If you were ever asked to give some examples of African carnivores, what animals come to mind? Animals like lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas were some of the first animals you thought of. But did you know that there are other, much smaller carnivores out there as well?
Anyone that has ever had the opportunity to witness the sheer power and prowess of big cats in action can stand testament to a leopard’s ability to catch and kill prey far larger than themselves. In this instance, a male leopard weighing around 85kg caught and killed a blue wildebeest bull which could have weighed as much as 290kg!
The video itself was filmed shortly after the kill, with the male leopard and his prey still exposed out in the open, hence the male’s herculean effort to pull this monstrosity into thicker bush and away from the prying eyes of vultures which would alert other, larger predators like lions and hyaenas to the presence of a free meal. This sighting was no exception.
Over the course of a few days, we watched as this leopard was chased by wild dogs (the dogs did not steal the kill as they are not carrion feeders) and then later fend off various attempts of hyaenas to steal his hard-earned prize.
In the end, the sighting lasted nearly three days with the big tom eventually relinquishing the remains of his kill to a pride of lions.
This, of course, is a regular occurrence for all predators, not just leopards, where competition for food is fierce. Lions are regular thieves, which should be a great reminder that the stealthy hyaenas aren’t the only mega-predators to stoop to such lows as to scavenge hard-earned meals from others. However, EcoTraining instructor Sean Matthewson has on one occasion seen a leopard scavenge from lions when the pride happened to leave a large giraffe carcass to go drink water. A young female leopard snuck in and stole as many mouthfuls of rotting giraffe as she could before the return of the pride heralded her silent departure from the carcass, the lions oblivious to her presence.
This is, of course, the cycle of life, the survival of the fittest.
Watch the amazing powers of this male leopard trying to move his wildebeest prize.
If you want to learn more about leopards why not try your hand at our EcoTraining Leopard Quiz?
Shaded by mighty Jackalberry trees, EcoTraining Karongwe Camp waits patiently for its first group of 2020 students. The expectant energy is palatable. The new students will be embarking on a 55-day EcoTraining Field Guide Course which will solidify the bedrock of each participant’s potential career as a field guide.
The unfenced solar-powered camp area lies unobtrusively adjacent to the dry Karongwe riverbed where new students will delight in discovering numerous bird and mammal species. At this time of year, the bush is alive with activity. The summer rains have washed away the dust and replaced it with emerald abundance.
The resident Nyala family feeds below a canopy of Tamboti trees and even they seem anxious to welcome the new students. The lambs bounce around excitedly jostling for front row seats and above them in the eaves, Paradise Flycatchers flit in a boastful aerial display.
The open-air classroom entices all sounds and smells of the wilderness in. A library of textbooks and a collection of skulls, tortoise shells and animal bones are lined tidily for students to explore. Yet the space beyond the formal classroom boundaries will invite students on a much greater journey of enquiry beyond their wildest dreams. Every bird that chirps, every leaf that falls, every flower that blooms and every insect that rattles in song is an opportunity to gain knowledge and connection with the fauna and flora of the Lowveld wilderness.
At the edge of the camp lies the fireplace. As dusk stretches the shadows and awakens the stars, the earth has the power to draw everyone magnetically in. It is around this blazing campfire that learning will transcend facts and figures and where wisdom will be shared through storytelling.
As an African barred owlet hoots somewhere in the distance and his message for the new students is clear… “Protect this wilderness, for you are the guardians of its future.”
It is a privilege to be an EcoTraining student because you hold these wild spaces in your hands and in your heart, and have the collective ability to nurture it for future generations. Karongwe is a classroom sanctuary where custodians of nature are born and inspired.
Good luck to all the students of 2020!
Over a short distance, the cheetah has been recognized as the fastest land mammal on the planet. Encounters with these special predators feature on the bucket lists of both local and international travellers who visit the various natural wilderness regions throughout Africa. International Cheetah Day is a day in which we focus on these phenomenal creatures and the plight that they face in conservation.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are found mainly in Africa and with a small remaining population in Northern Iran. A sighting of these rather elusive felines is always memorable and never easily forgotten. To call attention to the plight of this vulnerable species, we celebrate International Cheetah Day with some interesting facts that you can share when trading wildlife stories and bushveld encounters.
- Cheetahs are physically designed for speed! From nose to tail they are aerodynamically designed to achieve maximum acceleration in the shortest time.
- Their tails that can be used as a rudder when running, are almost as long as their bodies. In full hunting mode, it is used to balance the animal when it executes tight turns at high speed.
- To retain their fastest-land-mammal crown, they can get from 0 to 100 km/ph in 3 seconds. Faster than most supercars! However, they can only maintain their top speed of +/- 120 km/ph for a short period.
- Although cheetahs are generally regarded as solitary creatures, the males occasionally form coalitions that will allow them to hunt larger prey species. These groups consist of between two and four animals, usually siblings, but they can also be non-related animals that band together to be more effective hunters.
- It is hot work…when hunting, a cheetah can raise the body temperature from an average 38.3°C to over 40°C. They expend a lot of energy in the chase which often leaves them prone to overheating. Although they have a success rate of about 50%, their post-hunt recovery time means that they regularly lose their meal to opportunistic predators like jackal and hyena.
- You would think that with all the expended energy, they would have to drink regularly, but they are the least water-dependent of the cats, getting most of their moisture from the prey they eat.
- Unlike the roar of the lion or the sawing grunt of the leopard, cheetahs communicate through almost bird-like chirps and purrs. They are the only cat out of the big cats that actually purr.
- The dark lines running on either side of the nose are used to absorb light in order to cut-out the visible glare whilst hunting during the day. NFL football players in the USA have adopted similar markings to help them when playing under stadium lights.
- As a solitary animal, a cheetah mom gets no help from either the father of the cubs or other females in the raising and training of the cubs. The cubs are born with a grey ruff along their backs that mimics the colouration of a Honey Badger, a small animal with the attitude of an elephant!
- The fossilized remains of a Giant Cheetah have been carbon-dated, showing that it to be around 1 to 2 million years old!
Would you like to be able to learn to identify the tracks of a cheetah? Or perhaps even track one on foot? If this educational experience is on your bucket list, then why not celebrate International Cheetah Day by signing up and joining one of the EcoTraining Courses? For more information, contact [email protected]