Life can be tougher for large carnivores than it may at first appear. Africa’s big cats are equipped with dangerous claws, long, sharp teeth, and powerful muscular limbs to enable them to kill their prey. On the other hand prey animals come with their own defensive armory.
Warthogs have sharp, penetrating tusks in their lower jaws. Zebra have sharp hooves, a powerful kick and can bite hard. Buffalo are legendary self-defenders, and have horns and bulk in lethal combination. Porcupines have sharp quills that they jab into the flesh of an attacker.
Lioness with a large belly wound.
On a recent safari I was reminded of just how well some prey animals can defend themselves by observing the injuries that were apparent on some of the big cats that we saw.
At Savuti Camp in Botswanas Linyanti region, a lone lioness was sporting a big, ugly wound on her belly. Although the wound was clean and in the process of healing, it must have caused her some very serious discomfort. My colleagues from the camp had seen the lioness in an uninjured state one day, following a small herd of buffalo. Next morning she had the injury, so it seems safe to assume that she ended up getting a buffalo horn in her side. Fortunately she seemed to be recovering well at the time that I took the accompanying image, and not causing her any trouble.
Leopard with a shoulder wound, perhaps inflicted by a warthog.
A territorial male leopard busy patrolling his territory along the Linyanti River near DumaTau Camp had a deep gash on his left shoulder. You can just see it in the image above. This particular male is well-known by the guides in the area for his habit of hunting warthogs and it was quite possible that his injury could have come from one of those feisty pigs. This was a month back, but as of the time of this writing the wound is almost completely healed.
Lioness with a porcupine quill in her cheek.
Still in the Linyanti region of Botswana, I saw a lioness with a full belly, and a porcupine quill stuck in her cheek. With some luck, this quill might fall out, but it could also remain embedded in her flesh and cause serious infection.
Fortunately the big cats have strong immune systems, and they heal fast, so in most cases they will heal themselves from their wounds.
Text and images by Grant Atkinson