Draft conservation Education Manual For the guides of Murchison Falls Conservation Area

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Males posture with head upright and legs placed back (sometimes while defecating) to indicate readiness to mate, to attract females, and to discourage other males from approaching (Kingdon, p. 430)

“Challenge Ritual” – One male defecates while a second “incisor-grooms” his flank (displacement grooming). (Estes, p. 135)
Activity Patterns:

Have not been extensively studied. In Congo, one herd was observed resting an average of 4 hours, 25 minutes per day spread out over 2-3 resting sessions between 8 a.m. and 4:30 pm. Sleep happened a few minutes at a time, characterized by the chin resting on the ground. Male spends little time laying down, instead advertising his presence by standing on a termite mound (Beh, p.140)


Up to 19 years (Kingdon, p. 430)


Lion, leopard, wild dogs (Walker, p. 180)

Conservation/Commercial value:

Meat is apparently very tasty, and the animal is easy to hunt. Also challenged by competition from livestock. Currently not endangered, but one subspecies has become extinct and several others are at low levels (Kingdon, p. 431)

Hippopotamus amphibius (Hippopotamus)
General Description/Adaptations:

They look generally like a giant pig that lives in the water. It is estimated that their evolutionary line branched from the pigs about 40 million years ago. Four large, blunt toes on each foot. Naked skin that is perforated by mucus glands. The pervious skin makes them subject to dehydration, so they can not stray far from water, especially during the day. The mucus secretion acts as antiseptic, suntan-lotion, water-loss sealant and perfume. (Kingdon, p. 324-325)

. Oversized canines above and below used exclusively for combat (they are almost completely herbivorous, so the canines play the role of horns in antelopes). The skull has adapted so that the lower mandible takes the brunt of impact in battle and transfers the force directly to the shoulders and neck. (Kingdon, p. 324)

Eyes and nostrils have migrated to the top of the head due to their aquatic lifestyle. (Kingdon, p. 325)

Has a non-ruminating, 3-chambered stomach. (Walker, p. 140)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 325)

Head and body length: 280 – 350 cm

Tail length: 35 – 50 cm

Shoulder height: 130 – 165 cm

Weight: Female 510 – 2,500 kg; Male 650 – 3,200 kg

They spend days in water and nights grazing on land. Spending days in water has many benefits – protection, buoyancy for reduced energy expenditure, and protection from the sun. (Kingdon, p. 324)

Upper altitude limit is about 2,000 meters. (Kingdon, p. 325)

Large groups favor slow-moving water or lakes with shallow, sloping shorelines. Individuals or small groups may spend days in small wallows or quick-moving rivers (Kingdon, p. 325 and personal observation)


Originally, hippos were found throughout Africa and much of Asia (esp. India), with up to 8 species living in Africa alone. At least three species have been eliminated during historical times from Madagascar. Now restricted to waterways in southern Africa. (Kingdon, p. 324)


Creeping and tussock grasses, especially Cynodon and Panicum species. Also favor Brachiara, Themeda, Chloris and Setaria. Can ingest up to 60kg per night by grabbing clumps of grass and tearing it out by swinging its head. Seldom spends more than 5 hours out of the water feeding each night. (Kingdon, p. 325)

Grassy lawns that have been kept short through continual grazing are preferred to longer, coarser grasses. (Estes, p. 223)

Gestation period of 6 – 8 months, after which usually only one young is born. (Estes, p. 222)

Young have adapted the ability to suckle under water by wrapping their tongues around the nipple. (Kingdon, p. 324)

Breeding is not strictly seasonal, but most mating happens during the dry season and most births during the wet season. Females conceive the first time around 9 years of age and calve at 2-year intervals. Pregnant mothers isolate themselves prior to calving and will avoid the herd for up to 2 weeks. Young are sometimes born underwater. They begin grazing a little by 1 month, a lot by 5 months, and are weaned around 8 months. (Estes, p. 225)

Social Organization/Behaviors:

Hippos can remain under water for up to six minutes. In a bluff charge, they will lunge above the water line. In a real attack, they remain below the surface. (Walker, p. 140)

Very gregarious when in the water – will spend time in groups of over 100. Solitary while foraging at night unless female with dependent offspring. (Estes, p. 223)

