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.
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.
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.
Bebe Bofenda showed Cleve the large rounded prints of a leopard pressed into the mud and over-lapping the hog prints.
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!
The carcass was headless, the stiffened legs splayed out in seeming supplication.
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.
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.
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.