Cats and the memory of water

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.

Lions wading through water

The Okavango Delta in particular is an area that is well-known for sightings of big cats moving through water. What I found most fascinating though, was seeing the behavior of big cats in a place that once was completely dry, and is now a wetland again. The return of water to the Savuti channel provided us with this opportunity. The Savuti 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, and then a year later the water came back in earnest. Today the dry riverbed is a deep, flowing channel, and a home to catfish, papyrus and hippopotamus.

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 can adapt. 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.

Instead, these lions have shown this to not be the case at all. The photograph here is of two young lions from the Dumatau pride, caught in action midway across the Savuti channel. Not only are they 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!

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About Grant Atkinson

Growing up on South Africa’s pristine and picturesque Wild Coast fuelled Grant Atkinson ’s interest in nature and photography , skills he hones daily as a field guide for Wilderness Safaris in northern Botswana. Having travelled widely across southern Africa as well as to some of the world’s top wild places (the Galápagos Islands and Alaska among them), Grant’s exquisite images and profound observations are a fitting showcase for the best of Botswana’s wildlife.

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