Carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park


In another article of mine on the Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, I briefly touched upon the huge variety of animals in the park. In this article, Carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park, I would like elaborate on the carnivores of this game reserve. The prey of these carnivores have been discussed in two other articles of mine, viz. Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park I and
Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park II.
In Herbivores of the Pilanesberg National Park III Megaherbivores, I discussed the real big ones, the megaherbivores.

Reptiles and birds will be discussed in other lenses.

Habitats of the Pilanesberg National Park 

The variety of habitats/eco-types of the area, which is necessary the ability to support the wide variety of animal life found in the park, can be explained with reference to the geological history of the area, as well as to another factor, viz. the fact that that this park also exists within the transition zone between the dry Kalahari thornveld and wetter lowveld vegetation. Both these vegetation types are types of the Savannah biome. For more information on these aspects, please consult the article of mine referred to above.
Do you want to skip everything and check out the lodges and booking in that park right now?
The different types of habitats have been discussed in another article of mine on the Pilanesberg National Park, and these will now only be summarised for the purpose of this article.

As will become clear, different animals have adapted to different habitats.

  1. Rocky areas
  2. Lower, plain-like areas
  3. Thickets
  4. "Break-of-slope" thicket
  5. Riverine thicket
  6. "Termitaria"
  7. Dams
  8. Roads

Carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park 

There are 64 different mammal species in the park, of which 24 are carnivores.

The carnivores are sub-divided into 6 cat-like predators, 7 dog-like predators and 11 other small carnivores. These will now be discussed.

Cat-like carnivores 

The cat-like carnivores consist of lion, leopard, cheetah, caracal, serval and wild cat


Among the cat carnivores the 40 (approximately) lions of Pilanesberg reign supreme. The very nature of their hunting habits puts them at open areas and not thickets, where they can hunt down their prey in a combined attack by the pride.
They often make use of man-made roads as well when hunting.

Lionesses give birth in thickets and raise their cubs there until they're big enough to join the pride.

There's an excellent photo gallery on lions at this site.


Leopards are solitary, secretive animals and hunt at night as a rule. They are very intelligent, brave and agile and they are most successful predator of the big cats.
They always hunt alone and from the protection of a thicket, from which they can stalk their prey, kill it and then drag the carcass up a tree where no lion or hyaena can steal it from them.

The crevices and caves in the rocky outcrops of the Pilanesberg provide ideal protection for the leopard, in particular for the female to raise her cubs.

The photo above is an example of the excellent photo gallery on leopards.


Cheetahs, the fastest land-mammal on earth, rely on their huge speed (approximately top speed of 100 km/h) to subdue their prey. For this reason they hunt in open areas. They are slenderly built and simply cannot risk getting involved in a fight, so they relinguish their kill to lions, leopards and hyaenas the moment they are challenged.

Cheetahs are one of the most photographed species. You can check out Photobucket's gallery on cheetahs or go to Flickr.

The caracal 

The caracal is a medium-sized member of the cat family (males 13-18 kilograms, 65 cm. in length with 30 cm tail, females smaller).
It is a solitary, rare animal which hunts mainly at night for rodents, hares and even gazelle.

Check out the excellent
photo gallery on caracals.

The serval and African wild cat 

The serval and the African wild cat:
The serval is slightly bigger than the caracal (85 cm in length, plus 40 cm tail, and the shoulder height is about 53 cm), but looks quite different and has long legs. Its main habitat is the open plains.
For more information on the serval, visit the

African wild cat is the ancestor of the domestic cat, but larger with longer legs.

Dog-like carnivores 

There are 7 dog like carnivores, viz. wild dog, spotted and brown hyaena, black-backed jackal, aardwolf, Cape fox and bat-eared fox.

Wild dog 

Wild dogs are the most endangered carnivores in Africa. They live in packs and hunt in packs as well.
Only the dominant male and female reproduce with litters averaging 10 pups.

There's a number of interesting facts about African wild dog:
a. A wild dog has the highest force of bite measured against animal mass of all extant carnivores. (Wroe, Stephen & McHenry, Colin, 2004).
b. Females will disperse from their birth pack at 14-30 months of age and join other packs that lack sexually mature females.
c. Males typically do not leave the pack they were born to. This is the opposite situation to that in most other social mammals, where a group of related females forms the core of the pack or similar group.
d. In a typical pack, males outnumber females by a factor of two to one.
e. Only the dominant female is usually able to rear pups.
f. The species is also unusual in that other members of the pack including males may be left to guard the pups whilst the mother joins the hunting group.

They are highly efficient hunters, with a success rate of nearly 80% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Wild_Dog).
They hunt co-ordinately in open areas and pursue their prey in a long, open chase. After a successful hunt, hunters regurgitate meat for those that remained at the den during the hunt, such as the dominant female and the pups.

