What are the big 3 cats in Kenya? : The lion, leopard, and cheetah are the three species that immediately spring to mind when one thinks of Kenya safari famous big cats. Samuel Johnson referred to the lion (Panthera leo) as “the fiercest and most sympathetic of the four-footed beasts” in his Dictionary of the English Language (1755). This certainly applies to these amazing cats! And then there’s the leopard (Panthera pardus), a predator renowned for its grace and strength. It is the most elusive and reclusive big cat in the Panthera genus and is also arguably one of the most beautiful.
What are the big 3 cats in Kenya? : The Cheetah
Not to be overlooked is the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Built for speed, this elegant and stunning cat has dark “tear marks” that run from the corners of its eyes down the sides of its nose to its mouth, one of the most noticeable and distinctive characteristics that help people recognise it in the wild.
Among cats during your Kenya safari, the cheetah’s social structure is distinct, with solitary females and outgoing males. Mothers rear their young on their own, imparting a range of survival skills. The mother leaves the cubs at around 18 months, and they form a sibling group that may remain together for up to six months after that. While the male cheetahs frequently stay together for life, the females leave the group by the time they are two years old. Typically, the male cheetahs form small coalitions consisting of four to six other males, some of whom may not be related. Cheetahs have non-retractable, dog-like claws, which gives them a lot of traction when running, unlike lions and leopards. This hinders their ability to climb trees but increases their speed when pursuing their prey.
The long, silver-grey mantle of hair that falls down the necks and backs of cheetah cubs is quite noticeable. The cubs’ ability to blend into the grass and evade predators is believed to be facilitated by the mantle. By mimicking a honey badger, a vicious animal that most predators avoid, the mantle also serves as a mimicry defence. There are many different types of habitats where cheetahs can be found, such as grasslands, open plains, woodlands, savannahs, and arid areas that stretch to the edge of deserts. A balance between cover and visibility is crucial, but the abundance of prey and absence of other large predators largely determine their habitat.
Smaller animals like gazelles, hares, porcupines, impalas, and wildebeest calves make up a cheetah’s diet. Large male coalitions will fight against larger species, like wildebeest.
What are the big 3 cats in Kenya? : African lion
African lions can be found almost anywhere in several National parks during Kenya safari tours including open woodlands, dense shrubs, scrub and grass complexes such as Maasai Mara National Reserve, Amboseli National Park, Nairobi National Park, Lake Nakuru National Park, Samburu National Reserve and even deep into deserts near watercourses. However, they are not typically found in rainforests. Although history indicates that lions once lived in portions of southwest Asia and north Africa, lions are now only found in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that lions’ pupils are round rather than having the vertical slits that domestic cats have. Cats that are hunting small prey and need to be able to focus clearly on small objects will find it useful to have pupils with vertical slits. But since larger cats, like lions, typically pursue larger prey, having slit pupils is unlikely to provide a major advantage. The lion’s improved night vision is also a result of its round pupils, which let in more light.
When there is an abundance of food, lions will force themselves into a food coma; on such days, a male lion will typically eat about 15% of his body weight. From one area to another and even within populations, lions’ coat colours differ. But lions found to live in regions with higher humidity or colder temperatures typically have darker fur. Examples of these types of lions are the black-mane lions of the Kalahari and Namibia’s desert-adapted lions of Namibia. Additionally, white lions exist; however, they are genetic variants with significantly decreased pigmentation rather than true albinos.
The most gregarious member of the cat family, lions can live in prides of up to 25 members. The area and availability of prey determine the pride’s size. 1-4 adult males, multiple adult females (one dominant), multiple sub-adults, and cubs typically make up a pride. Lions are able to swim, but only in dire situations, like when they need to cross a river. Other than that, they will take every precaution to stay out of the water. Lions are opportunistic hunters who prefer larger ungulates like buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, and gemsbok.
What are the big 3 cats in Kenya? : Leopards
Leopards make amazing hunters! They are renowned for their extraordinary strength and agility, which allow them to climb trees while dragging kills that are occasionally heavier than their body weight. They are also quite fast, with a top speed of 58 km/h.
Look for the size difference to identify a male leopard from a female. In comparison to females, males are typically substantially bigger, stockier, and have larger heads and paws. Leopards living in the captivity can weigh up to 90 kg for males and 60 kg for females. The male Cape leopard weighs approximately 35 kg, while the females weigh around 20 kg. The Cape leopard is not a distinct species or subspecies. On Kenya safari, you will see leopards in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Hell’s Gate National Park, Samburu National Reserve, Tsavo East National Park , Tsavo West National Park and several conservancies.
Leopard mothers conceal their young cubs in their lairs to protect them. Lairs can be found in many different places, such as dense thickets at the bottom of deep galleys, old aardvark holes carved in the side of termite mounds, and outcrops of granite boulders. Since lions and hyenas are dangerous animals for cubs, these hiding spots provide a haven for the young while their mother is away. To reduce the likelihood of being discovered by other predators, the mother rearranges the lair every few days. Leopards are the most common big cat in Africa, despite being portrayed as the least common species. They inhabit a wide range of environments, including high mountains, equatorial forests, desert regions, and coastal areas. A few are also visible in the periphery of major cities like Nairobi, Harare, and Pretoria. Although they mate all year round, there is a noticeable increase in sexual activity during the rainy season.
How can you distinguish between a jaguar, cheetah, and leopard? Examine the areas. Leopards have solid black spots on their legs, heads, and sides, and rosette spots on their bodies. Unlike cheetahs, it also lacks black facial stripes. Leopards do not have smaller spots inside the polygonal rosettes like jaguars do.
Research indicates that cheetahs adapt their behaviour to deal with large kills in response to lion and hyena threats. Cheetahs cannot defend themselves against larger predators like lions and hyenas, nor do they have the strength to haul their prey up trees like leopards do. Because of this, they have evolved specific hunting and feeding strategies, and studies indicate that they typically hunt during times when larger predators are absent or less active.