Will be far more condensed during the dry season around sources of permanent water. During rainy season will be much more dispersed in temporary wallows and smaller water sources. (Estes, p. 223)

Mature bulls (20 years and older) will control sections of a river or lakeshore as exclusive mating territory. They have been known to hold territories for up to 8 years, but in areas with high competition, turnover may happen every few months. Dominant bulls will tolerate other males as long as they show submission and do not try to mate. They deal with rivals fiercely. Lone hippos may be either outcasts or territorial bulls without herds. (Estes, p. 223)

Bonds between mothers and daughters are persistent and may last until the subadult stage, meaning that a mother may have up to 4 daughters with her at any given time. (Estes, p. 223)

Hippos in water surface generally every minute and a half, although they can stay submerged much longer. They will even sleep under water and emerge involuntarily to breath. They can walk easily underwater, and even on land, where they are much clumsier, they can reach speeds of 30 kph. (Estes, p. 224)

Bulls will sometimes kill calves, and mothers may attack bulls who threaten a nursery herd. (Estes, p. 225)

Young males begin practice-sparring by the time they are 7 years old. Actual fights often result in deep gashes to the loser, but skin 6 cm thick keeps real damage to a minimum. Crushing bites to head, neck and legs are the most serious, and not uncommonly result in death. (Estes, p. 225)

Scent-marking is very important. When they defecate, they wag their tails like a propeller to spread the feces. (Kingdon, p. 324)

There is little sexual dimorphism, inconspicuous coloration and appendages, and no facial expressions. This limits communication to auditory, olfactory and possibly tactile. They are extremely vocal in the water [personal observation], but mostly silent on land (Kingdon, p. 224)

Territorial bulls, when they encounter each other, will turn around and dung-shower each other with their tails. I have found no indication of how they determine the winner of the encounter. Perhaps it is simply to give an intruder the chance to compare the odor to that found in dung piles placed around the territory. (Estes, p. 224)

Threat displays: yawning, with or without water scooping, head shaking, rearing, lunging, roaring, grunting, chasing, explosive exhalation, dung-showering.

Submissive displays: face aggressor with mouth open or turning around, lying prone or fleeing. (Estes, p. 225)

Activity Patterns:

Daytime is spent in water resting and digesting. Late evening into night time is spent foraging, with a maximum distance traveled of 10 km (usually more like 5 km). (Estes, p. 224)


35 – 50 years. (Estes, p. 222)


Look for huge tracks, pathways leading from water, closely cropped lawns and accumulation of dung. (Kingdon, p. 325)

Dung looks much like the dung of an elephant that has been feeding on grass. When defecation happens in the water, it is eaten by fish. (Walker, p. 141)

Trails are surprisingly narrow for such a wide animal – about 20 cm wide. (Walker, p. 141 and personal observation)


Humans are the primary predators. No other natural predators except occasional crocodile taking young. Calves may be trampled by adults hippos, especially bulls. (Estes, p. 223)

Conservation/Commercial value:

Over 200 hippos recently died from Anthrax in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Although the death-rate has slowed in hippos, it has spread to the buffalo population.

Huge potential for domestication due to their efficiency in turning vegetation into protein. (Kingdon, p. 324) Unfortunately, they are extremely ornery.
Mellivora capensis (Honey Badger, a.k.a. Ratel)
General Description/Adaptations:

Similar to the north American badger. Short, stocky, wide body. Long foreclaws. Large head with powerful jaws. Small external ears that close when digging or raiding beehives. Mostly black with some gray and white striping and mantle from head to tail. Young are rusty-brown. (Safari Companion, p. 360)

Neck, shoulders and fore-arms are very powerful for digging. Has one of the largest brains of any carnivore, relative to its size. (Kingdon, p. 232)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 232)

Head and body length: 60 – 77 cm

Tail length: 16 – 30 cm

Weight: 7 – 16 kg


Although uncommon, it lives in most habitats from very dry to very wet, and sea-level to 1,700 meters. (Safari Companion, p. 361)

Most often found in open woodland, but also found in forest, waterless steppe, high mountain moorlands and coastal scrub. (Kingdon, p. 232)

Most of Sub-Saharan Africa, except for desert and lowland rainforest. Also found in Asia. (Safari Companion, p. 361)

Home Range:

