One of the perks of living in the bush is that being able to see incredible sightings is not limited to game drives. Just outside my house is a Red Ivory tree, which serves as endless amusement for the resident troop of vervet monkeys. I have often sat and watched them as they launch themselves from one branch to the next with the greatest of ease. What has particularly intrigued me is how the young monkeys constantly play together. They chase each other through the trees, launching several meters through the air before landing on another tree. Often, curiosity gets the better of them if another finds something of interest and can sometimes result in serious fights (if that something of interest gets stolen) and it is not uncommon to see the adults intervene.

vervet monkey

A baby vervet monkey clings to its mother.

A baby vervet monkey clings desperately to its mother in the face of a new and daunting world.

Young vervet monkeys spend a great deal of time frolicking and playing with one another, and even the youngest ones will join in.

Lactation and the luxury of parental care probably affords young mammals the spare time and freedom to play. Why they seem to play is a topic that is still being disputed and it seems we might not have the answer yet. Play could be an integral part of learning for young animals.

sipho fats kitchen-30

The Nanga female’s cub engages in play by leaping onto its mother’s head. Most often, leopard cubs will only have a single sibling to seek companionship with.

wild dogs play

Play is not always limited to young mammals, wild dogs epitomise play and seem to have endless energy. This kind of play could enhance the social bonds needed for these pack hunters.

The most playful mammals appear to be the young primates and carnivores. I have used the word “appear” here because even some experts in the field have difficulty in distinguishing whether some behaviour is playful or not. Young mammals are far more playful than their adult counterparts, and the reasons behind why they play are still being investigated. Play could be related to learning that will benefit them in their later lifestyles. Leopard and lion cubs often spar with their siblings, stalking and pouncing one another. Other times they may swat at each other while up on their hind legs. Young elephants often mock charge at other animals, particularly at a water source. In fact, I have witnessed a young elephant bull chasing every Egyptian goose within site at a dam, and leave apparently satisfied with himself. The correspondence between play and adult behaviour makes it look like play could be highly beneficial for future behaviour. After all, practice makes perfect. But this is not always the case. Some animals that have grown up in laboratories or without other siblings have often grown to become capable adults. Some theories also suggest that play could develop hunting skills, strengthen social bonds and reduce aggression. Although these are all plausible, I’d also like to believe that play is probably just a lot of fun!

lion cubs

Two young lion cubs spar with one another in the Sand River. This kind of play could help develop the necessary skills required later in life.

lions fighting

Two of the Majingilane male lions battle for the right to mate with one of the Sparta females. As young cubs, these males most likely sparred like the cubs in the image above, but when they reach maturity, play fighting is replaced with serious aggression.

Filed under Wildlife


on The Joy of Adolescence

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Leah Soderblom

I am in awe and learning so much from your blog. James your writing flows with ease.
Thank you for these daily informative readings and spectacular photo’s!

Leah Soderblom

Thank you Shaun for this morning’s blog! Beautiful and informative with astounding photo’s!

Jim & KC Bearden

Thanks for the daily Blogs, I always look forward to reading them each and every day. I know it can be time consuming to write a blog, especially every day. Thanks!


Every blog and the beautiful photos are like shining stars. I enjoy and learn so much from you. Many, many thanks.

Jill Larone

Interesting blog Shaun and beautiful pictures!

Wendy Hawkins

Yes I am sure there is a lot for us all to learn about our Wildlife, but they never cease to amaze me with their fun & playfulness, especially as that will change when they are older! Thank you Shaun 🙂 have a great Sunday

Lorna Levitt

Thank you. The blogs are forwarded to me in America. I do so miss all the game so am grateful for your wonderful pics and interesting blog

Diana and Maurice McFetridge

Thank you Shaun for the wonderful action shots of youngsters at play. Maurice and I take pleasure each day opening the Londolozi blogs. Our very best wishes from New Zealand


Loved the “play” blog Shawn, especially the baby ellies play charging. I simply adore these beautiful little creatures and love the way they act so brave. Also, love to see the interaction of the other young wildlife. Am sure there is something in the play thing that stands them in good stead in adulthood. Thanks again, look forward to the blogs each day.

Jean Kreiseler

Every email from Londolozi gets opened first! Love all your blogs and photos are stunning. I regularly safari (camping) in Okavango Delta, and your blogs relate to lots of my experiences. Please don’t stop! Thanks

Alison S mith

Thoroughly enjoyed the read! Thank you!

Connect with Londolozi

Follow Us

Sign up for our Newsletters

One moment...
Add Profile