If you’ve been on a recent visit to one of our national game reserves – like Kruger National Park, you’ve no doubt been treated to some sightings of little cubs and pups. Seems like baby season is in full swing for predators!
What is rather interesting is how much the family structures, hierarchies and rearing of their young differs quite considerably from one predator species to another.
Leopard cubs are extremely rare to spot in the wild and it’s a rare privilege if you do. Although leopards are the most plentiful of wild cats, they’re secretive and more active at night. They’re also experts at hiding away and camouflage.
Leopards are solitary and only meet up for mating; giving birth to litters of two to three cubs which are secreted in deep bush until they’re about four months old and ready to join their mother on a hunt. They’re weaned at around three months and successful hunters by six months (usually small animals like rodents). Mother leopards will keep their cubs with them until they are adept hunters, usually by 18 months.
Lionesses leave the pride and find a secret hideaway to give birth and care for the cubs for the first four to ten weeks before slowly reintroducing her young into the pride. Litters are generally two or three strong.
Lion cubs are born blind and helpless, with spotted markings that fade as they mature. Eyes open after a few days and they begin to walk at around 14 days. Lionesses in the same pride will suckle each other’s young without bias. Cubs wean at around six months and start their carnivorous diets by three months or so. Female cubs remain in the family pride for life whereas the young males leave or are chased away from the group at two or three years of age, often forming male groups for better survival and to hopefully take over their own pride one day. When this happens, the males usually kill any existing cubs to make way for their own future generations.
Wild dogs have an alpha breeding pair that does the reproducing for the pack which helps to keep the family at optimum numbers.
Females den underground in abandoned burrows and suckle their young for the first two weeks. All members of the pack, male and female, help to rear the pups; regurgitating their food after a successful hunt to ensure the little ones get fed and grow strong.
Unlike with lions, it is the females that will leave the pack upon adulthood to seek out new packs where there’s a shortage of breeding females.
Cheetah mothers give birth to between one and six cubs after a gestation of three months. These cubs are also born blind and helpless and are often killed by lions. Mothers frequently move them from hiding place to hiding place to try and keep them safe from other predators too.
Cheetah cubs are born with fluffy, dark fur. They are weaned at three months and start eating meat at around six weeks, becoming successful hunters by six months. Female cheetahs are generally solitary, keeping their cubs only until about 18 months. Male cheetah often form coalitions of brothers in groups of three or four.
Hyena packs are led by a dominant matriarch. In the hyena kingdom, females are alpha members and males are markedly smaller and second-class citizens, with their status even lower than the pups.
Hyenas have litters of up to four cubs, also in underground dens. Unlike many of the other predators, hyena pups can see at birth and have fully-formed teeth. They suckle for their first six to nine months and are only weaned at around 14 months.
It is often thought that hyena live off the scraps of others but they are successful hunters in their own right, making approximately 50% of their own kills in Kruger National Park and as much as 80% in areas like Chobe National Park.
Predator cub interaction
Please take note: many of the lion and other predator cub petting zoos and facilities have been linked to canned lion hunting. That cute cub you are picking up and stroking today may well be destined for a very unfair and undignified end as soon as it becomes a profitable adult. Rather view them in the wild, where they should be, with a tour operator like Wild Wings Safaris.