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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Trainer

Animals don’t always play by the book

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Photo by: Carl Louis Steenkamp

BY: Nico Brits

This blog was written by Nico, one of our trainers. Here, Nico shares his experiences with wild animals in the African safari.

As a field guide, it’s important to have academic knowledge of animals, but it’s equally important to observe and interpret what’s happening with the animals you’re viewing. There are so many facts written about animals in books that contradict what you will sometimes witness out in the field.

As a field guide it's important to be able to interpret animal behaviour, not described in a textbook.

This image was taken pre-COVID-19.

There have been many instances, throughout my career, where animals haven’t demonstrated textbook behaviour, and I’ve been left having to explain what the animals were doing and why I think they were behaving that way.

Every book I’ve read about cheetahs says they’re diurnal animals (active during the day), and mainly hunt in open areas where they can use their speed. But, during my time working in the Eastern Cape, I noticed that the male cheetahs in a specific area started to change their behaviour, and became more nocturnal. They also started to hunt in thicker areas, where they stalked prey like leopards do; and where there were coalitions of cheetahs, they hunted like lions (one cheetah would chase the prey towards the other cheetah).

Cheetahs lounging under a tree.

The first time I had to explain this phenomenon to guests was while we were sitting with two cheetah brothers on a warm afternoon. I could see the animals were hungry, and explained to the guests that we should wait with them for a little while – knowing they’d likely get up before sunset to hunt. I thought the cheetahs might be behaving this way because of a lack of competition from spotted hyenas in that area. Just as I thought, once the sun had set, the two brothers got up and started moving.

When there are changes in animal behaviour, field guides often have to find a reason, because these are things you wouldn’t usually find in books. I think there’s a lot we still don’t know and understand about animals and their behaviour.

Some strange animal behaviour includes lions joining prides they were not born into.

Photo by: Callum Evans

Some of the other strange changes I’ve seen include zebras only roaming around one specific tree, and lions joining prides they weren’t born into.  I imagine there are plenty of unusual behaviours that other field guides have seen but not documented. 

So when you see animals do things that you’ve never heard or read about before, don’t worry. Watch and try to figure out why.

Don’t just read it – find out what wild animals are really like by joining a Bushwise course.

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