Will cover up to 35 km per night while foraging. (Safari Companion, p. 361)


Omnivore. Eats invertebrates and vertebrates, insects to young mammals, carrion, berries and fruits. Particularly favors ants, termites and bees. (Safari Companion, p. 361)

Will dig for dung-beetle larvae, scorpions, spiders, estivating frogs, tortoises, turtles, lungfish, rodents, termites, snakes, lizards, mongooses, etc. Their skin is rumored to be impervious to penetration, and they will even catch deadly snakes. (Safari Companion, p. 361)

One was observed to kill and eat a 3-meter python. Another was seen to follow a mamba into an aardvark hole and drag it out to eat. (Estes, p. 435)


Gestation 6-7 months, the longest of any tropical mustelid. 1-4 young born in a leaf- or grass-lined nest. (Safari Companion, p. 362)

Males have “quite exceptionally large” testes for their size, indicating high sperm production. The social implications of this are unknown. (Kingdon, p. 232)
Social Organization/Behavior:

Explores every nook and cranny while hunting or foraging (significant for tracking). Particularly known for its relationship to the honey-guide bird. Ratels will follow the bird to a beehive, dig it out, and then the two animals share the bounty. (Safari Companion, p. 362)

There is a rumor that ratels “fumigate” beehives with their anal glands before excavating. This has not been substantiated, but it is not unlikely. (Safari Companion, p. 362)

They have large, overlapping ranges. Mostly forage singly or in pairs, but have been seen in congregations of up to 12 where resources are abundant. (Kingdon, p. 232)

It has webbed feet and can swim very well. Also is very playful, rolling down hills like an otter. (Estes, p. 435)

Has excellent hearing. Will blow into a termite or ant mound and listen for resulting activity. Also known to dig up to 25 cm in hard soil to eat baboon spiders. (Estes, p. 435)


Will communicate with a honey-guide with grunting and growling or a “slight sibilant hissing and chuckling”. This appears to encourage the honey-guide. (Estes, p. 435)

Pairs of ratels will grunt loudly to each other. Cubs give plaintive whines and hiccupping distress calls. The honey-badger has not been studies enough for a full cataloguing of their communication. (Estes, p. 437)
Activity Patterns:

Will be either diurnal or nocturnal depending on conditions. Rests in burrows, caves or human-made beehives (Safari Companion, p. 361)

The honey-guide is strictly diurnal, so to take advantage of this relationship, it must be diurnal at times. (Estes, p. 434)

Can live up to 26 years in captivity. Lifespan in the wild is unknown. (Safari Companion, p. 362)


While foraging, ratels will tear bark off trees and overturn rocks. (Safari Companion, p. 361)

Feces are compact and doglike. (Walker, p. 58)

Look for hollowed-out dung-beetle balls. (Walker, p. 59)

Will cache excess food and honeycombs. (Kingdon, p. 232)

Holes dug by ratel are often confused with those dug by aardvarks. (Estes, p. 434)


Adults have no known enemies. They are very fierce, and their skin is so loose that if a hyena or leopard grabs it, the ratel can still turn around and bite the attacker. They are known to go for the genitals of attackers and prey, another strong deterrent. (Safari Companion, p. 362)

Conservation/Commercial value:

Numbers are decreasing throughout their range. The reason is unknown, although it may be a result of susceptibility to cat and dog diseases. Also being exterminated by bee-keepers and livestock-raisers. (Kingdon, p. 233)

Panthera pardus (Leopard)
General Description:

Unmistakable, distinctive large cat. Most similar other species is the new world Jaguar. Spots on back and upper limbs are multi-colored rosettes, but spots on face and lower limbs are solid black. The Rwenzori population tends to be quite dark (Kingdon, p. 282)

Size: (Walker, p. 96)

Height at shoulder: 70 cm

Weight: 60 – 80 kg

Length: 104cm – 190cm (small female to large male) tail can be an additional 110cm


Broken terrain with thick vegetation to provide stalking cover. They are not found in vast grasslands or other arid areas that do not provide trees or other cover (Kingdon, p. 283)

Remains of one leopard was found in the ice on Kilimanjaro at 5,692 meters! (Estes, p. 366)

Most of Africa, except where it has been exterminated in North Africa and South Africa. (Kingdon, p. 283)


