The makings of a predator 

Pamushana | March 2020

Predators come in many shapes and sizes, but what are the visible physical adaptations of the large carnivorous hunters that we see at Singita Pamushana? Some of the large predators in my area of operation are lions, leopards, cheetahs, spotted hyenas and wild dogs.

I’ve given this some consideration and come up with the following answers:

They are adapted and often highly specialised for hunting with acute senses of vision, hearing and smell.

  • Their eyes face forward in their skull and they have binocular vision which allows them to see and judge depth. This depth perception is paramount to track and pursue prey. Prey animals often have less acute all-round vision.
  • They have dish-shaped ears to maximise the sounds captured, their ears are positioned on top of their heads so that they can move them in different configurations to pinpoint sound better, and even some of the hairs and fur in and around the ears are specialised for increasing sound capture and muffling distracting noise like wind.
  • Their sense of smell is also very good but the wind plays a very important role as it can be on their side, or the preys’.

They have sharp claws, jaws and teeth to grip, kill and eat their prey.

They need the element of surprise to hunt, so have perfected the art of stalking and stealth. Padded paws keep their steps quiet. Whiskers help identify objects that could cause a noise if the predator touched them. Their coats camouflage well.  If the element of surprise is disturbed they often retreat and resume when they can.

 

Image 1: Lions and wild dogs have a high success when hunting as a pride/pack depending on what they are targeting. For lions to kill a Cape buffalo requires strategy and co-operation. Hyenas often hunt together too.

Image 2: Leopards are solitary and can sustain themselves with small meals like dassies and even birds.

Image 3: Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal but that alone is not enough – they need to use their long tails as rudders to help them turn at full speed.

Image 4: Hyenas are often looked upon as scavengers but they are excellent hunters too, and are especially good at targeting the sick, injured and newly born.

Image 5: Wild dogs are very efficient and successful predators with a high success rate. When one or a few of them make a kill they call to the rest of the pack to come and join them, and the prey is torn apart and swallowed in chunks within minutes rather than hours.

Photographs by Jenny Hishin.