A recent sighting I was fortunate to witness was that of a year-old leopard cub crossing the Sand River to reach its mother on the opposite bank. Definitely a sighting I am unlikely to see again anytime soon. With snarls at the water’s edge and hesitation to reach the other side that would have offered parental comfort, it brings me into the topic of why are most cats afraid of water?
A cat’s displeasure extends to the physical sensation of being doused. An oily coat doesn’t shed water easily, making it hard for them to return to a dry, warm state quickly. Cats are also used to feeling nimble whereas in water, their motions become sluggish. The rippling of the water and reflection creates hesitation and unease. What is that reflection? What is lurking below? Cats have very acute senses and reflection can pose to be a certain danger or unfamiliarity. Many of them understand the worry for crocodiles and how they could fall prey as they enter the cold and unknown. It is not at all uncommon to see lions in particular hissing at the water as they are about to enter, in an attempt to scare away any lurking saurians.
One early morning drive we were in search of the Nhlanguleni female and her two one-year old cubs. A radio call alerted us that they had been found on the southern bank of the Sand River at a crossing well known to be used by elephants. Upon arrival we noticed that one cub was on the southern bank and the other (plus the mother) was across the flowing waters on the northern bank. Rain water had filled the river up to a considerable depth and crossing for many animals would be a daunting prospect, especially a year-old leopard cub. It was inevitable that the single cub would cross, but how and when?
Constant contact calling between mother and cub across the channel told us a crossing was imminent. Snarls of discomfort as the cub’s paws entered the water delayed the crossing. Slowly but surely, after a lengthy wait, the cub entered the water, moving very cautiously. As it shifted reeds left and right it approached the bulk of the flowing water in the form of the main channel. In leaps and bounds it plunged straight into the stream to reach the other side as quickly as it could. Cameras were up and ready to capture the moment and sprays of water:
Bewildered, the doused cub reached the other side before shaking off as much water as possible and rubbing heads with its mother and sibling to reaffirm their bond. We were also pretty dazed by how incredible the crossing had been!
It goes to show that you never know what you might experience on safari and every scene is as unique as the previous one.