Zikomo Safari's bushcamp sits across the Luangwa River from South Luangwa National Park. The camp offers a breathtaking view of one of the premier wildlife viewing locations in all of Africa. Elephants, hippos, giraffe, miscellaneous antelope species, lions, painted dogs and leopard top the list of magnificent mammals that make their home here in Eastern Zambia.  

South Luangwa is nicknamed the "Valley of the Leopard "and it certainly doesn't go by the nickname for nothing.  It is not uncommon to see a leopard feeding on a kill in a tree, prowling riverine bush or boldly and unapologetically walking by a vehicle on safari.

By and large, these big cats have it made here in South Luangwa. But that is not the case everywhere.   Ecotourists, conservationists and other admirers of the big cat, view leopard sightings and signs of leopard as awesome opportunities to observe the activities or indicators of activities of one of the most wide-ranging carnivores on the planet.

To the pastoralists tending to their herds of livestock, the leopard is viewed as a real and perceived threat to their livelihood. And many leopards are commonly killed in retribution in other parts of Africa. As humans continue to encroach and place stress on undisturbed and protected habitat and permit continued and exponential population growth, we find leopards increasingly implicated in human-wildlife conflict. 

Today leopards are a conservation-sensitive species, found largely in fragmented habitat. This is not to say that they are hard to find, especially here where safeguarding big cats is a priority.  Indeed, African leopards have disappeared from more than 35% of their historic range, but we feel fortunate to live amidst leopards where they are locally common.  

Regardless of your perspective these beautiful, spotted big cats are remarkable creatures. They are incredibly strong, incredibly shrewd and incredibly variable in size, coat color and in the shape of their rosettes.  Leopards are agile, highly adaptable to an array of habitats and prey species, and so cunning and nimble, that they can navigate a human-dominated landscape, and do it entirely undetected.  

But if you think you have seen one leopard, you’ve seen them all—you are mistaken. Leopards exhibit such variability in body size and color across not only the African continent, but across Asia. The wide-ranging Afro-Asian species is diverse in itself. In fact, 10 subspecies were traditionally recognized in Africa alone, but recent genetic studies suggest one subspecies (Panthera pardus pardus) exists on the continent, while as many as 11 subspecies exist worldwide. 

As recent, as the 1950’s as many as 27 leopard species were recognized worldwide, but advances in molecular genetics continue to help us document genetic diversity with greater precision.   To give you some example of diversity, East African leopard populations exhibit rosettes that appear round or circular. But the populations here and elsewhere in southern Africa are known to exhibit rosettes that are square in shape.  Regardless of rosette patterns and coat color, leopards are beautiful and we encourage you to visit us ASAP. Just don’t forget to bring your cameras!

Photo Credit: Victoria Wallace, Zikomo Safari (South Luangwa, Zambia)

Dr. Jordan Schaul is a board member of NWCF and a former contributor to National Geographic's editorial news publication News Watch: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/author/jschaul/

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Rumored to emasculate its prey and sham its own death, the solitary and reclusive honey badger, also known as the "honey ratel”, is one of the most rarely observed carnivores on the African Continent and clearly one of the most interesting. The honey badger, which gained much acclaim in North America from a, perhaps, wacky and sardonic 2011 viral video parody, has been described by National Geographic Channel's Ultimate Animal Countdown, as the most fearless animal in the world.

The famed parody dub of honey badger footage, originally aired by the National Geographic Channel, does showcase the tenacity and ferocity of these infamous scavengers and notorious bee hive invaders. But is it really possible to determine for certain if they are the most fearless animals on Earth? Well, they are certainly at the top of the list.

In fact, according to the website of the World Famous San Diego Zoo, which is one of four zoos in the United States to have recently exhibited honey badgers, “It would be hard to find a more quarrelsome animal than the honey badger. It doesn’t start fights it can’t finish and makes an impressive foe.” And, I should add that honey badgers don’t actually feed on honey, rather they raid bee hives in search of bee larvae. In reference to South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, the scientific name of the honey badger is Mellivora capensis and means “honey eaters of the Cape”.

Yes, pound for pound, the honey badger is often considered one of the toughest carnivorans (mammalian carnivores) on the planet, because they have been known to hold their own against larger predators like lions and African wild dogs (painted dogs). People often consider the honey badger to be very destructive, some times damaging property, including unprotected bee hives and for menacing and killing young livestock. However, nothing in the animal kingdom is more dangerous than humans.   In their defense, honey badgers (AKA ratels) are not commonly observed marauding the bush in search of trouble. They are, in fact, rarely seen.

The ratel is found in low numbers throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa where they occur. A recent census of ratels in South Africa’s Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park indicated honey badgers may occur at densities as low as 0.03 adults per square kilometer.  Sadly, they are persecuted throughout their range, which includes South Africa, Zambia and neighboring southern African countries.  

Unfortunately, these opportunistic carnivorans can become easily habituated to humans if permitted to scavenge on refuse in the proximity of human dwellings. Consequently, honey badgers often succumb to directed control efforts and are also, often, casualties of non-selective control programs for other carnivore species like jackals. 

Indeed, honey badgers are frequently unwelcomed visitors to livestock pens and apiaries. And so it is not uncommon to find honey badgers poisoned or captured in steel-jawed traps.   Dangers to honey badgers are not just the obvious preemptive control programs or tactics used to depopulate nuisance species. To prevent human-wildlife conflict with species like the honey badger, Zikomo Safaris places great emphasis on securing trash and debris at the bush camp, and by protecting apiaries through modern day hive protection techniques."

Dr. Jordan Schaul is a NWCF board member and a former contributor to National Geographic's onlined editorial news publication News Watch: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/author/jschaul/