• Sarath Champati

A Lone Porcupine fights off an entire pride of Lions!

Imagine the guile and skill of a small creature, weighing not more than 15-20 kilos, the South African Porcupine, defending itself against a whole pride of about ten Lions?! This real life incident happened in the Kalahari about a week ago: at our own 11,500 ha (115 sq.km), Gham Dhao Private Game Reserve, which is on the edge of the expansive 52,000 sq.km, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which happens to be the largest Reserve in Africa!


This is how this ‘exciting encounter in the bush’ unfolded: One evening, the Western Pride of Lions were sighted on the edge of the air-strip. This Pride spends a lot of time in our Reserve and it consists of 10-12 Lions….they are quite bold and give our Guests a great experience, whenever they are sighted. This time they were lounging around, as they do most of the time! The Guests who saw them were thrilled, having travelled all the way from USA, that too after the two year Covid break! They wanted to go back again at night to see if the Lions are still around? Yes, this is the biggest privilege our Guests have in a Private Game Reserve like ours! They can go on a Night Safari anytime and also drive off road, if needed, for a better sighting!


Lions and Porcupine

When Tiriso (TT), one of our Rangers, drove them back to the same spot at night after dinner, around 8.30 pm, they came across this strange sighting: a Porcupine was surrounded by the Lions and a battle was underway! The Porcupine had deployed all its weaponry at its disposal: an array of sharp quills of all sizes, some short and thick, which can penetrate deep and some long and thin, which also make a rattling sound to deter any predator! These long quills also make the small animal look much bigger than what it is, which is also a ‘predator defence strategy’ adopted by the Porcupine! The Lions, some were sub-adults, were perplexed at this strange looking creature! They were also worried looking at the dangerous armoury; imagining the injuries and the pain the sharp quills may cause! In fact, there are many instances both in Africa and India, where Big Cats like Lions and Tigers got serious injuries from Porcupines quills! Many a Tiger in India got so badly injured that they became man-eaters, unable to hunt their natural prey! Jim Corbett the legendary hunter of man- eating tigers and leopards, talks about the Muktesar tigress, which he shot in 1910 … he noticed about 50 porcupine quills, varying in length from one to nine inches, embedded in the right foreleg and pad; these injuries forced the tigress to turn into a man-eater. As a Naturalist, I always wondered why these Big Cats even take such a risk? Is the Porcupine meat, which will be less than 7-10 kilos, so tasty that they don’t mind taking the risk? And that too when they have so much other prey in the Reserve, larger and sufficient for the entire pride; like Eland, Kudu, Oryx, Zebra, Impala etc.


Lion and Porcupine

The battle raged for a couple of hours, in front of the Guests, who were so thrilled at this rare sighting! Some bold (or foolish?!) Lions were still trying to get close, trying to paw, and the Porcupine turned its back, shaking its thin-long ‘rattling’ quills…keeping the Lions at bay! The Porcupine was also making hissing sounds to further deter the Lions! The Lions didn’t give up the entire night and the Porcupine successfully kept them all at bay! When TT went back to check in the morning around 6.30 am, the battle was still on!! When our second Ranger Fagasa and GM Gavin, went around 7.30, they too saw this incredible spectacle! Finally around 9.30 AM, the Lions lost interest and walked away, dejected!

Our hero, the gutsy Porcupine too walked away back into the bushes in the opposite direction: safe at last and I am sure mighty proud at what it has achieved! No doubt, this Porcupine will have many tales to tell its grand-children, tiny balls of quills, sitting around a fire, about this bold and brazen face-off with the Kings of the Bush and how it won this battle!

 

Sarath Champati

Sarath found his true calling when the Taj Group of Hotels appointed him as the Chief Naturalist for a wildlife resort in Nagarhole in 1996. Later, he became the Chief Naturalist for Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a pioneer in Ecotourism. Sarath has led many prestigious wildlife groups, like the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institute and others. He is the Founder-President of the Kabini Foundation, an NGO working for wildlife conservation through the local community. Sarath joined the CC Africa-Taj joint venture, Taj Safaris in January 2006 as Chief Naturalist and is currently Associate Director – Conservation & Experiences at Evolve Back Resorts.

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