The Eternal Duel Of The Plains

The crags where eagles hunt

A daily duel takes place out there in the wilds on the limitless plains of the Great Karoo and few are even aware of it.  The adversaries have honed their timing.  This daily duel is fought with the split-second timing now associated with high-speed sports such as motor racing, yet this deadly duel was already honed to perfection when men were still swinging from the trees.  The rivals are the black eagle and the elephant’s tiny cousin, the dassie or rock hyrax. These eagles, monarchs of the mountains, prowl the skies their keen eyes scanning the plains below in search of a tasty dassie. But in order to sing his claws into this little animal, his staple diet, the eagle must dive from 150m to ground level in three seconds.  This means that the raptor hits a speed of about 180 kph as he cannons downwards.   The canny little dassie, which has a special lens in its eye which enables it to look directly into the sun,  has figured this out, so he limits his feeding to a maximum range of 12 meters from his rock shelter.  When grazing or simply basking in the sun the dassie colony ensures that sentinels are always on duty.   These fellows are extremely vigilant and scream out a warning the instant they spot an eagle. Once the sentinel sounds the warning the dassie has 2,7 seconds to scamper back to safety doing about 16 kph.    For the brave who have ventured out for the full 12 meters it’s a breathtaking dash.   But it’s all pretty neat  when you think about it – only only 0,3 seconds is the difference between eating or being eaten.   Things come apart, however, when young males are driven out of the shelters and denied the services of a sentry.    But then eagles have to eat and a pair of black eagles usually catches about 150 dassies a year.  Cute as they may seem to some dasses can be an awful menace and in days of yore early farmers used to pay a “penny a pelt” for dassie skins.

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