When the word cat is mentioned, lion, cheetah and leopard (especially here at Londolozi) are the first animals that come to mind. They are indeed all members of the cat family and are usually at the top of any safari-goers list. There are however three other fascinating cats that do not get the hype or attention they deserve. These night dwellers silently stalk their prey on Londolozi’s landscape. Seldom seen, these phantoms, by their elusive nature, enhance the craving to catch a glimpse of them even more!
The African Wild Cat
This beautiful species has a strong resemblance to a domestic cat. It has slightly longer legs and on average is a little larger. These similarities are not entirely coincidental, as domestic cats originated from African wild cats approximately 6000 years ago in Egypt. The Egyptians stored all their agricultural products for long periods of time. These products attracted unwanted attention of mice and other pests, which in turn attracted the African wild cat population. These wild cats controlled pests to such a degree, that people gave them treats such as meat, fish and even live mice. It did not take long for the cats to realise that they were not under threat from people and were habituated to the point where they started living in people’s homes. All these years of gradual genetic mutation resulted in the domestic breeds we find today.
Make no mistake, these cats are brilliant hunters and are essential to the ecosystem. They will hunt smaller prey that the other larger predators generally avoid. The African wild cat feeds primarily on mice, birds, reptiles, hares and at certain times of the year, fruits.
These cats are well camouflaged and will stalk their prey meticulously! When in striking distance they will pounce on their prey in one quick movement.
They are very secretive, mostly nocturnal, and try to avoid larger predators. This is part of the reason these beautiful animals are so hard to find at Londolozi!
They are sometimes referred to as the African or desert lynx. The name caracal is derived from a Turkish word “karakulak” meaning “black ear.” Thousands of years back the caracal was trained to hunt birds in Persia (Iran). These cats were released into an area where flocks of pigeons congregated. Wagers were then made as to how many of the pigeons a certain caracal would be able to catch. Because of these events, a very common expression, “to put a cat amongst the pigeons”, originated. The caracal utilizes its strong hindquarters to catch birds such as guinea fowl, francolins and even doves using amazing aerial acrobatics. This, however, is not where this ferocious predator’s menu comes to a halt. It will hunt and successfully take down prey up to double its size and even more. The average male caracal weighs in at around 20 kg, which means it could potentially hunt and kill a female impala!
There has been a recorded case in the Greater Kruger area of a caracal killing a fully-grown kudu cow! That is astounding. If there is one sighting that will complete my bucket list in the bush, it would be to see a caracal hunting…
The caracal is without a doubt my favourite animal cat and the that I would most like to see at the reserve.
Watch below to see this very skilled hunter:
The Serval is a beautiful slender cat that can, and is often confused with young leopards and cheetahs. The spot patterns are fairly similar, hence the confusion. Of the mysterious three, the serval is probably the most encountered species at Londolozi. The thick bushes and river beds in the south-eastern part of the reserve is the perfect habitat and hunting ground for this small cat. Servals have the longest legs of any cat, relative to their body size. This is due to the greatly elongated metatarsal bones in the feet. The toes are also elongated, and unusually mobile. These adaptations, as well as its astonishing leaping abilities, help the animal to capture mice, birds and even scrub hares hiding in reeds or thick bush.
Another distinctive feature of the serval is the presence of large ears. The serval makes use of its extraordinary sense of hearing to pinpoint concealed prey in the areas where they are hunting.
Because of the diversity that Londolozi has to offer, all three of these magnificent animals can be viewed in their natural habitat. They are notoriously hard to find though but with persistence anything is possible. On your next safari to Londolozi, take some time and look in the shade of a small tree, a patch of reeds or even in the top of a tree. You never know, you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of these apparitions of the bush!
Written by: Werner Breedt
Photographs Courtesy of: Google Images.
I Still need to see a caracal but any of these would always be an exciting sighting! Excellent article once again Werner! Well done!
Thanks for this blog about the fascinating smaller cats of Africa. I would be very happy to see any of the ‘mysterious three.’
Gorgeous footage and photography — cats always amaze with their skill, cunning and sheer beauty. Big and small, wild and domestic.
I have been to Londolozi and several other lodges each of the past three years and have yet to see any of these cats in the wild. I did see some of these cats at Moholoholo but it is not the same. Great video.
Another excellent article Werner. Congratulations ! I regard myself very fortunate in the sense that I have seen all three of your mysterious three. Talking of mysterious: I was always under the impression that “Cat amongst the pigeons” was an Agatha Christie novel (sic)