It’s true what they say: cheetahs never prosper…

23rd February 2018 at 00:00
Who can concentrate on food chains when there’s a real-life hunt happening just outside the window, asks Steve Eddison

Mrs Dynamo is no slouch. She does triathlons for fun and has won the teachers’ race at the last three sports days. She has the raw power of a sprinter, the grace and strength of a gymnast, and a complexion that positively radiates good health. To look at her you would think she’d have no problem catching Macavity. After all, her legs are longer than his entire body.

Today, the children are investigating food chains. It is an activity that involves putting pictures of animals and plants in order of which eats which.

The success criteria include making the arrows point in the right direction, and labelling each diagram with an appropriate term, such as producer, consumer, prey or predator. It is meant to be a fun activity, but clearly it’s not as much fun as watching a dramatic representation of a hunt taking place right outside our classroom window.

Although Macavity has a number of special needs, none of them impair his ability to escape the classroom environment. Right now, he is roaming an area between the picnic benches and the bicycle store. He knows instinctively that this place affords him excellent cover, complex escape routes between tables, and an unobstructed view of any teacher who might be advancing towards him.

Mrs Dynamo is an accomplished retriever of small children, who has honed her skills by drawing on past experience. Having been assigned the task of recovering Macavity on numerous occasions, she knows it can be an exhausting and often fruitless process. That’s why today she has adapted her usual strategy. By exiting the building through a fire door at the rear and then keeping close to the perimeter fence, she has found a way to approach Macavity from behind.

Gazelle for lunch

Seeing Mrs Dynamo at work is as compelling as watching a cheetah stalking a gazelle. And when she gets within a stride of him, it appears the boy’s fate is sealed. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from watching the BBC1 wildlife documentary Big Cats, it is that no matter how efficient a top predator is, the outcome of a hunt is never certain. Cheetahs may be perfectly designed to catch their lunch, but there’s no such thing as a free gazelle.

The teacher is now within pouncing distance. Her muscles are like coiled springs. Her focus is intense. Macavity’s only hope of avoiding capture lies in the fact that he has phenomenally fast reflexes, as well as a talent for anticipating danger. The latter allows him to detect a predatory adult by intuition alone, and in the same instant Mrs Dynamo lunges, Macavity disappears under a picnic table and reappears heading in the direction of open playground.

Using her superior power and speed, Mrs Dynamo rapidly gains ground. But when she is almost upon him, Macavity suddenly changes direction and veers away at 90 degrees from his original course. Mrs Dynamo is quick, but speed doesn’t help when it comes to making sudden turns. And after being wrong-footed by several sharp manoeuvres, she finally gives up and stops to catch her breath.

She may as well, because she’s not catching Macavity.

Steve Eddison is a teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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