Overall ranges can vary from 9-63 sq. km., but home core areas are much smaller. May cover 25-75km in a night. (Kingdon, p. 283)


Rodents, birds, arthropods, small to medium-large mammals. Will eat almost anything that is easily taken near cover. Individuals occasionally specialize in a “favorite” food. They can take down large antelopes, but rarely kill anything larger than themselves. Can eat up to 17kg of meat at one time. (Kingdon, p. 283)

Insects, domestic stock, fish, reptiles, birds, dassies, dogs, etc. (Walker, p. 96)

Will drink when water is available, but are not dependent. (Walker, p. 96)

In Serengeti, main foods were impala, Thomson’s gazelle, reedbuck and the young of topi, hartebeest, wildebeest and zebra. (Estes, p. 366)

Gestation is 90 – 112 days, with up to 6 young born in a cave or thicket where they remain hidden for 6 weeks. Eyes open at 1 week, suckle for 3 months, independent before 2 years when they become sexually mature. (Kindon, p. 283)

Estrus last 7 days and occurs at 46-day intervals until conception (Estes, p. 368)

Mother will spend up to 36 hours away from young, but will stay within 2km of their hiding spot, which she moves frequently. (Estes, p. 369)

Social Organization and behavior:

Home ranges may overlap. Except when breeding, they are solitary, and females raise young alone. Territorial in core ranges. (Estes, p. 367)

Expert climbers. Can be very dangerous is wounded or disturbed. There may be larger numbers than the current estimate, as they are very secretive. (Walker, p. 96)

Kill prey by biting through the throat and nape of the neck. Large kills are dragged into the fork of a tree to prevent scavengers from getting it. They disembowel the kill first, then feed on the chest, thighs or around the anus. They satisfy most of their moisture requirements through the blood of their kills. (Walker, p. 96)

Bond between mother and offspring is enduring and she will continue to share kills until they are fully self-sufficient. This may explain overlapping female ranges. (Estes, p. 367)

Classic “stalk and ambush” predator, trying to pounce before the prey can react, unlike lions which will chase prey. They will rarely pursue if the pounce is unsuccessful, although they can run up to 60 km/h. (Estes, p. 367)

“Of the 7 large African carnivores, the leopard only outranks the cheetah. Not only the lion but all three hyenas outweigh a leopard and wild dogs, though smaller, operate in packs.” (Estes, p. 368) A solitary hyena can take the kill of a leopard.


Rasping in- and exhalations around sunset (sawing) – generally 13 – 16 strokes in a twelve second period. Scent marking and scratching on trees.

Activity Patterns:

Inactive for most of the day and part of the night, generally lounging on tree limb. Seldom rest in the same place two nights in a row. (Estes, p. 367)

Almost never hunt during the day. In one study in the Serengeti, 61 out of 64 daylight attempts were unsuccessful. (Estes, p. 367)

Potentially over 20 years. (Kingdon, p. 283)


Will often spray, defecate or scratch at trail intersections. (Kingdon, p. 283)

Scats tapered at one end, turns white in the sun, contains much fur. (Walker, p. 96)

Overall gait is 95-100 cm (Walker, p. 96)

Claws are retractable. Track is round, compact with a light tread (Walker, p. 98)

Conservation/Commercial value:

Despite international protections, their coats are still very valuable on the black market. They are also killed to prevent them preying on livestock. The Rwenzori subspecies is endangered. (Kingdon, p. 283)

Pantera leo (Lion)
General Description:

The “king of the beasts”, the largest of the big cats. Range in color from tawny to gray. In past, now extinct forms, the males’ manes extended over the shoulders and hung from the belly. (Kingdon, p. 284)

Size: (Kindon, p. 284)

Head and body length: 158 – 192 cm female, 172 – 250 cm male

Tail length: 60 – 100 cm.

Shoulder height: 100 – 128 cm

Weight: 122 – 182 kg female, 150 – 260 kg male
Mane just visible in 2-year old males. Body coloration changes to adult coloration at 3 months. (Estes, p. 369)

Mostly associated with preserved savannah ecosystems.


