Cats and their innate memory of water

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Panthera leo

It is often said that cats don’t like water.  Undoubtedly, this has some truth in it, but for cats living in and around the wetlands of northern Botswana these days, coping with water is a reality.

The Okavango Delta in particular is an area that is well-known for sightings of big cats moving through water.  What I find most fascinating though, is seeing the behavior of big cats in a place that once was completely dry, and is now again a wetland.  The return of water to the Savute channel provided us with this opportunity.

Lions from the DumaTau pride in northern Botswana cross the flowing Savute channel - Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

Lions from the DumaTau pride in northern Botswana cross the flowing Savute channel – Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

The Savute channel dried up in the early 1980’s, and the only water around for years was that found in pans and rain-fed pools.

In 2006 it showed some very sporadic signs of revival, with water just beginning to push down into the old grassland covered channel bed, but then a year later the water came back in earnest.  Today the once-dry riverbed is a deep, flowing channel, and a home to catfish, papyrus and hippopotamus.

Lions running in the water of the Savute channel - Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

Lions running in the water of the Savute channel – Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

The local lion pride, known as the DumaTau pride, had their territory neatly bisected by the revived channel.  This provided us with a chance to see just how quickly the big cats are able to adapt to such a change.  One could have expected young lions here to have been very nervous of entering deep water, as they would have had no prior experience of it.

DumaTau Lions playing in deep water - Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

DumaTau lions playing in deep water – Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

Instead, these lions have shown this to not be the case at all.  The photographs here show lions from the DumaTau pride, crossing the Savute channel.  Not only are they clearly not afraid of the water, but they are actually chasing and playing with each other, and appear to be enjoying it.  Instinct never ceases to amaze me!

Male lion crossing water - Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

Male lion crossing water – Copyright © James Weis / Eyes on Africa.

Text by Grant Atkinson
GrantAtkinson.com

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