did. My only concern was the pups that we found huddled under a bush. I didn’t like being saddled with them, they didn’t keep up so well, and if the others knew we had found them and not brought them along it would cause a dispute.

We were hungry. We heard the impala before we saw them. We spotted the young ram on his own immediately. Dingo and Sunshine said they would go upwind and I should chase him to them. The pups were to follow me.

The ram was distracted by two ewes who were inching closer to him. Perfect. I crept through the grass, unnoticed until I was about two paces from him. Then I stood up and jumped at him. He took off running in exactly the direction I wanted him to. The chase was on.

But he didn’t turn right into the clearing as I expected, instead continuing towards the small dam – and then went crashing straight through the middle of it! What a hooha: A tawny eagle took off nearly catching the ram on his way to a dead tree outpost, a large hippo rose up and turned around with a sploosh, creating great waves of ripples.

Damn! I don’t like water, nearly drowned once so I’m not taking any chances here. I ran this way, then that, trying to decide the best way when I saw the ram had stopped on the opposite bank. Perfect. If I chase him from this direction, I can still get him to Dingo and Sunshine.

My plan worked perfectly, and I was enjoying our feast until Dingo asked where the pups were. I had totally forgotten about them! Damn and blast. I gulped a few more mouthfuls, cooled my tummy in the mud and was setting off to look for them when I heard them shrieking in the grass on the edge of the clearing.

They were so excited to have found us they forgot to ask where the food was. Sunshine led them off to the kill while Dingo and I figured out which direction would be best if we were to find the rest of the pack.

We decided to head east.

The story ends as it began, with the eagle and the hippo, who, In the aftermath of the excitement wondered about their lives.

The hippo wondered if it was time to move, to maybe look for the rest of her pod, while the Tawny Eagle contemplated the merits of a family.

‘Tomorrow I will find my mate,’ he huffled into his feathers, as he settled down to sleep and dreams of fame and fortune in the pages of words and drawings yet to be created.