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Leopard’s Feast in the Gangu Forest

red river hog_45
Red river hogs are one of the most common large mammals in Gangu forest.

It was Cleve’s first day back in the Gangu Forest after a five-year absence. He and the teams were headed for Camp Gangu. Around noon, under a light drizzle, they made their way down a
fishermen’s trail to the rain-swollen Bo River.

team crossing the Bo
We crossed the Bo and adjacent swamp forests as we headed out to our main base, Gangu camp, from which we would then split up.

As they picked their way across the swampy creek bed of the Dziliwo, Cleve heard raised voices from field assistants up ahead. Something unexpected had been found. When he arrived he saw that a big event had indeed happened in the swamp, a violent skirmish — not too long ago. Pre-dawn? The evening before? Herbs had been trampled and uprooted; there were slash marks at the base of a tree.

Scene of struggle
We put down our loads as we tried to figure out what drama had played out.

Cleve: Ephrem pointed out the welter of tracks in the soft mud left by the hooves of red river hogs. These brick-red forest pigs have wizard-like faces accentuated by long, white dangling ear-tufts.

Prints of hog and leopard
Red river hog (left) and leopard prints (right) next to each other.

Bebe Bofenda showed Cleve the large rounded prints of a leopard pressed into the mud and over-lapping the hog prints.

dung composite Bili
Dung of both leopard (left) and hog (right) were in the matted clearing.

It was Bebe too, who first grabbed Cleve’s arm: “Monsieur Cleve, regardes -là!.” His eyes followed the line of Bebe’s pointing hand into the canopy. And there was an unexpected sight!

pig on high
Twenty to twenty-five feet above us were the remains of a young red-river hog, suspended over a forked branch.

The carcass was headless, the stiffened legs splayed out in seeming supplication.

pig in tree
Only a leopard could have pulled something that large into the tree. Would the leopard return later to claim the rest?

As they inspected the site, they found vivid red gashes in the stilt roots of an Uapaca tree. Several trackers thought these were from the tusks of hogs. “The pigs were trying to attack the leopard”, they suggested. Further up the tree were the longer parallel, claw marks of the leopard. Had these been made as the leopard climbed with its prey ? Others found partially eaten meat and fragments of the pig’s upper jaw in the mud. It had the soft bones and dentition of a young animal.

marks on Uapaca stilt root
At about ½ meter height the stilt root had many slash marks.

What about the gashed tree? It is unlikely that a leopard would have fought a battle with a whole group of pigs and still been able to pull an entire carcass up a tree. Did the other hogs all run off and only come back later – perhaps responding to bleating of the attacked pig? Perhaps the leopard was already up the tree and they “attacked” the stilt roots, in futile fury.

Or perhaps the stilt roots were slashed for different reasons…to sharpen or clean tusks? Perhaps it had nothing to do with the leopard attack.? The pigs may have scattered when the leopard pounced, leaving it to feast peacefully on the ground where it made the kill. The intact leopard scat, after all, had been deposited on the ground. It may have only pulled the battered carcass up the tree when it was done…like putting leftovers in the larder.

Upper jaw of pig- leopard prey
The upper jaw on the ground was clearly of a young pig, only its first molar had emerged.

Could it perhaps have been a “satisfied” cat,itself, that shredded the stilt roots, before pulling the remains of its meal up for storage?

As they stood in that clearing the presence of the leopard and hogs seemed very close. In his imagination Cleve could see the leopard snarling down as enraged pigs charged the tree roots. The leopard, imperious, continued to haul its still-quivering quarry up the tree, where it found an ideal place to feast. It then ignored the cacophony of snorts and squeals below. Eventually, the defeated pigs withdrew.

Written by Terese from Cleve’s field notes.
Photos are from Cleve and the rest of the Gangu team.

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