Large Carnivores of Namibia

Large Carnivores, in this context, refers to terrestrial carnivorous mammals that weigh more than 15 kg (adult weight). Namibia is one of few regions in the world that support six species of large carnivore. There are three felids (lion, leopard & cheetah), two hyaenas (spotted hyaena & brown hyaena), and one canid (wild dog).

The relationship between these six large carnivore species can be traced in a simplistic evolutionary family tree (below). Amongst the felids, lions and leopards are closely related, belonging to the Panthera genus, whereas cheetahs evolved separately. Hyaenas are related more closely with the cat family, than with the dog family.



Because large carnivores live at low densities, and are often nocturnal and/or secretive in their habits, the easiest way to learn about them is to identify their spoor. With some experience one can "read" their spoor to understand an interpretation of their behaviour. The size, shape, and composition of a spoor is distinctly different between species. (Note that the table below is not to actual scale).




Spotted hyaena

Brown hyaena

Wild dog

With a bit of experience it is possible to distinguish between the left/right & front/back spoor of an animal. Once this skill has been mastered, one can use some basic guidelines to "read" the spoor and understand what the animal was doing. Using the leopard as an example; the sequence of foot-prints, and the distance between them will tell you if the leopard was walking, stalking, trotting, or running at full gallop. (See below)