Now you might be thinking we are talking about our wonderful two-legged visitors to Changa Safari Camp. In choosing our camp, our guests in our totally biased option, of course, deserve the term of “cool cats”, but this blog is actually about the four-legged versions that you can see in our camp area – that is, lions and leopards.
A lion – “Panthera leo” – is the undisputed King of the Jungle and top of the food chain. Male lions grow up to 2.5metres long and stand over 1m tall. Females are smaller and lighter and do not have a mane.
Lions hunt singly, in pairs and in a pride. They are the most social of cats and live together in groups. A pride is made up of females and their cubs, and one to three fully-grown male lion, with the biggest one being the pride leader. The lionesses will stay with the pride all their lives, but not so the male lions – only the biggest and strongest one rules the pride, and weaker rivals may be driven away.
Lions tend to move and hunt during the cooler parts of the day, lying in the shade from 10am to 4pm, so our game drives are perfectly timed to try and catch a hunt in action. Males normally drive their prey onto females, who wait undercover and blend in with the background.
In the Matusadona National Park, there are estimated to be 30 lions. Changa Safari Camp falls within the territory of the Eastern Pride. The Eastern Pride are fierce, and exceptionally efficient hunters who have made headlines in the past few years for taking down elephants and hippos as well as crocodiles.
That the lions of Changa are such fearsome hunters brings to mind an ancient Batonka folk story on how “the Lion got its Roar”.
“From the beginning of time, the Lion was always the most feared of the predators. However the Lion still had a gentle voice, so he was able to catch the other animals without much trouble.
The animals held a meeting to try and find a way of making Lion less dangerous. Hare, the imaginative one, had a bright idea of making Lion’s voice sound “like terrible thunder of a summer’s storm” so that they know when he is coming.
So one day the Hare managed to sneak up onto the Lion who was sleeping and dribbled honey over its paws, from a nearby wild bees’ nest. When the bees returned home and found that someone had raided their hive, they were very angry. They found Lion sleeping nearby, and stung his so often that his soft cries swelled to a thunderous roar that could be heard for miles about. From then on, all the animals could hear Lion’s roar from a long way away, and be warned that the King of Beasts was on the hunt! Despite their deep roar that can be heard from Changa Safari Camp, the Eastern Pride still seem to catch all types of prey unaware!”
There is another “cool cat” that you may see by Changa, but it is unlikely that you will hear them. The leopard – Panthera pardus – is a solitary and secretive cat and is mostly silent. Their most characteristic sound is a hoarse rasping cough, which is repeated at intervals.
Leopards are the only big cats that climb trees regularly. They rest on branches during the day and hunt on the ground at night. They often drag their kill into a tree, to prevent it from being stolen by lions or hyenas. Leopards’ main prey are impala, but they have a remarkably varied diet which includes insects, fishes, frogs, birds, hyenas, dogs and baboons, which they seem to regard as a particular delicacy.