Nature enthusiast and amateur photographer.Travelled extensively in Southern Africa and the USA.
The Wild Cats of South Africa
One of the things that sets Africa apart from other parts of the world is its wild life. Here in South Africa you can view the so called “Big Five” and a plethora of other wild life that simply is not available elsewhere in the world unless you visit a zoo. There are a variety of options available in South Africa to view animals “in the wild”. Several great National Game Reserves are available and then there are many smaller private game reserves dotted around the country. The Kgalagadi, Kruger, Hluhuwe/iMfolozi and Addo Elephant Park are just a couple of the many larger Parks.
Some of the animals that really make a visit to these parks really exciting, are the cats. Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards make up the “Big Three” of the cats. In Africa there are 10 wild cats and seven of them are found in South Africa. Those found in South Africa are the big three already mentioned and also the Caracal, the Serval, the African Wild Cat and the Small Spotted Cat.
Cats, being secretive by nature and often nocturnal, make them really difficult to see and that applies especially to the last mentioned seven. The “Big Three” are however, quite possible to find because they often hunt or feed in the day or simply rest in the sun or shade, either alone or in a group. The three found elsewhere in Africa are the Swamp Cat, the Sand Cat and the African Golden Cat.
Here we are going to take a closer look at the Big Three found relatively easily in South Africa. The Lion, being King of the Jungle, gets first mention. Living in groups known as prides they hunt together with the males often being responsible for herding the selected victim towards the females that are lying in hiding and ready to pounce. All the big cats produce newly born cubs that are totally dependent on the care of their mothers for quite a while. Eventually they are taught to hunt and then in the lion pride, become a part of the team. The lion often hunts at night when it is easy to get close to its prey. I
Lions are not able to co-exist with people and domestic animals, but survive in large protected areas.
The Leopard is a loner and the males have a large territory that they mark and defend ruthlessly. In that territory there are usually several females that over time produce cubs. Once these cubs are weaned and taught to hunt by the mother they are expected to fend for themselves. If the cub is a male then it looks for a new territory to control. If it is a female then it will search for a smaller territory within the territory of a male that it will then mate with. Leopards are most often seen in trees where they take their food to keep it safe from Hyenas, Wild Dogs and other predators. They can also sometimes be spotted resting on a rock in the sun. They can co-exist with extensive agriculture and are listed as rare in the Red Data Book
The Cheetah is an animal of the open plain and being the fastest mammal uses its speed to hunt down its prey. It is much slimmer than the Leopard and it is built like a grey hound and is designed for speed. It varies in being a social animal but can sometimes form small groups. Again it produces a small number of cubs, normally three, and teaches them to hunt. The Cheetah usually hunts early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The Cheetah is listed in the Red Data Book at vulnerable in Africa but not in South Africa.
All the cats are carnivorous and use their particular hunting skills to secure the food that they need. With the growing human population and the need for food by humans, the cats are endangered in many areas. Agricultural land is replacing the large open veldt and forests which is the cats natural environment. The big cats have also been hunted for their skins and as trophies. Because of this they are listed as vulnerable in the Red Data Book in many areas. At the same time in the many protected areas they continue to survive. The smaller cats are not often seen even in the game reserves in South Africa because of their secretive nature and to spot one would be a rare treat. The Big Three are however relative easy to find in even a short visit to the right places.
National Parks and Nature Reserves –a South African Field Guide. Struik Publishers
Cats of Africa. Fernwood Press.