Still out of breath from an early morning big game hunting action adventure on a farm just outside Smithfield, south east Free State.
It started out quite calmly when my dogs and I went running on a friend’s farm. At our usual turn-around place we all ran on further – it was a gorgeous morning and the Eastern Clapper Larks called to us to stay longer in the veld.
Then I noticed one of the dogs, standing on the opposite site of an ant-heap from me, intently examining something on the ground. Suddenly there was a growl and she jumped back. When I looked over the ant-heap, there was a fresh Northern Black Korhaan carcass – in good shape apart from being headless – lying close up next to the anthill.
I took some photographs while I tried to solve the mystery of the growl, and decided that perhaps my dog had been growling at the dead bird. Then the other two dogs arrived and one began to dig furiously into the ant-heap. At that point I heard a fierce growling again and it was clearly coming from inside. I held the dogs’ collars and pulled them away and as I did so a Small Spotted Cat bolted from the tiny hole at the base of the ant-heap and ran about 100 m before disappearing into another ant-heap.
At that stage I didn’t know for sure what it was. The main impression of the cat was that it was small – initially I wondered if it was a kitten – reddish-gold and covered all over with very clear spots and stripes. As it ran the sun shone through its ears and they were pale and not patterned (ruling out the possibility that it was a young African Wild Cat or a Serval that had strayed into this region) and it clearly wasn’t a genet.
Back home I checked the animal’s ID in Chris and Tilde Stuart’s ‘Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa’. Their description and distribution fitted perfectly. The Stuarts speak about its ‘small size’ and colouration; they say it’s the smallest cat species in the region, restricted to the more arid southern and central parts of SA (check). It prefers open, dry habitats with some vegetation cover (check).
I liked the description of its behaviour best: It’s ‘noctural and rarely seen. It is nowhere common and little is known about its behaviour. Most sightings are of solitary animals and it lies up in burrows dug by other species and in hollow termite mounds. For this reason it is sometimes called “The Anthill Tiger”.’
And how about this: ‘It feeds mostly on small rodents but also takes reptiles, birds and insects. The largest recorded prey is a Ground Squirrel.’ I’d say this makes today’s Small Spotted Cat a record breaker in terms of its breakfast, as a korhaan is rather bigger than a Ground Squirrel.
So there you have it: our rare sighting of a record-breaking, korhaan-eating, Anthill Tiger, all right on our doorstep.
That’s why we live in the Karoo!