The Circle of Life

11 January 2013

There are moments in life when you really have to control your emotions and realize that nature has its own way of dealing with situations. This was one of those moments for me.. when I had to desperately fight back the tears and not intervene!

A couple of days ago we took a drive out to an area which is locally known as 'green mabati", one of our favorite areas comprising of long sweeping, rolling plains, dotted with Balanites trees. This area is Eden, where all the animals seem to co-exist happily together. In one view it is common to see Thompsons and Grants gazelles, topis,ostriches, impala, zebra, elephant and the occasional black rhino.

This particular day we came across a zebra herd happily grazing on the freshly sprung grass. It was only when we saw a hyena, jackal and 2 vultures poised close by that we realized one of the zebra mares had just given birth within the last 5 minutes or so.

Next to her we saw a very wet and timid baby zebra lying flat on its side so, keeping our distance, we sat and waited for the little one to climb to its feet. We were so excited as in all our years in the bush, we had never witnessed something like this.

For 40 minutes we sat and waited, watching the little foal kick and twirl around on the ground. It lifted its head every now again but for some reason, just couldn't get up onto its feet. The mother nudged it a few times but after about 20 minutes she started to get anxious. She ran backwards and forwards in-between her family members, leading the majority of them away in a circle and then back to the baby. She did this a few times and every time we thought she has left, she would appear again trotting up to the foal, calling even more hurriedly than before. The jackal approached a couple of times but was soon chased away by the 'guardians'. There were 5 members of the zebra family who would not leave the foal's side, possibly siblings or cousins, and they just stood and watched from a close distance and kept the area clear of any intruders.

The jackals became bored and started to yelp hastily, causing confusion amongst the ranks. It seemed the more they yelped, the more upset the mother zebra became. She started calling repeatedly to try and coax the baby onto its feet. The baby just spun around and around while the mother ran in circles and we prayed that the little one would find the energy to stand.

Unfortunately after a few minutes of the jackals screeching, the mother couldn't bear it anymore and this time left for good. Another mare with a small foal approached from about 200 meters away and the mother ran to meet her, followed by yet another mare and foal. This was incredible behavior to observe and one wonders whether these other two mares were her sisters, trying to console her?

By the time the mother ran off, it was evident to us that the foal was not going to survive. Zebra foals should stand on their feet within 15 minutes of birth, and it was now 40 minutes. Soon after the mother ran off, the inevitable happened, the skulking hyena arrived on the scene and stealthily edged closer to the foal, carefully smelt it and then picked it up in its powerful jaws and ran off with it into the distance.

It was very difficult not to feel incredibly heartsore at this stage, but one wonders how many times this has occurred and how many births go unnoticed in the African bush.

We just hope and pray that the mother can overcome this cruel loss and is able to give birth to another healthy foal.

I guess nature has to keep all animals fed....

Follow us