Wildlife Holiday News

The Execution

An entry to our 2019 Writing Competition, Peter and Carolyn Stott travelled on our 'Mongolia's Snow Leopards' tour.

The executioner had chosen the hideout well. Facing away from the sun so the victim would be blinded; angled so that it remained warmed during those long hours of waiting; facing into the prevailing wind to avoid her scent reaching the quarry’s sensitive nostrils; and with a good view across the valley. She knew her target’s habits, worn by routine. But the victim would be guarded by an army of supporters, all aware of danger and in possession of an effective early warning system. Sentries everywhere; eyes peeled, alert for any signs of movement. Yet there was an excellent chance of success. She had the right weapons. It was the right time of day. The prey would be distracted by the abundance of food. The hairs on her neck tingled at the thought of what was to come.

The black tip to her tail came alive – something she had fought to control but still could not master. As the Stoat crept forward, keeping her body close to the ground and her breathing slow, the target appeared in her sights. The pika had been collecting grasses and flowers in this place for several weeks – storing them for the winter. But habit is a dangerous thing for prey animals and the hunter knew exactly how the pika would respond.

The Stoat froze as she closed on the target. Then moved forward again as it dropped to harvest seeds and grasses. She moved again; but too soon. A lookout had spotted her and gave a high-pitched shriek. The whole hillside reacted. Pikas froze as fear gripped the troop. Ground squirrels stood erect to get a better view. Marmots ambled back towards the rock-piles which marked the safety of their burrows. A Wolf on a distant peak gave a lonely howl and raised its head.

It was only seconds; but to the Stoat it seemed like an eternity. Many animals had already disappeared into burrows; but her prey was still there – too confident perhaps; frozen with fear; hunger getting the better of common sense. The pika could not see the Stoat; and because of the wind direction, could not smell the Stoat. The Stoat could not see the pika; but she could sense it was still there. She knew the odds were in her favour.

The pika lowered its head to gather flowers and the executioner knew the moment had come. In a flash she was moving towards the pika. The prey realised the danger and began to run. In a chase it was smaller than the Stoat and had the advantage of maneuverability. But the Stoat was bigger and more powerful.

A few seconds and it was all over. A strong bite to the neck had severed the pika’s spinal cord. The executioner took a breath. She had bitten flesh and it tasted good. Her four kits would share this meat tonight.

Read more about our 'Mongolia's Snow Leopards' holiday.