The Hunt - page 9

NOWHERE TO HIDE
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NOWHERE TO HIDE
On the open plains and deserts, predators can usually see their prey. The
only problem is that it works both ways. And if the element of surprise is lost,
so is the kill. To survive in these open spaces, predators must depend on skill,
whether speed, stealth, cunning, strength, teamwork or brains. But the prey
has also evolved ways to outwit the hunters. Equally and oppositely matched,
they have co-evolved to survive each others’ tactics.
To outwit their predators, prey are equipped with an arsenal of defences.
With eyes on the sides of their heads, plains’ ungulates such as antelopes have
near wrap-round vision, and chewing the cud means they can feed and look at
the same time. Even when their heads are down, their pupils stay horizontal so
they can scan the horizon for predators. And in a herd, it’s not just one set of
eyes – there could be hundreds. If just one animal spots danger, they are all off
or, in the case of smaller, digging herbivores, down their burrows.
THE PRANCING WOLF AND THE BOBBING MOLERAT
On the Ethiopian Highlands, there is nowhere to hide and no big prey for a
predator such as a wolf. But at least in some regions there are giant molerats.
The problem is that the molerats almost never leave their holes and seldom
lift their heads about their burrow entrances. So the wolf species that has
stayed in the highlands is lean and leggy and has learnt how to listen. An
Ethiopian wolf’s ears are huge, and it hunts using its sensitive hearing as well
as its acute eyesight. It is also a digger. Like all wolves it is social, living in
close-knit territorial packs, but with rodents as its prey, it has to hunt alone.
Stalk, spring, pounce.
Like a red fox, an Ethiopian wolf pounces on its rodent prey. It
hunts in the day, setting its clock by that of the giant molerat, its favourite mouthful. If
the molerat ducks, then the wolf digs.
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