Before I begin, let me clear up a few definitions:
Nocturnal – a species primarily active at night.
Diurnal – a species primarily active during the day.
Crepuscular – a species active in the twilight, normally around sunrise and sunset.
Go and read any field guide and it will tell you that both lions and leopards are nocturnal animals. The classic line is that lions will sleep for 20-22 hours a day. I’m not sure where this figure comes from but it seems to be quite a popular one across the board. I personally believe this is a bit of an over-exaggeration. Let’s discuss this by looking at a few examples of lion and leopard activity on Londolozi.
I learnt a harsh lesson a few months ago when I set out to go find the Tsalala pride one afternoon. It was a hot day so I decided to loop around, killing time talking about the many other wonders of the bush. About 20 minutes before sunset I headed to the last place the pride had been seen, expecting to find them lying in the shade of some trees. All that we found was a herd of impala calmly grazing in the exact spot the lions had been. No lions in sight. They were soon found by someone else several kilometres away. We did not see them that evening…
Since that day, I have watched lions moving long distances – and hunting – at midday. A male lion was seen killing an impala at 12:00 pm just the other day. After speaking to some of the experienced guides and trackers, it turns out the Tsalala and Tsalala Breakaway prides are well known to be active throughout the day. Not the 20 hours of sleeping that they are supposed to be doing.
Textbooks will also tell you that leopards are the silent creatures of the night. I will agree with this statement for the most part. However, they are by all means also the silent creatures of the day.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
On numerous occasions I have been alerted to the presence of leopard moving around during the day by monkey alarm calls, shortly to see a leopard walk past in full sun. I believe that due to their superb camouflage, they are almost as comfortable to walk around and hunt during the day as they are at night.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
“Kleptoparasitism: the stealing of food or prey from one individudal by another”
One reason for leopards hunting during the day may be to avoid kleptoparasitism from hyenas. It is well known that hyenas will trail behind leopards with the hopes that they will be able to overpower them and steal a freshly made kill. Studies have shown that almost weekly, hyenas will steal a kill from a leopard. One leopard in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve was even documented being seen handing over kills to hyenas to distract them before immediately hunting again in peace.
Another theory could be that both lions and leopards with cubs hunt during the day to allow the youngsters to feed without the risk of: i) nocturnal hyena stealing the kill; and ii) hyena potentially finding and killing the lion or leopard cubs.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
Although I have merely touched the surface of this argument, I think it is quite clear that lions and leopards are not completely nocturnal. It may be that certain individual leopards or prides of lions are an exception to the rule and have adopted diurnal activity more so than most others. It may be that we still don’t quite understand why animals behave the way that they do. In any case, these predators continue to provide exciting game viewing at all times of the day and night here at Londolozi.