Africa’s diverse wildlife favors the survival of feline apex predators popularly known as “The Big Cats of Africa”. Africa has various species of wild cats found in various geographical locations and regions. Most big cat groups can be spotted while on safari, however, an experienced guide will make tracking them easier.
This article will discuss The Big Cats of Africa, their geographical location, how they survive and other interesting facts about them.
1. The African Lion
This is the largest of the cats found in the African savannah. African lion is mostly found in the eastern and southern parts inhabiting the African savannah, scrubs, open woodlands and sometimes on a few deserts .
An adult African lion is well adapted to survive from its environment. Both the genders have muscular and powerful bodies with rounded heads. The adults have a golden-brown coat while the cubs have dark spots on them. Only the male lions have dark tufts which cover the tail end.
The lions live in prides and can easily be spotted from a distance when on a safari tour. They are found in countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. The pride consists approximately 4 to 25 lions with many females with their young ones and few males.
The prides work together to hunt other wild animals and also raise their cubs. The adult male lions play an important role in protecting the territory marking the area with urine and roar sound. The African lions do their hunting on ground level taking on zebras, gazelles, rhinos, and buffalos. By working together, the lions are able to hunt big animals and kill for food. Lions in a zoo are usually offered prepared food from the other animals which include meat and bones.
The African lion produces a roar sound which can be heard up to 4 miles away. The sound represents aggression and also gives information to the pride members. An African Lion has an average lifespan of about 10 to 15 years.
2. The African Leopard
Is one of the nominate subspecies of the leopards found in Africa with an exceptional ability to adapt to changes of the availability of the prey.
They are well adapted to their environment for survival. Their body consists of powerful and muscular body parts to ensure efficient hunting by either running or bringing down the prey. They have a unique coat which differentiates them from other subspecies. Their body coat is covered with dark circular or square spots referred to as rosettes which form a beautiful pattern on their body cover. The spots vary depending on which part of Africa they inhabit.
The spots are circular in the leopards living in eastern parts of Africa while those found in southern Africa have square shaped rosettes. The black spots on their coat limits their visibility enabling them to hunt without being noticed. This adaptability has allowed the leopard to survive and hunt other animals without being seen.
The African leopard is found in a wide range of habitats including deserts and semi-deserts, savannah grasslands of the south and east of Africa. They are well adapted to climbing trees and carry heavy loads of prey. The leopards are able to run up to a speed of 59km/h. Vocalization is one way the leopard uses to communicate amongst themselves. Other ways they use to communicate is by use of body postures and various forms of chemical communication.
Although leopards live in large territories or in groups, it is difficult to spot them in the wild. Male territories of the leopards have a higher population compared to the females. They usually mark their territories with urine and by leaving claws around trees and rocks to warn any other members from invading.
Female leopards usually have 2 to 3 cubs. The cubs are kept hidden and protected for 8 weeks from other predators. The leopards in Africa face primary threats such as forest encroachment, drought, and increased competition from other predators. This has led to a rapid decrease of this animal population from the past years. They have an average life span of 11 to 17 years.
3. The Cheetah
Cheetah is popularly known as the fastest land animal in the world with distinctive spots on its body. It has five subspecies found in a variety of habitats such as the African savannah and hilly desert terrain in Asia.
The animal is uniquely adapted in various ways in order to ensure survival from other competitive predators. It has long muscular legs with a slim body which is proportional to their body size therefore making it the fastest animal on earth. The cat can accelerate up to 120km/h. It has a long tail with black fur at the end to ensure body balance when running for a hunt. They are also equipped with powerful eyes to enable them to see prey at a distance during the day.
Their coat is covered with golden-brown color with a unique black color stripe running from the eyes to the mouth. However, it’s difficult to see them because of the spotted coat which makes it difficult to distinguish them with the tall and dry savannah grass.
The cheetah mainly hunts on small to medium size prey animals such the impalas, antelopes and gazelles. The predator hunts its prey by knocking it to the ground and suffocating them. Once it has suffocated the prey, the leopard eats quickly before the arrival of hyenas, vultures, leopards and other scavengers. Most of the cheetah is found in East Africa, especially in the national parks such as Serengeti and Masai Mara. This type of habitat gives these animals a conducive environment to thrive well and reproduce.
The female sibling separates from the group as soon as they are sexually mature while the male siblings remain together until they die forming a group known as coalition. Eventually, this type of group will find a place to settle and this will increase defense from other predators and also chances on hunting other animals for food.