The Mammals of Southern Africa – #1

Mammals are the second most attractive group to travelers – well, maybe the first – I favor birds but most people want to see cats and hyenas, and antelope and elephants. Birds are everywhere and they are quite stunning in many cases. In other cases they are rather utilitarian, but still cool.

Okay, back to the mammals. There are several groups that fall out neatly: predator and prey, carnivore and herbivore and some of the obvious groupings. But there are also primates, bats, antelope, and some furry oddities. I will do a few pages on the mammals without developing distinct categories – if I can help myself avoid the biologists tendency toward classification.

Lions are, at the same time, the most satisfying African mammals and the most disappointing. In the great majority of sightings the pride (or coalition) are doing nothing but lying around sleeping. Lions sleep a lot. The pride consists of the adult females and their young. A pride can be made up of any number of individuals, but rarely exceed fifteen to twenty. The leaders of the group are females; sisters or cousins that were raised in the same pride. They can maintain control of their territory for several years if they remain healthy and learn to work together. 
The pride will hunt, kill, eat, and sleep. Most of the time the hunting is in the early darkness or at dawn. In some cases they hunt in the day time. The females are capable of hunting on their own without any help from the males. A group of females can be mated at about the same time and then have their litters at about the same time. This is the best way for a new cadre of females to arise; sisters and cousins from healthy females of the same pride.
Young males will stay with the pride for about two years. The males, brothers or cousins, go off as a pair or small group and try to find a territory where they can dominate, thus become the mating male(s) to a pride of females. In many cases they challenge existing males; sometime defeating them and taking of a territory with females and other times being beaten and hurt. The injuries in these confrontations often result in the displacement and eventual death of the losers.
Males develop into animals that are much thicker and heavier than the females. They can weigh 50% more than a female; though the males are usually around 400 pounds and the females just under 300 pounds. In most cases the males patrol the territory hanging out with the females and youngsters only when they hunt big animals or when a female is ready to be mated. Often they are apart for days and days at a time. A pride, with associated males, can bring down prey items as large as the African (Cape) Buffalo. The larger the pride the more likely the animals are to hunt large game. Where they are common, zebra and wildebeest are a significant prey item. 
As much fun as being a lion may be – being a youngster often means boredom.
Young lions are in danger of being killed by roaming males or males that challenge and take over a territory. The new males will want to eliminate the youngsters so the females will mate with them and they will have youngsters with a genetic tie to the new males. 
Leopards are less common, though very widespread, and more difficult to locate. They are strong cats and can carry prey weighing almost their own weight into a tree. They do this to keep prey from being taken away by opportunistic lions and hyenas. Most leopards are solitary with females and young the only dependable association. Though ranges of individuals will often overlap they remain solitary. Most youngsters are independent before they are two years old but are allowed to remain in the mothers range as they develop hunting skills. They are rather catholic feeders; eating from about 30 different species, where lions rarely exceed ten species. Leopards eat birds, small mammals, and insects in addition to the mainstay of small antelope and the young of larger antelope.

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