Sighting Wild Cats on South African Safari Tours
Posted: Jan 16, 2014
South African safari tours can encompass a diverse array of bird and mammal life, as well as the region’s stunning landscapes and colourful flora. But for some wildlife enthusiasts, one type of animal is a special priority: South Africa’s wild and beautiful cats. Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Caracal, Serval and African Wild Cat are all spectacular animals and a sighting of any of them can be the highlight of African safari tours. Under the guidance of an expert South African naturalist on a dedicated safari, it is possible to see all of these cats.
The Spectacular Cats
The majestic Lion, the swift Cheetah and the beautiful Leopard are well-known species that all wildlife enthusiasts, whether dedicated or casual, will picture when they think of African safari tours. Maned Lions lolling in the sun, Lionesses hunting, a Cheetah chasing down an Antelope across the savannah, or a Leopard lounging in a tree with its most recent catch are all iconic scenes of safari in southern and central Africa. The Caracal, Serval and African Wild Cat are lesser-known species, but no less remarkable.
The Caracal is a medium-sized cat with particularly distinctive ears backed in black fur, with tufts that exceed half of the ear’s length. Most of the cat’s colouring is a sandy colour, paler on its underside. It is an especially handsome cat and seeing one is a special moment. Typically, the Caracal is solitary, although pairs have been observed by those on African safari tours. The young stay with their mother for up to a year.
The Serval is a medium-sized cat with a distinctive black spotted pattern on its tawny fur and the longest legs relative to body size of any cat. White markings on the backs of its ears are used to signal kittens when hunting. It is a typically solitary, nocturnal cat, and like the Caracal its young remain with their mother for up to a year.
The African Wild Cat looks very like a domestic cat, but as with all wild cats its "wildness" is not to be forgotten. Its colouring is a light sandy grey with reddish or yellow hues, with a stripe along the top of the back, stripes on the face, tail and limbs. The cats inhabit a range of habitats and are active mainly at night and dusk. Kittens remain with their mother for up to six months.
Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Game Reserve, two of the finest reserves visited on South African safari tours, provide numerous opportunities to see these cats. The renowned Kruger National Park is home to all six of the cats discussed above, as well as numerous other high-profile animals. Additionally, tours to the national park can visit the Blyde River Canyon on the way. Sabi Sand Game Reserve is especially famous for Leopards, but other cats are frequently observed here too. Night drives allow glimpses of the nocturnal cats.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you’re looking for African safari tours, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to polar expeditions and tours to other spectacular regions on Earth.
Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.