If you are patient enough to spend enough time with a specific animal; it is possible to form an authentic relationship between human and animal. John Varty built a relationship with a leopard that lasted its entire lifetime! Some animals are socially more active and intriguing than others… Today I’d like to take a look at a couple of these animals and the types of social behaviours that make them so fascinating.
Back in the early years of Londolozi, John would go out with his tracker, Elmon Mhlongo ( who still works at Londolozi to this day) and track a leopard affectionately known as ‘the Mother Leopard’. They spent countless hours with her, earning her trust, and seeing behavioural patterns which no one had ever seen before. They observed her hunting and the various strategies she used to raise her cubs– moving den sites and fighting off predators. John and Elmon realised that the trust of an animal can be earned. Leopards are solitary animals and hunt by means of stealth and brute strength but they aren’t as successful as we might think… Their success rate hovers at the 20 % mark.
By following the leopard around as avidly as he did, John has become the leading authority with regards to leopard behaviour in this country, if not the world!
These magnificent animals are without a doubt the most successful predators to walk this earth! Where lions and leopards fail, wild dogs run the extra mile and succeed. They are extremely sociable animals and rely on numbers to chase down and hunt prey animals, impala being their number one choice of prey. On a recent game drive, we were lucky enough to track down wild dogs. Excitement in the vehicle reached boiling point as we followed them through a thicket. My tracker, Euce, and I decided to loop around and wait for the pack to come running past us. We waited and waited for approximately five minutes and nothing happened… Euce advised me to head into the bush to try and relocate them. After driving around for a couple of minutes we relocated them only to find them finishing off an impala they must’ve killed only a couple of minutes prior to our arrival! What happened next was absolutely indescribable. The wild dogs were running around the vehicle in an uncontrolled frenzy. The excitement in the pack after they made a kill was contagious, and everyone on the game drive vehicle just snapped photos and didn’t know where to look! Two minutes later they were gone…
A pack of wild dogs is like a well-oiled machine. They are efficient, they work together as a team and they share the spoils with everyone.
Before every game drive, the ranging team will usually ask the question: “What animal would you like to see?” I cannot tell you the amount of times I have heard “Zebra”!
There is something about these striped horses that catches the imagination and enthrals us! There are so many theories regarding the stripes of a zebra and all are quite viable. To find out the most feasible reason, the social habits need to be examined and I have just the story that will reveal this… We were on an afternoon game drive and we were tracking lions around Nyamakunze crest, one of the beautiful open savanna areas at Londolozi. We soon found the lions stalking a herd of zebra. We quietly made an approach with the vehicle and waited anxiously for the action to unfold. The next moment all broke loose. Three lionesses were up and running and chasing the zebra. The zebra reacted in a way unlike any other animal found at Londolozi… They formed a tight knit group with the eldest, most experienced mare in the front and the stallion at the back. Dust was kicked up, roars rung out and the usually quiet crest transformed into an action scene that no Hollywood script could compete with. Seconds later there was a silence… We drove to where the lions were running only to find they had failed their attempted kill.
What I realised that day is that by sticking together like the zebras did; they are able to confuse the lions with their striped pattern. The lions couldn’t pinpoint a single individual and therefore failed this attempt. Lions (the zebra’s main predator) see in black and white, and this furthermore plays into the zebras favour in outwitting predators. Read more about animal’s who use clever prey avoidance techniques.
Visiting Londolozi allows us the opportunity to view these three animals and appreciate their unique and quite different social habits. Much like humans, all animals are particular in their ways. Some are solitary – lurking around – waiting for a mistake or an opportunity to pounce while others are social, helping each other to spot the danger that could be stealthily making an approach. As different as they might be, all animals play a role in making Londolozi the magnificent destination that it is. On you next visit take some time to enjoy the social behaviour of all animals, you might just be surprised by what you can learn.
Written by: Werner Breedt