On a recent visit to the Kruger National Park, I witnessed an interesting 20 minute standoff between predator and prey.
The squirrel remained motionless; but continued to squeak incessantly, as if attacking the eagle verbally. The eagle remained silent, visually focused, with an intensity that I could feel, watching 25 odd meters away.
The eagle was positioned in such a way that the escape route down the tree was blocked. But being below the squirrel put him at a disadvantage. Being perched above the eagle must have felt so unusual and uncomfortable for the little squirrel. He was exactly in the position that the predator would have loved to be in. But paradoxically being in this position was giving the squirrel the best chance of survival.
So how was this going to play itself out?
The predator was expected to make the move, but when would that moment arrive? The tension was building. The longer the motionless state of affairs; the more intense the energy became. Eventually, the eagle made the move to strike, but gravity and the inability to open his wings in the restricted space worked against him. He found it impossible to gain the necessary momentum and speed to reach the squirrel. His outstretched wings struck the branches as he attempted to thrust himself upwards towards the squirrel. At that very moment, the squirrel raced along the branch to the right and descended the tree as if in free-fall. The eagle had to gain his composure before he pursued. In this lost time, the squirrel had found his place of safety under some rocks next to the tree.
One usually thinks that everything goes according to plan for the predator. But context can level the playing field where both predator and prey have a 50-50 chance in the unfolding scenario. That’s a fair encounter.
In order to make sense of any unfolding process it is always important to consider context. Context helps to (a) define the meaning of behaviours; (b) assist with interpretation and (c) offer possibilities to consider when attempting to predict the outcome of events.
I was rooting for the squirrel and I was happy that the context helped play its part in his get-away.
I was curious about the identification of the eagle – an experienced bird watcher told me it was a Wahlberg’s Eagle.