We caught our fifth Ruppells this morning and were able to attach a GSM-GPS unit. The data from the other birds has been amazing so far. We have a Lappet-faced vulture who nests outside the park, but comes into feed and who has been clocked at 87 km/hr then there is a Ruppells Vulture that travelled 130 km in a single day. In any case, we had to chase down the bird and then were able to get blood, attach a wing tag, and strap on the backpack with the unit. The whole procedure usually takes 30 minutes and most of the vultures remain fairly calm during the whole procedure. This bird was tired when we got it and remained still as I looped the straps of the backpack around its wings and tied on the unit. Then as we tilted it slightly to make sure everything was in order, Wilson, my field assistant who was holding the bird, lost control. Despite having the bird’s head and feet still in his hand, he was unable to stop it from rising and coming at me. Wings spread – the bird came at me. I tried to rise from my bent legs and move away, but I was too slow. His yellow beak reached my leg, right along the inner thigh, and sunk in. With jaws and bill that are designed to rip hunks of meat off a dead animal, the bite stung and left quite a mark. I rose and could feel blood oozing from the wound, but a handle on the bird regained we went back to work collecting blood and putting on the wing tag.
The rest of the day was spent looking for nests, but we found more than that along the way. Three cheetah lay resting under the small shade of an Acacia tree. One yawned and stretched only to lie back down – about as much energy as it could muster in the heat of the day. Then on the way to another vulture nest we passed a lion – huge male with a pink and black patched nose and the dark mane of a healthy adult. He was breathing heavily and from the looks of it was completely stuffed (most likely from a recent meal of wildebeest). His body heaved with each breath and he looked absolutely exhausted. Then past a small mound we noticed the ears of a cat. It turned out to be the elusive leopard. Relaxing on the tiny hill, he stared at us and then decided to search for food, slinking away stealthily. But it wasn’t just cats that we saw, we also passed a bat-eared fox, who initially decided to hide in a small hole and then sprinted off into the distance.