Spotted hyaena 

The spotted hyaena is best known for one of its vocalisations, which resembles the sound of hysterical human laughter.
The forequarters are more heavily built than the hindquarters, giving the hyaena a distinctively sloping appearance.

The spotted hyaena is one the most social species of all carnivores in that it has the largest group sizes and the most complex social behaviour.

The spotted hyaena lives in social group called "clans" that defend group territories. The society is characterised by a strict dominance hierarchy. Females are dominant over males, and even the lowest ranking female is dominant to the highest ranking male. Males disperse from their natal clan when they are at least two years old, thus reproductive males are usually immigrants.

Though often labeled incorrectly as a scavenger, the spotted hyaena is actually a powerful hunter, the majority of its nourishment being derived from live prey.
Hyaenas are built for endurance, being able to trot at 10 km/h without tiring. When the chase is on, they can accelerate to up to 60 km/hour. For this reason spotted hyaenas hunt in open areas, but scavaging occurs wherever a kill has taken place.

Spotted hyaenas can consume up to a third of their own body weight, which is an exceptionally high figure for mammals. They have extremely strong jaws in relation to their body size. They have a very powerful digestive system with highly acidic fluids. This makes them capable of eating and digesting their entire prey, including skin, teeth, horns, bones and even hooves. There are reports of hyenas entering campsites and consuming aluminium pots and pans.

The female spotted hyaena's urogenital system is unique among mammals. Her clitoris is elongated to form a fully erectile phallus, of the same size and shape as the male penis, the vaginal opening being at the tip of this phallus. The female urinates, mates and gives birth through this pseudo-penis.

As all females reproduce and females rear their young together in the communal den, occupied dens may contain up to 30 young of different ages from up to 20 litters. Females usually nurse only their own cubs and reject approaches by other cubs.

Hyaenas are born with their eyes open and teeth already fully developed after a 4 month gestation period. Hyaena cubs are notoriously aggressive and are among the few mammals to kill their own litter mates (neonatal siblicide).

Spotted hyaena milk is very rich, having the highest protein content (14.9%) of any terrestrial carnivore, and the fat content (14.1%) is second only to the polar bear. Consequently, unlike lions and wild dogs, they can leave their cubs for about a week without feeding them.

For more information, visit the website of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Hyaenidae Specialist Group.
Wikipedia is useful as well on the
spotted hyaena.

Brown hyaena 

The brown hyaena is smaller than the spotted hyaena, but with the same long forelegs and well developed forequarters, but weak hindquarters and a sloping back.

Although it occurs in a variety of habitats, it prefers the rocky, mountainous areas with bush cover in thickets in the Pilanesberg national Park.

The brown hyaena is a strictly solitary, predominantly nocturnal forager, covering large distances in its search for food. It is primarily a scavenger of a wide range of vertebrate remains, which is supplemented by wild fruit, insects, birds' eggs and the occasional small animal which is killed. Over much of its range, the brown hyaena lives in association with other carnivorous animals and benefits from many of them by scavenging from their kills.

The brown hyaena is usually dominant over the leopard, cheetah, caracal, and black-backed jackal. Competition for food between the brown hyaena and black-backed jackal can at times be severe, and vultures too can deprive it of food. The spotted hyaena is dominant to the brown hyaena and in certain areas deprives it of a significant amount of food.

Although brown hyaenas are solitary foragers, most of them live in groups which occupy fixed territories.
Although not an endangered animal, their numbers are low.

For more information on the brown hyaena, visit the website of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Specialist Group.

The black-backed jackal 

The black-backed jackal is a slender creature, weighing 5 to 10 kg. Their sides, head and legs are a sandy tan to reddish gold in colour. Their back has a saddle from head to tip of tail that is black and white mixed hairs.

These jackals are real survivers due to their highly adaptable nature. Their relatively small size, mobility, and lack of specialised food and habitat requirements mean that they can adapt to environmental change.
They are the most abundant and widespread of the larger carnivores in sub-Saharan Africa.

They are both scavengers and hunters. As scavengers they will always be around the scene of a kill by bigger predators, waiting for a chance to get their share of the spoils.

As individuals they hunt small mammals, but could even kill small antelopes when hunting in a pack.

Black-backed jackals are active both during the day and night and can expect them anywhere in the Pilanesberg National Park.

They are cunning creatures. Their senses are extremely acute and well-developed, especially their senses of hearing and smell.

