15 February 2013

Zambia's Unique Wildlife Heritage

ZAMBIA has an incredible wildlife asset, a natural heritage with many unique species of wild game.

The superb wild animals are found in pristine wilderness. This ensures that the finest safaris are available. Some of the finest wildlife includes;

Leopard

The most secretive and elusive of the large carnivores, the leopard is also the shrewdest.

Pound for pound, it is the strongest climber of the large cats and capable of killing prey larger than itself.

The leopard is a solitary animal, hunting usually at night, and spending much of the day hiding in thickets or in the fork of a tree.

They prey on small antelope, rodents, baboons, monkeys and birds, being quick and efficient hunters.

The power of their claws, leg muscles and neck muscles is astonishing. They will usually haul their kill, often weighing more than themselves, up into a tree to keep it from scavengers.

Leopards continually move about their home ranges, seldom staying in an area for more than two or three days at a time. With marking and calling, they usually know one another's whereabouts. A male will accompany a female in estrus for a week or so before they part and return to solitude.

Dense bush in rocky surroundings and riverine forest are their favorite habitats, but leopards adapt to many places in both warm and cold climates. Their adaptability, in fact, has helped them survive the loss of habitat to increasing human settlement. Leopards are primarily nocturnal, usually resting during the

Lion

Most cat species live a fundamentally solitary existence, but the lion is an exception. It has developed a social system based on teamwork and a division of labor within the pride, and an extended but closed family unit centered around a group of related females.

The average pride consists of about 15 individuals, including five to 10 females with their young and two or three territorial males that are usually brothers or pride mates.

Lion are plentiful in the bigger national parks but will often tend to stay in the remote parts for long periods at a time.

They are the only cats moving in family groups and normally occupy a well defined territory.

In the southern part of South Luangwa the territories are quite small and the numbers in the groups quite large, some over twenty. Typically, two or more dominant males protect the territory against intruders. Several lionesses may produce

Cheetah

Cheetah are present in the larger national parks but very scarce and not often seen. Kafue National Park offers the best opportunities They usually move in small family groups and occasionally alone, They favour open country and light woodland. They prey on small or medium antelope such as oribi, puku and impala.

The cheetah is built for speed. It has long, slim, muscular legs, a small, rounded head set on a long neck, a flexible spine, a deep chest, nonretractable claws, special pads on its feet for traction and a long, tail for balance. Although fast, the cheetah cannot run at full speed for long distances because it may overheat.

The cheetah is the fastest animal on four legs, capable of reaching speeds of over 97 kilometres/ hour (60 miles).

To cope with the physical demands of sprinting, the cheetah has longer back legs to give greater stride and weight has been lost at the expense of muscular strength.

Small cheetah cubs can fall prey to hunting lions and mothers often have difficulty defending their slow moving offspring.

Although known as an animal of the open plains that relies on speed to catch its prey, research has shown that the cheetah depends on cover to stalk prey.

The cheetah gets as close to the prey as possible, then in a burst of speed tries to outrun its quarry.

Once the cheetah closes in, it knocks the prey to the ground with its paw and suffocates the animal with a bite to the neck.

Spotted hyena

The hyena is common in Luangwa and Kafue national parks. They feed on carrion but are also hunters in their own right.

Bones left over at a kill are cracked open with their powerful jaws and consumed. Because of the high calcium content in these bones, hyena droppings are white, like chalk.

Spotted hyenas are organised into territorial clans of related individuals that defend their home ranges against intruding clans.

The centre of clan activity is the den, where the cubs are raised and individuals meet. The den is usually situated on high ground in the central part of the territory.

Its above-ground entrances are connected to a series of underground tunnels.

They live in holes in the ground where they breed, having one or two in a litter, the young looking like cute little brown puppies.

Their gestation period is three and half months and they can live up to forty years. Their drawn out laugh-like call can often be heard from the camps at night.

They usually move at night but can be seen in the day.

Wild dog

This species is considered endangered in Africa, despite having large litters of up to a dozen.

They are probably killed as they move into inhabited areas, but anthrax has also been responsible for their decline in numbers.

Packs of wild dogs wander continuously never staying long in one place.

The wild dog has undergone a dramatic recent decline in population to the stage that few countries now support viable populations.

Wild dogs are still moderately abundant in southern and eastern Africa.

Living in groups of 10 - 20 they are very efficient hunters using the open plains or savannahs and depend on their excellent eyesight and stamina to run down their prey.

They usually take the smaller antelope but packs have been known to take animals as large as the kudu or waterbuck.

Elephant

An elephant's social life is organised around a family unit, which consists of an adult female and her offspring and two or more closely related females and their offspring.

Bulls leave the family unit at puberty when they are about 16 years old and join bachelor groups or move about alone.

The best guide for determining sex is to look at their head profiles; males have a rounded head and females a squarer head.

At birth, an elephant calf weighs 118 kilogrammes (260 pounds) and is able to walk under its mothers belly for the first year.

Elephants spend 16-18 hours a day grazing and browsing, from ground level to 18 feet or more into trees, when standing on their hind legs and stretching out their long trunks.