At one time extended throughout Africa, and also through the Middle East to Arabia, Persia and India. Now limited to national parks and reserves in Africa as well as the Gir Forest in India. (Kingdon, p.284)

Home Range:

In good habitat may be as small as 20 sq. km. In poor habitat as large as 400 sq. km. (Estes, p. 371)


Most prey are mammals weighing between 50 – 300 kg. When these aren’t available, prey ranging from 15 – 1,000 kg may be taken, the smaller by individual lions and the larger by groups. Most of their diet comes from about 10 species, as opposed to 20 or 30 for leopards. (Kingdon, p. 284)

Can go for long stretches without water – have been recorded eating melons and cucumbers for moisture in the dry Kalahari. (Walker, p. 94)

Will scavenge rather than hunt when possible, although a single lion can bring down prey twice its size, esp. zebra and wildebeest. Males tackle larger prey more readily than females. (Estes, p. 370)


Females often come into estrus simultaneously which means there will be many cubs of the same age in a pride. Females will suckle each others’ cubs, although weak cubs will be left on their own. (Kingdon, p. 286)

Gestation about 100 days, with 2-6 young born in a thicket or amongst rocks. Eyes open in 3-11 days, mobile at 1 month, accompany adults by 2 months, weaned by 8 months and independent by 18 months, fully mature by 5 years. (Kingdon, p. 286)

Cubs usually produced at intervals of at least 2 years, and estrus does not begin until 1 ½ years after previous birth, unless they lose a litter, in which case they will enter estrus within a couple of days or weeks. This is important since males are rarely in charge for more than two years, they need to get an early start on reproducing. (Estes, p. 371)

Females may breed starting at 4 years. (Estes, p. 376)

Social Organization/Behavior:

Prides typically contain five (2-20) adult females, two (1-8) adult males and their young and subadult offspring. Often spend time alone or with one or two others, but entire pride will come together for a kill or bouts of roaring. Reunions are marked with rubbing, leaning, purring, licking and other signs of appeasement by subordinates. Female to female bonds are persistent and they will fend off intruding females. Males rarely stay with a pride for more than 3-4 years. Nomadic groups frequently challenge dominant male and are also the most frequent threats to livestock. (Kingdon, p. 285)

Good swimmers and jumpers. (Walker, p. 93)

Prides may have up to 40 individuals, but it is rare for all to come together. They will congregate in groups of 3-5, and any two females may only spend 25 – 50% of the time together. (Estes, p. 370)

Adult females in a territory are generally all related, and will fight off intruders unless the number of females is below the carrying capacity of the territory. If that is the case, some subadult immigrants may be allowed in. If the capacity is filled, young females must leave at 2-years of age. (Estes, p. 370)

Males are at their prime between 5 and 9 years old, and almost never maintain dominance in a pride for more than 2 years, 4 at the absolute most. (Estes, p. 371)

After taking over a pride, males will usually kill the offspring of the previous alpha if they can catch them. (Estes, p. 371)

“Lion strut” = a tiptoeing gate directed at both females and subordinate males. (Kingdon, p. 286)

If humans come upon a lion, males will “bluff charge”. Females with cubs may mean it. Any wounded lions can be aggressive. When about to charge, a lion will lash its tail up and down, flatten its ears and roar. It runs slowly, then faster, crouched with head held low and tail erect and stiff. If you run, you will almost surely be attacked. (Walker, p. 92)

Roaring is done by both males and females for communicating with each other and to demarcate territory. They are silent when hunting and will usually only roar at night after a successful kill. They often call at dawn to relocate pride members. (Walker, p. 93)

Roar can be heard up to 8 km away. Males start roaring at 2 years, females soon after. (Estes, p. 374)

Activity Patterns:

Active day and night, although most hunting is done at night. (Walker, p. 94)

Lions spend 20 – 21 hours per day resting. Best times to observe activity are late afternoon, early and late at night, and early hours of daylight. (Estes, p. 372)

Unlikely for males to live beyond 9 or 10 years. Begin to lose mane hair and body size after 8 years. (Estes, p. 371)

Conservation/Commercial value:

Their presence is an indicator of a self-sustaining community of grazers, as lion prides are dependent on large, open areas with plentiful meat. As wild grazers have been eliminated in favor of domestic herds, lions have been eliminated from most of Africa and will soon only be found in national parks. (Kingdon, p. 285)

One threat to their survival is humans stealing their kills. (Walker, p. 93)

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