The aardwolf 

The aardwolf is a very small and shy animal compared to its bigger and more aggressive relatives, the spotted and brown hyenas and will not be discussed here. For more details on the aardwolf, go to http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/aardwolf.htm

The Cape fox and bat-eared fox will not be discussed here. For more information on these species, please go to http://www.canids.org/index.htm


Other carnivores found in the Pilanesberg National Park 

A variety of 11 other carnivores is also found in Pilanesberg, viz. honey badger, African civet, mongoose (banded, dwarf slender, yellow and Selous'), Cape clawless otter, large-spotted genet, striped polecat and striped weasel. Of these only the honey badger will be discussed.

The honey badger
The Honey badger (Afrikaans: "ratel") is a tenacious small carnivore that has a reputation for being, pound for pound, Africa's most fearless animal despite its small size. It is even listed as the "most fearless animal in the world" in the 2002 Guinness Book of Records.

Honey badgers are jet black except for the gray mantle, separated by a white stripe, extending from the crown to the base of the tail. The colour of the mantle and stripe may vary from one individual to another and often becomes darker with age. The hair is coarse and is longer on the hind legs and tail. Honey badgers are well adapted to their digging lifestyle and have a powerful and stocky build, with no external ears, a broad muscular back, bowlegged front legs and formidable fore claws that may reach 40mm in length. They stand approximately 30cm high. Males may be twice the size of females.

Honey badgers are solitary carnivores with males and females in the Kalahari only meeting up to mate before going their separate ways again. Honey badgers do not form pairs and males play no role in rearing of young. They do not have a fixed den (unless they have a very young cub) but constantly move through their home ranges, often sleeping in a different hole each night, or day depending on the season.

Male badgers have extremely large home ranges relative to their size, roaming over areas in excess of 500 square kilometers and this large area might encompass twelve or more females and overlaps extensively with other males. In contrast, females have smaller home ranges of between 100 to 150 square kilometers.

Honey badgers are generalist carnivores with an extremely wide diet. Honey badgers eat a host of smaller food items like insect larvae, beetles, scorpions, lizards, rodents and birds. They will catch the larger reptiles like, leguaans, small crocodiles and pythons and include the highly venomous adders, cobras and black mamba in their diet. Larger mammals like the springhare, polecat and particularly juvenile foxes, jackals, antelope and wild cats, are also caught.

They locate their prey predominantly by their acute sense of smell and catch most of their prey through digging.

As their name suggests, badgers have always been associated with honey yet it is the highly nutritious bee brood they eat. While bee brood does not form a necessary part of their diet they will go to great lengths to raid honeybee hives in search of bee brood when it is available. Badgers will also dig out the larvae belonging to solitary bee species.

Honey badgers may also pirate food from other carnivores and will scavenge from the kills of larger animals although they are primarily hunters of their own food.

Someone else wrote an interesting article on the South African honey badger, with 3 Youtube videos included. You could go there right here.

Link list on the honey badger ("ratel") 

The honey badger is very popular among nature lovers. Down below you will find a number of websites on the honey badger worth visiting.

Researchers Keith and Colleen Begg

This webpage belongs to researchers Keith and Colleen Begg who have been researching honey badgers in South Africa for many years.

Photo gallery

This links you to an excellent photo gallery on honey badgers.

Family of links on badgers

This webpage shows you a long list of badger links.

Badgers in general

This webpage deals with the badger family in general, among which the honey badger.


In this article I focussed on the carnivores of the Pilanesberg National Park. This not only should give you a good idea what to expect when you go there, but should actually go some way in luring you there. If you do consider this, you could check out
the lodges available in this park.

Don't forget to take your binoculars along! If you don't have a pair, consider buying one before you go. You could consult my article on safari binoculars.

Books available on Amazon on the Pilanesberg National Park 

Books available on Amazon carnivores of Africa

The Pilanesberg: Jewel of Bophuthatswana

by Michael R Brett

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)

Pilanesberg: Official Map and Park Guide

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)

Africa's Big Cats and Other Carnivores

by Nigel Dennis, Paul Funston

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)

Larger Carnivores of the African Savannas

by J. Du P. Bothma, Clive Walker

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)

Predators of Southern Africa: A Guide to the Carnivores

by Hans Grobler, Anthony Hall-Martin, Clive Walker

Amazon Price: (as of 09/22/2008)


Come August each year, everybody in South Africa and many people around the world know that one of the biggest spectacles in Nature is about to happen: The transformation of an arid, desert-like area of about 200,000 sq. kilometres, known as Namaqualand, into an awe-inspiring, dazzling, spectacular mass-display of wild flowers arguably unequalled on the planet.

» Read full article


Thinking about nature reserves in South Africa, the Kruger National Park immediately springs to the mind, but people tend to forget - or simply do not know - that South Africa boasts a number of other world-class reserves, among which the Pilanesberg National Park/Game Reserve, the fourth biggest in South Africa. In this article I would like to show why it would be worth your while to visit this superb national park in Pilanesberg.

» Read full article