You don’t have to spend very long in a game reserve or park to realize that it a very treacherous environment for the four-legged, two-legged and even the legless inhabitants. With very few exceptions, almost every animal or bird or reptile is on some other animal’s or bird’s or reptile’s menu. Take the mouse as an example.
Recently we spent four days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a wonderful experience (except for the state of the roads – corrugations to test the strength of the cement anchoring your dental fillings). The larger animals are, as always, the dramatic drawcard, but we noticed that mice are also fairly common and several times we watched them feeding in the branches of shrubs at the side of the road or scurrying about in the sparse vegetation.
In quick succession, though, we were exposed to the dangers that these little rodents face throughout their lives. First we happened upon a Pale chanting goshawk perched on a dead branch quite near the road, feeding on a mouse or rat. He (or she) took just a minute or two to rip the rodent into pieces and bolt these down with hardly a pause.
We moved on and quite soon stopped to watch a Secretarybird hunting. He (or she) pounced forward and stamped his (or her) feet enthusiastically on something that was hidden from us in the long grass. He (or she) stooped and came up with a mouse, holding it rather daintily in his (or her) bill. The little rodent was swallowed quickly in one piece and there was nothing dainty about that.
On we drove, and literally within minutes spotted a Black-headed heron in the dry scrubland. We stopped to watch as we are far more accustomed to seeing these large birds at rivers and dams, but there were no rivers or dams anywhere near this spot. We had seen a Black-headed heron at a small artificial waterhole a little earlier and had idly wondered what it found there to feed on. The bird we stopped to watch in the arid scrub had caught a Striped mouse, and within a few seconds had swallowed it whole. One second the mouse was in the heron’s bill (presumable dead), and the next it was gone. Well, not entirely, for just another second the short end of its tale hung from the heron’s bill. Then it was gone.
Three mice taken by three different species of birds within just a few hours, and just within our limited view. What is the daily total within the vast area of the whole park?
Each time we look at the mice we photographed during that visit to Kgalagadi we wonder where they are now…