Tag Archives: Acacia erioloba

Camel Thorn Trees – Stalwarts of the Desert

I have to confess that I am known to hug beautiful trees.  Not wanting to appear loopy, I usually first have a good look around to make sure that no-one is watching me!  Namibia, having such a sparse population and vast areas of wide open spaces, as well as many beautiful Camel Thorn trees (Acacia erioloba), has been the perfect place to indulge this little fetish of mine.  These wonderful trees are part of this African landscape and can be found throughout the drier parts of southern Africa.

The beautiful Camel Thorn tree

The hardy Camel Thorn (Kameeldoring as it is known in Afrikaans – and which actually translates to Giraffe Thorn) is an acacia, easily recognized by its amazingly gnarled bark, small leaves and the little grey velvety comma-shaped seed pods that it produces.  It also sports rather nasty thorns, typical of the acacia family.  When in bloom, small round yellow flowers adorn the trees.

Apparently I’m not the only one who loves them.  It must be the tree most favoured by animals and birds, not only for its food, but the deep shade that it offers in intensely hot areas like the game reserves.  Cattle, camels and small herbivores also enjoy eating the seed pods that drop onto the ground below.

Small herbivores enjoy the pods

The tree gets its name from giraffes that like to feed on the succulent leaves.  Their leathery tongues and lips pay no heed to the thorns as they feast on the foliage on the uppermost branches.

Giraffes don't mind the thorns

There’s no telling what you will see in a Camel Thorn tree.  We’ve been lucky enough to see it decorated by birds of every description, raptors with snakes, enormous communal socialable weavers nests, and even a leopard …

A comfortable bed for a leopard

and a beautiful Caracul having a comfortable snooze!

Where else should a caracul sleep?

The most famous Camel Thorn trees in Namibia have to be the ones found at Dead Vlei, the dry white pan surrounded by magnificent red dunes in the Sossusvlei area.  These dead trees, purported to be hundreds of years old, are a photographers delight and are featured in just about every book on Namibia.

Dead Vlei - Sossusvlei area

In Namibia most campsites are situated under Camel Thorns trees and as an added bonus, their wood is excellent for braais (barbeques).  No wonder I love them so much.  Oh, and by the way, please don’t let on about my secret fetish!

Cape cobra raiding a Sociable weavers nest

The huge nests of the Sociable weaver (Philetairus socius) are quite common throughout the drier woodland and savanna of Namibia, clinging to trees and pylons like so many haystacks.  Any literature on these colonially nesting little birds is likely to mention that the nests are frequently raided by predators such as honey badgers and snakes, and the Cape cobra (Naja nivea) will often get a particular mention.

For this reason we usually look quite carefully at these magnificent structures while out in the veld, and quite recently while driving along a relatively deserted gravel road in the Kalahari, our persistence was rewarded when we saw a golden loop suspended from the underside of a medium sized nest.  A Cape cobra, its head buried in one nesting chamber and its tail in another.

Cape cobra at sociable weaver nest

We positioned ourselves below the nest, which was about three metres above the ground in a large Camel thorn tree (Acacia erioloba) and waited.  Many of the Sociable weavers flitted to-and-fro, arriving at the nest with insects tightly clasped in their bills and perching nearby, uttering rather sad little chirps as they looked on.  Watching the body of the snake we could clearly see bulges moving down its length as it swallowed the young birds that it found in the nest.  (As the adult birds were bringing food to the nest, we assumed that these were young birds being devoured rather than eggs.)

Cape cobra at sociable weaver nest

After a few minutes the snake withdrew its head and upper body from the nesting chamber in which it had been feeding, presumably having exhausted the food supply there, and moved quite cautiously to an adjacent chamber.  As it was on the underside of the nest, it kept itself firmly anchored in one of the chambers with its lower body as it moved, its head and upper-body suspended below the nest without support.

Cape cobra at sociable weaver nest

We were surprised that the little weavers made no attempt to mob the snake and although they were clearly agitated by its presence, they kept their distance and looked on.  It was quite sad to see the birds returning with food for the chicks, that had themselves become food during the interim – for the cobra.  The nest was obviously home to many young birds, and some of the adults entered chambers quite close to those being visited by the cobra, to feed chicks that had survived thus far.  We wondered how long it would be before the cobra made its way to those chambers….

Sociable weaver at nest

After we had been watching the snake for the best part of an hour, during much of which very little of its body was visible, it withdrew completely into one of the chambers and didn’t emerge for the next ten minutes.  Perhaps it was sated for the moment and had withdrawn to rest.

Cape cobra at sociable weaver nest_0

We realized that many of the nests that we had seen over the years were probably being raided by snakes even as we looked on, because the presence of snakes is really quite difficult to see unless you happen to be passing just when they are moving from one chamber to the other.  While they are busy feeding or resting, they are, to the casual observer, practically invisible.  As so often happens with events in the bushveld, it is all a matter of timing!  And the moral of the story – be careful about putting your hands in nests.

Cape cobra at sociable weaver nest