Cougars and lions

It’s walk­ing into the jaws of death,” I whispered. Two zebras had broken away from the herd and were mov­ing through the tall grass toward three lions snooz­ing in the sun. One zebra lowered its head to graze. The oth­er set a course straight for the lions.

Suddenly the doz­ing felines were alert. Heads raised, they watched lunch on the hoof come closer. One lion­ess crouched with the tip of its tail twitch­ing. We could see the muscles bunch­ing and releas­ing beneath her tawny coat as she stared intently at the zebra. Then,  ever so slowly, she began to slink through the grass.

Walking toward the jaws of death.

Walking toward the jaws of death.

I was with a group of friends and fam­ily on safari in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. These weren’t the first lions and zebras we’d seen. But it was the first stalk and poten­tial kill we’d wit­nessed. The silence in the jeep was palp­able.

Then the lion­ess broke cov­er, racing toward the zebra. It turned to run but with­in a few strides the lion leapt and sunk its claws onto the black and white striped haunch. There was a col­lect­ive “Oh!” from our vehicle. The zebra bucked and kicked with its rear legs caus­ing the lion to lose its grip. It chased the flee­ing anim­al for few metres, then gave up.

In the dis­tance we saw the zebra limp­ing and wondered if the deep, bloody gashes would become infec­ted or attract oth­er pred­at­ors.

Cougars, like all cats, focus intently on their prey.

Cougars, like all cats, focus intently on their prey.

Although a sim­il­ar col­our, African lions are much big­ger than cou­gars and live in large prides unlike the more sol­it­ary cou­gar. (We saw as many as 35 lions loun­ging togeth­er!) But the two spe­cies of big cats are equally oppor­tun­ist­ic when it comes to prey. And the lion’s total focus and man­ner of approach­ing her prey was exactly how a cou­gar would respond to an unaware deer com­ing its way.

But the story wasn’t over yet. As the lion­ess sauntered back to her com­pan­ions our guide said, “She’s com­ing back for a hug.” When the lion reached one of the oth­ers, she placed her head on its shoulder and the supine lion reached up to wrap her fore­leg and paw around the other’s neck.

Mountain lions often hunt alone but on occa­sion a female with cubs or two young adults will tackle prey togeth­er. I won­der if cou­gars also provide con­sol­ing hugs if their pro­spect­ive meal escapes?

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