They also use their trunks to squirt water into their mouths at seven litres a sip! In a full drinking session elephants take up to 50 litres of water.

Hippo

Hippos are plentiful in Zambia's many waterways and often groups of over 60 can be seen in one spot, especially along the Luangwa River where the official count is 48 per kilometre of river.

They are vegetarian animals, feeding mainly at night and returning to lounge in the water before sunrise. They pluck grass with their wide lips but are also known to eat the fruit and flowers of the sausage tree.

They consume up to 60 kilogrammes of grass every night.

A calf is suckled on land and then in the water and begins to graze at four to six months. It reaches maturity at four years and has a life span of about forty years.

Buffalo

These cattle-like ungulates have massive low sweeping horns and move in small to very large herds, often over 400 strong, especially in the Kafueand South Luangwa National Parks.

There smaller bachelor herds of four to five.

Occasionally solitary ones known as 'kakuli' live alone and do not associate with the larger breeding herds.

During the dry season they are the preferred prey of lion. They can sometimes be seen wallowing in mud pools which is essentially a cleansing technique that rids them of skin parasites and provides them with a caked mud barrier against further insect attacks.

If attacked, the adults in the herd form a circle around the young and face outward.

By lowering their heads and presenting a solid barrier of sharp horns, it is difficult for predators to seize a calf.

This effective group defense even allows blind and crippled members of the herd to survive. Thus predators do not have a major impact on buffalo herds; it is the old, solitary-living males that are most likely to be taken by lions.

Giraffe

The tallest animal in the world with long neck, long legs and long sloping back. They are gregarious mammals and move in herds of up to 20.

Ancient cultures in Africa revered the giraffe, as some modern cultures do today, and commonly depicted it in prehistoric rock and cave paintings. Unknown outside of Africa, this animal so excited man's curiosity that it was sometimes sent as a diplomatic gift to other countries; one of the earliest records tells of a giraffe going from "Melinda" (presumably Malindi) in Kenya to China in 1415.

The giraffe (as well as its short-necked relative the okapi from Central African forests) has a distinctive walking gait, moving both legs on one side forward at the same time.

At a gallop, however, the gait changes, and the giraffe simultaneously swings the hind legs ahead of and outside the front legs, reaching speeds of 35 miles an hour.

Its heavy head moves forward with each powerful stride, then swings back to stay balanced.

They browse on a great variety of trees using their prehensile upper lip and long tongue to grasp the vegetation. Their average height is over four and a half meters and they often weigh over 1200 kilogrammes.

They breed at any time but usually at the end of the rains having a gestation period of 15 months and only one offspring per birth.

Zebra

A relative of the horse family (Equidae)the zebra is a gregarious animal moving in herds of 20 to 100 or more.

They often move with wildebeest and occasionally hartebeest or roan. This rather casual symbiosis with other species allows them to pool their defensive alertness and they usually have differing food preferences so grazing is not too competitive.

Their gestation period is 12 months and in the wild have a lifespan of about 20 years.

Interestingly, the stripes of a zebra are unique on each animal, like fingerprints. Burchell's zebra, the subspecies found in Luangwa Valley has evenly spaced dark and light stripes as compared to those found in the south and east of Africa having broad light stripes with faint shadow stripes between the thin dark lines.

Zebras have shiny coats that dissipate over 70 per cent of incoming heat, and some scientists believe the stripes help the animals withstand intense solar radiation.

The black and white stripes are a form of camouflage called disruptive coloration that breaks up the outline of the body.

Although the pattern is visible during daytime, at dawn or in the evening when their predators are most active, zebras look indistinct and may confuse predators by distorting true distance.

Warthog

Common in the bigger Parks and usually seen in family groups or pairs.

They feed on roots and grasses throughout the day and can often be seen on their front knees digging with the snout (not the tusks) to get at the roots of grasses and sedges.

They farrow from June to October and having litters of about five - five. Males have large upper warts just below their eyes.

Warthogs live in holes in the ground where the young stay until they're big enough to walk with their parents in the open.

Males weigh 20 to 50 pounds more than females, but both are distinguished by disproportionately large heads and the warts-thick protective-pads that appear on both sides of the head.

Two large pairs of warts occur below the eyes, and between the eyes and the tusks, and a very small pair is found near the jaw (usually just in males).

Sparse bristles cover the warthog's body, although longer bristles form a mane from the top of the head down the spine to the middle of the back.

The skin is gray or black (or yellowish or reddish, if the warthog has been wallowing in mud).

The long tail ends with a tuft of bristles. The warthog characteristically carries its tail upright when it runs, the tuft waving like a tiny flag.

As the young run in single file, the tail position may serve as a signal to keep them all together. Warthogs trot with a springy gait but they are known to run surprisingly fast.

Antelopes include, duiker,eland,grysbuck,impala,Klipspringer,Kudu,Hartebeest,Lechwe,Oribiand Puku.

Others are, reedbuck,roan,sable,steenbuck,sitatunga,tsessebe, waterbuck and wildebeest

The country also boasts of reptiles and rodents which tourist would not regret coming to Zambia.

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