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WITH MY OWN EYES

EAGLE KLAPS BABOON, TULI BLOCK

- BY STEVE WIMBERLEY

I first visited the Tuli Block in Botswana in 2013 and absolutely fell in love with the area. The scenery is spectacula­r, especially along the Limpopo River where large mashatu (nyala) trees grow, and the birding is top drawer. I usually travel with a few old varsity mates, who are also all into birding and wildlife photograph­y.

We always stay at Mohave Bush Camp, run by Stuart Quinn from Tuli Wilderness. On our most recent visit, Stuart took us on a morning bush walk to a place called Eagle Rock. We headed upstream along the bank of the Motloutse River, which flows into the Limpopo. Eagle Rock is about 5 km from the confluence – it’s a breeding site for a pair of Verreaux’s eagles.

Arriving there, we saw this male baboon 1 sitting on top of the one side of Eagle Rock. He seemed to be minding his own business, gazing out over the landscape. He was probably acting as a lookout for the troop. We never saw the rest of the troop, but they must have been around, just out of sight.

The resident pair of eagles usually take off once the morning air has warmed and there are some updrafts. As we neared the base of the rock, we caught sight of one of them. The raptor flew past us, quite low down, hugging the cliff 2 – and then it soared upwards. It circled back over the baboon and – approachin­g stealthily from behind – klapped him on the head! 3 The baboon let out a “whoaaaa!” of surprise and scampered off. 4

According to Stuart there is no love lost between the two species, as the baboons raid the eagles’ nests and eat the eggs and chicks. The bird was probably just trying to scare it off. But even Stuart had never seen this behaviour before. It was a one-off and I was lucky to capture it on camera.

I used my Nikon D7500 with a Nikon 200 – 550 mm lens.

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