CAT MEMORIES

Last weekend we had a lockdown picnic at home amongst the bluebells where we tried to identify British bird songs and I’m embarrassed to say, I clearly know my African bird calls far better than those at home! The cat came with us, enjoying a walk of over a mile, and crouched motionless a few yards away. She sat patiently for almost half an hour before catching her own picnic food. Poor little mouse.

 

The Waiting Game

What’s the longest time you’ve waited in Africa for cat action, eyes pressed to binoculars or finger poised to release the shutter? Isn’t that half the fun – wondering what the outcome will be? I lose count of unsuccessful stalks over the years, but can vividly recall the dik dik in Samburu over a decade ago that somehow escaped the clutches of a leopard that had crawled to within just a few yards. Earlier this year a topi in the Mara was alerted in the nick of time to a pincer movement from two experienced lionesses in the long grass. Mixed emotions when the hunt is a success, particularly if you’ve been (un)fortunate enough to witness inept cheetah youngsters being inducted into the art of killing. Fascinating, but not for everyone.

Walking With Cats

What’s the longest time you’ve waited in Africa for cat action, eyes pressed to binoculars or finger poised to release the shutter? Isn’t that half the fun – wondering what the outcome will be? I lose count of unsuccessful stalks over the years, but can vividly recall the dik dik in Samburu over a decade ago that somehow escaped the clutches of a leopard that had crawled to within just a few yards. Earlier this year a topi in the Mara was alerted in the nick of time to a pincer movement from two experienced lionesses in the long grass. Mixed emotions when the hunt is a success, particularly if you’ve been (un)fortunate enough to witness inept cheetah youngsters being inducted into the art of killing. Fascinating, but not for everyone.

 

Zimbabwe Cat Encounters

I love the heightened anticipation of walking when you know lions are in the vicinity. The tracks get fresher and your guide more focused. He tests the wind direction and you observe other animals for signs. A brief glimpse of a tail disappearing into the bush is a typical and very satisfying outcome. A few times I’ve been able to sit and watch a lion that was unaware or our presence and once we were even privileged to lie down on the edge of a pride: they were exceptionally well-fed and relaxed, just don’t make eye contact was the advice!

Observing big cats in the wild, you see many behaviours that are closely aligned with our domestic pets. Lions rubbing heads together after an absence. Flicking the tail in anger at being disturbed. On our first ever lion encounter on foot we were warned to stand our ground if the lion charged. Like a cat with a ball of string, any sudden movement could prompt a pounce. On another occasion I confess we took a large step backwards when a mating pair of lions charged out of a ditch just twenty yards ahead of us in thick bush. The guide faced them down: “did you capture that on camera?” Safe to say we had other priorities, so no pictures!

Birthday Leopards

It took an unbelievable ten years of travelling on safari before I saw my first leopard! We were mostly walking in Zimbabwe bush, so although we frequently heard them and saw tracks, they were visually elusive. How times have changed. I can recall a couple of recent safaris (to the Sabi Sand and Limpopo) where my leopard count has been in double figures! But seeing is not everything. A leopard calling is just as magical. On my birthday in Kuyenda, a Bushcamp Company camp in Luangwa Valley, I heard a pair calling all night long as they circled the camp at close range. The best birthday present ever. At Chamilandu the chalets are raised on stilts and a leopard called from directly under my bed. The paw prints were there in the morning to confirm it!

 

Horse Riding With Cats

It pays to be particularly careful with cats when you’re sitting astride something they might regard as lunch. In practice it’s rarely a problem during the day, and there are some prides becoming habituated to horses in the same way that they have with vehicles over the years. Give them space and they will mostly ignore you, but best not to forget who’s really the boss!

 

Test Your Knowledge
As some of us have a little more time on our hands at the moment, why not test your knowledge and see how much you really did listen to your guides on safari! TAKE THE QUIZ. You may also like to register for The Bushcamp Company’s True or False emails which will work those grey cells due to the particularly devilish questions. SIGN UP HERE

 

Photo credits: Letaka Safaris & Offbeat Safaris