Lions are the most sociable of the big cats, living in prides that vary in size from a few individuals to more than 30 and in Botswana this extreme is noticeable as the habitats are so different, from the dry reaches of the Kalahari to the floodplains of the Okavango Delta.
By Leigh Kemp
Lions of Northern Botswana - a study in inter-species differences
In northern Botswana the Lions display a wide range of habitat preference and prey choice. Habitats in northern Botswana range from the wetlands of the Okavango Delta to the arid semi desert areas of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Savuti - and Lions successfully inhabit all these regions.
Do Lions Like Water?
Central to Northern Botswana is the Okavango Delta
, a unique wilderness area made up of permanent channels, seasonal floodplains and islands. The seasons of the delta are intriguing in that the water is at its highest in the dry season and at its lowest at the start of the rainy season.
This is due to the fact that the delta receives most its water from the highlands of Angola, 1700 km away. The water can take up to six months to reach the seasonal floodplains - long after the last rains have fallen in the delta.
The Lions of the Okavango Delta destroy the theory that Lions do not like water. When the delta flood is at its peak the dry land area of the home ranges of the Lions is limited to islands and in order to hunt they have to cross water between the islands. They do this readily. The Lions of the Okavango Delta are generally stronger
in the forequarters than other Lions as they spend a great deal of time on the floodplains.
Extremes in Lion Behaviour
There are prides within 100 km of each other that display extremes in behavior, and in particular when it comes to feeding and drinking
. The Lions of the drier central Kalahari regions can go without drinking water for months at a time - they get their moisture from the food they eat - and their home ranges are far greater than other parts as the prey is widely spread. The prides are generally smaller in the drier areas and the prey species are smaller.
In the northern-most parts of Botswana there are Lion prides within a fifty kilometer radius of each other that have specialized in killing very different prey species to each other. There is a pride in Linyanti that has taken to killing Hippo - not a popular prey species in other parts of Africa - and just west of this are three prides that prey almost solely on Buffalo
. South-east of these two areas is the Savuti Marsh where the pride has specialized in killing adult Elephant. Why these specializations came to be is uncertain.
It was in the Savute that the Elephant killing was first recorded
. The pride began by taking down young Elephants that they managed to separate from the herd before progressing on to sub-adults. In time they began to hunt and kill adult Elephants. At the height of their prowess the lions were killing more than thirty Elephants a year but there has been a downturn in the numbers of Elephants killed in recent years due to the pride splitting up.
The Savute area has a fascinating geological history, in that the channel dries up and flows for indeterminate periods of time - and this has an effect on the Elephant- hunting of the Lion pride in the region. It was during a dry spell that the pride was at its 32 member peak, and killing Elephants regularly, but with the area now wet with the flowing channel the pride has split up and the Elephant killing has all but stopped.
While most Lion prides in Botswana will hunt Buffalo, there are two prides in the Duba Plains area of the Okavango that prey solely on the big Buffalo herds
of the region. These delta prides have adapted to using the water in their hunting techniques.