Facts about Predators in Southern Africa
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
This sleek and beautiful cat is the fastest land mammal on the planet, reaching speeds of up to 112km/h – but these are speeds the cheetahs can only maintain for a short distance.
One way to always recognise a cheetah is by the long, black lines which run from the inside of each eye to the mouth. These are usually called “tear lines” and scientists believe they help protect the cheetah’s eyes from the harsh sun and help them to see long distances. Cheetahs are the only big cat that cannot roar. They can purr though and usually purr most loudly when they are grooming or sitting near other cheetahs.
African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)
Their scientific name, Lycaon pictus, literally means painted wolf, referencing their mottled fur with black, brown, yellow and white colourings. Every dog’s coat has a unique pattern making individuals easy to spot. They have an extremely powerful bite with specialised molars for shearing meat and breaking bone and have exceptionally keen senses of sight, smell and particularly hearing.
The social structure of a wild dog pack is a fascinating, almost altruistic system. Like other pack animals there is a strict hierarchy, with an alpha breeding pair in charge of the group and the rest of the pack members are all subordinates.
Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula)
These incredible creatures are the smallest carnivores in Africa, with a diet ranging from beetle larvae and termites all the way up to scorpions, snakes and rodents.
They are often found living in old termite mounds where the temperatures remain pretty constant all year round, making for a comfortable home with central heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Besides the Hornbill, the dwarf mongoose has a relationship with another bird, the Fork-tailed Drongo. This unique relationship is called kleptoparasitism, (parasitism by theft). The Drongo is able to perfectly mimic the alarm calls of the mongoose.
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
Hyenas are more than the carrion-eating villains of The Lion King. Though you may not ever fall in love with these cunning animals, it’s hard not to respect them. Female spotted hyenas are more muscular and more aggressive than their male counterparts. This is because the females have three times as much testosterone in their bodies. As a result, spotted hyena societies are matriarchal. Even baby girl cubs rule over the boys.
In women-dominated spotted hyena clans, adult males are the lowest of the low. When the male hyena reaches sexual maturity at the age of two, he leaves home and goes to find a new group.
The Caracal (Felis Caracal)
The name Caracal is derived from a Turkish word “karakulak” meaning “black ear.” The Caracal was once trained for bird hunting in Iran and India. They were put into arenas containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made as to how many the cat would take down. This is the origination of the expression “to put a cat amongst the pigeons.” The Caracal is capable of leaping into the air and knocking down 10-12 birds at one time!
It is a skilled hunter and is literally able to “snatch” a bird out of the air. It has a powerful build and a leapord-like bark. Excellent tree climbers, caracal will drag take their prey into a tree to be eaten. The most distinctive caracal characteristics are the long tufts of black hair on the tips of the ears.
Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)
The black-backed jackal gets its name from the saddle of long, dark hair on its back. They are monogamous (mono meaning one ans gamous meaning marriage). A male and female pair of life. They share the duties of defending a territory, the male dealing with male offenders and the female with female offenders.
Serval (Leptailurus serval)
Servals are small wild cats that have thin bodies, short tails, big ears, long necks and long legs. Compared to the size of its body, the serval has the longest legs of any kind of cat. Because of its long legs and neck, it is sometimes called the ‘giraffe cat’.
The biggest servals weigh about 40 pounds, which is around the same as a small bulldog. Their fur is usually light tan with black spots and white tummies, and sometimes a few stripes on their back, though servals with all black fur are common, too.