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Just a bit of Sport by David Speir


As I switched on my head torch and turned towards the darkened grassy lawn, the catís eyes glowed up, greenish yellow, luminescent in the gloom. Interestingly enough, they exhibit a range of colour ó some are reddish, some distinctly fluorescent green while others tend through yellow tones. But light up they do, easily, at over 50 metres just from the meagre glow of my LED torch.

This time the cat was wary, one eye blinked out as the head turned and then, nothing. As I was naked and wet after a bath, and did not have an immediate response I left the hunt for another day.

Next morning, walking down the corridor of grass between the tall kanukas and totaras, the harrier hawk leapt into the air and flapped away. My eye was drawn to a dull reddish tone in the grass under the kahikatea where the hawk had been feeding. The olive and crimson feathers of the kaka were spread like a cloak on the grass. The carcass had been picked clean down the backbone as hawks do, but the wings and head had been separated ó the mark of a cat kill.
There had been a female kaka and a fledged chick in this area for a month or so now ó the mother was fearless in browsing at shoulder height in the fig tree, showing little concern at my approach until she flew off at the last moment. The puriri was in flower too and the extended branches drooped right to the ground. She had most likely been feeding in those low branches when the cat struck.

I took this personally ó funny that a few days previously I had been throwing my gumboot at this cheeky kaka as she ate a ripe fig.

I spotted the cat next evening stalking territory no more than 100m from the kill. Looking down a riflescope at a pair of yellow-green eyes is a disorientating experience. The feeble beam of the head torch didnít seem to spook the cat ó quite the opposite. This feline was casual, almost indifferent to my presence 30 metres away. I didnít know it then but the catís coat was jet black ó all I could see were the eyes, sometimes two, sometimes one and for brief periods nothing as the cat turned its head this way and that.

It was a lucky standing shot that took the cat; a big male, 4.7 kilos of muscle with wide shoulders and serious ivory. The kaka never had a chance.

I heard the chickís distinctive call over the next few days but for some reason didnít connect the two. There were anything up to a dozen kaka in the zone at that time, as the puriri flower and totara berry were prolific.

Nearly three months later, walking on the other side of the creek under a spreading totara I found the desiccated but completely intact body of the fledged chick. The strong overnight winds had dislodged it from the upper branches of the tree where the juvenile had remained until it had starved to death.

D.o.C have been operating over 30 traps in the Okiwi Valley for some years now ó two weeks on, two weeks off. They consistently catch cats, never less that 3-4 per fortnight, but this big male had walked right past several baited traps to get into my block. His stomach was full of rabbit ó the kaka had just been a bit of sport.