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James Tyrrell


James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills that complemented his Honours degree in Zoology meant that he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the ...

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on Do Leopards Play?

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I completely agree with James. It is us humans with our langauge skills that attribute human traits to these animals. I still belueve that they are capable if emotion, or what we perceive as emotion. I am guilty myself of giving them human traits. I do think they enjoy playing even if it is just learning life lessons.

I have read quite a few books about animal behaviour, including why they play. This is a really good one: Beyond Words, What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina
I think there lingers amongst many people (including some scientists) the fear of anthropomorphism. If other animals have feelings, emotions, and display behaviour that we can recognise as similar to ours, some people see that as threatening their religious beliefs.
In the meantime, many studies have proven without a doubt that many other animals, not only mammals, are not all that different from us in so many ways.
So, please don’t apologize for claiming that leopards play. They clearly do, along with many other species.

An interesting conundrum James. I think we, as humans, try to liken wild cats to our own domestic cats. I think your theory is right – the interaction between the young cats is all part of the training in stalking and pouncing on their prey. A nice blog and thanks for sharing.

I agree they absolutely play. I have video of a mother and cub playing a game of hide and seek where the mother is teaching the cub to pounds. It’s very cute and they take turns doing it to each other. I will send along

One of our best “play” sightings was when 2 cubs were learning to climb a tree. One was very energetic and head strong. It was only when he was successful that he realized he had an even greater dilemma–getting down. The whole thing was hilarious with “mom” watching as she was resting in the tree’s shade. The sibling gave up rather quickly and preferred to lie down next to its mother.
One of the most entertaining hours ever!

The one language all living things share is energy: the atoms, the elements of which we are all made. The life force that flows in all of us. Maybe when we humans enter into these types of conversations what we are asking at least in part is, does a leopard/rhino/elephant/bird experience life the way I do? The answers to that can always be debated; yet there is a connection I feel with them where I am left in awe; and if anything I think they experience so much more than most of us do in the best possible way. Just my 2 cents.

Hi James. I have given your statement above some thought. I think, whether animals OR humans, we ARE exercising some attribute we have within ourselves as are animals, when we play games. They play to learn various moves which will help them hunt in later life (talking predators). The “Prey” type animals also play and run and jump and dodge and twist because that is what THEY would have to do in later life when being chased by a predator. We humans play games like chasing each other, or play fighting. It is exercise as well as stimulating our responses for later on in a possible real life pursuit. Likewise – we play cards, for example, because it stimulates our brains to THINK and work things out – especially something like Chess. Girls play with dolls because later on they will become Moms and house-wives. Boys play with toy cars / lorries / Leggo / etc because they need to work with this sort of thing later on. Then there is the technology side – brain stimulation indeed for working careers later on. It is just my thinking but my thinking wasn’t all that deep I have to say! Wendy M

One lion expert Kevin Richardson said that just because I may have raised a lion since they were a cub does not give the right to expect them to respond to me a certain way. I stand back and watch and if they come up to me in their enclosure great ,if not so be it.

The goalposts need to be the same for all living things on this planet – human or non. Play, like humour, is a form of lateral-thinking based activity and anybody who cannot translate the kind of complex planning ahead in which many animals engage, is a sad human being, one who cannot see beyond the so-called ‘achievements’ of human beings, and who judges animals by our standards. ‘Oh, a chimpanzee/dog/dolphin has the intellect of a two-year old child.’ No – they don’t – they have the intellect of a chimpanzee/dog/dolphin. How would we like it if _we_ were compared to a chimpanzee – ‘Oh, human adults have the intellect of a two-year old chimpanzee/dolphin/dog’. But to imagine that only humans have the capacity for lateral thinking, humour and the ability to have fun – to play ‘ isn’t just doing our wild brethren an injustice. We’re engaging in the intellectual equivalent of an in-growing toenail.

Without being scientific about it …. yes, they play!!

But………… play is the way to grow up and learn to be adult? It starts as play and fun. In the meantime they learn and next time they will perhaps do things differently. Us humans do it the same way…………
So definitely play, and learning from it!!


I feel it is both play and learning and I love watching it all.

Nothing goes to waste in the wild, whether it’s play or teaching. I think they are too closely alined to state it’s all one OR the other. Just another piece in a very large puzzle that simply fits.

Two wonderful. Blogs!! If you think about playing or learning, I remember my boys learning to play soccer and learning while playing. What seems like just playing for fun can also be a learning experience. I agree James this time it just looked like they were having fun. Watching elephants play was fabulous! After a solid week of downpour here the bush looks wonder as do the animals. Victoria

Okay, I’ve thought about your blog and not based upon any scientific findings, I do see playfulness among various species of animals. In addition to leopards playing and seek, let’s not forget lion cubs chasing one another, pouncing on older siblings , perhaps life lessons but it appears to look like fun and games …. or gorilla youngsters jumping on each other and rolling through the bush or climbing trees to divebomb unsuspecting others with flying fruit! Let’s just observe, enjoy their antics and not read too much into it!!

I wish that leopard experts would get together in social media and educate people about them. I apologize if I am unaware if this is actually taking place. I d love to read about it. I feel like they are treated like the Pitbull of the big cats…meaning that Pitbulls get a bad rep because many were trained to dog fight. Leopards are just misunderstood and SHOULD NEVER be kept as a household pet!!! Wild animals will always have their natural instincts to kill for survival and nothing will change that.

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