When we think of safari and we think of cats, it is more often than not the lions, leopards and cheetahs that come to mind. Not often do we think of other possibilities we might see.
A cat which is far smaller than the above mentioned – is more elusive, seldom seen and gets everyone in the vehicle equally as excited – is the African wildcat.
But why does it excite us? It merely looks like a domestic house cat. The main difference is that these small felines are completely wild and have had no domestication or contact with domestic cats, in fact recent DNA research has identified five wild cat species as the closest group of ancestors to domestic cats; it’s believed that the African Wildcat is the wild ancestor that was first domesticated around 9000 years ago. Their habits are completely wild and they have a very similar social organisation and hunting methods to that of leopards. African wildcats are not often seen around Londolozi and when eyes reflect back at you while on night drive they may dart behind a bush to be out of sight.
One evening surprised us all when not only one but three sets of eyes reflected back at us from a nearby flattened termite mound. It was completely unexpected. The main difference between this and a standard Wild Cat sighting is how relaxed they all were. A mother and two kittens! Ethically one doesn’t want to expose the youngsters by the use of spotlight as it could potentially make them more easily visible and thus accessible to predation from larger predators, yet it was a situation that was hard to pass by and so we enjoyed it for a few brief minutes with minimal light usage before moving off.
I’m hoping this won’t be the last sighting we have of these kittens (it feels odd using the word “kittens” instead of “cubs”), and if the adult pair remain in the area and prosper, we might be seeing quite a few more over the years…