Category Archives: Nature

Elephants and Idiots

I don’t know about you, but I think the world is going a bit loopy at the moment.  Perhaps I should check out the phase of the moon because it’s usually the cause of people acting like lunatics.  I don’t often stand on a soap box and moan about the stupidity of some people, but when ignorant folks do things that directly harm animals and nature, then I feel strongly about it.

I blogged recently about lion hunting in South Africa because a lady visitor from America came here and bragged about shooting a magnificent lion for fun.  This week a British couple takes centre stage for their destruction of another of our Big Five animals, this time a beautiful bull elephant in Kruger National Park.  Admittedly they didn’t physically shoot the animal, but they were directly responsible for its death by not showing due respect.

Making at splash

As can be seen in the SkyNews video footage of their encounter with the elephant, the visitors were given a warning by the elephant when it turned to face them with its ears flapping.  This was a clear indication that the animal was not happy and it would be a good idea for them to remove themselves from the situation, which they had every opportunity to do.  They stayed put, however, and waited until seconds before the attack to attempt to move their car.  This only incensed the elephant more and they were shown in a no-nonsense manner what an angry elephant does when it rolled their car a number of times.  Fortunately they weren’t killed, but that can’t be said for the poor elephant as rangers shot it shortly afterwards for its perfectly normal behaviour when feeling threatened or annoyed.

I’m not saying that the elephant was threatened, but they react when humans come too close for comfort and their reaction is normal for an animal in the bush.  How absurd that it has to be shot for ambling innocently through its own bushveld territory to appease the tourist industry and future business for Kruger National Park.  I’m sorry, but this should never have happened.  Perhaps it’s a lesson for the authorities at Kruger to make foreigners watch the video upon entering the Park, or give them a pamphlet to read and sign so that the animals don’t need to be put down when humans do silly things in parks.

And down under we have our second lunatic of the week – an Australian man who jumped into the sea in a budgie cage to look at a great white shark.  The shark, that had been caught by fishermen and was able to swim alongside the boat, was probably in pain and enraged when it saw the human in its environment, and it came in for an attack.  Did the diver expect to be welcomed by the shark and left alone, and did he think that a flimsy budgie cage was any measure against the powerful jaws of a great white shark?

In South Africa people can view great white sharks from a heavily reinforced cage that is lowered into the water, but the sharks that are viewed are not captured and injured first and the people can do this in relative safety.

When are we going to learn to leave animals alone and let them live in peace without being harassed by humans?  Wild animals are just that – wild animals – and that is their beauty.  Why do we have to go into their domains and ruin everything for them and for all the other nature lovers who just want to enjoy God’s creatures in their natural environment?  Come on humans, we are supposed to be the one’s with brains and intelligence!

The Tale of the Tortoise Shell

Christmas is a time of traditions, stories and folklore.  In Africa it is no different, although the folk tales are told throughout the year to many willing listeners.  With acknowledgements to Chinua Achebe, the renowned Nigerian novelist who wrote Things Fall Apart (the most widely read book in modern African literature according to Wikipedia) – let me tell you the tale of how the tortoise got the lovely patterns on its shell.

Leopard tortoise

Tortoise was a cunning fellow, who was known to pull a trick or two on the animals in the district.  When he heard that the birds had been invited to a feast by the sky people, his mouth watered at the thought of the delicious food that would be on offer.  The land had been stricken by drought and Tortoise was so thin that his shriveled body rattled inside its shell.

He used his powers of persuasion to get the birds to allow him to accompany them to the feast.  Of course he didn’t have wings like they did, but they were a friendly lot and each bird kindly donated a feather to Tortoise, which he made into two nice big feathered wings.  As I said, Tortoise was a sly reptile and the birds didn’t really trust him at all, but he assured them that he was a changed man.

They all dressed themselves and then took off together for the feast in the sky.  Tortoise, being widely traveled and knowledgeable, told them that it was important to note that when they were invited to such a great feast, it was customary that they should change their names for the occasion.  This was news to the birds, but they respected Tortoise for his great wisdom.  After the birds had all assumed new names, Tortoise renamed himself  “All of you.”

Leopard tortoise

When the party eventually arrived at its destination in the sky, they were warmly welcomed by their hosts.  Tortoise, in his beautiful feathered plumage, stood up to thank them for their invitation and he was so eloquent and grand that the sky people assumed that he was the king of the birds.  The feast began with pots and pots of delicious food being set before them.  Tortoise could hardly believe his eyes.  The sky people invited the birds to eat.  Tortoise immediately jumped up and asked them who the food had been prepared for.  “For all of you,” the man said.

Tortoise turned to the birds and reminded them that his new name was “All of you” and he said that the custom here was for the spokesperson to eat first and then the other birds would be served after he had eaten.  Tortoise ate and ate and ate and the birds grumbled angrily.  The people of the sky thought it was the bird’s custom to allow their king to eat first.

Leopard tortoise

Tortoise ate his fill and left the birds nothing but bones and meagre pickings.  They were so angry with him that they chose to fly home with empty stomachs.  Before they left, they each took back their feather that they had given to Tortoise.  He stood there in his shell, with his belly bloated from all the food and wine.  He had no wings to fly himself back home again.  He asked the birds to take a message to his wife, but they all refused.  Eventually an angry parrot offered to relay his message.

Leopard tortoise

Tortoise asked parrot to tell his wife to cover the ground around his home with soft things, so that he could jump from the sky and make a soft landing.  Parrot promised, but his message to Tortoise’s wife was the opposite and he told her to put lots of hard things around the home (like hoes. guns and a cannon).  Tortoise could see her working hard, but was too far away to see what she was putting out.  When she was ready, he let himself go and dropped out of the sky.  He fell and fell and at last he crashed into the compound around his home.

His landing caused his shell to shatter into many pieces.  Tortoise survived the fall, but his wife had to call the local medicine man to fix him up again.  The medicine man gathered all the broken pieces of his shell and stuck them together.  We can still see where all the joins are today.

A lovely African tale, don’t you think?  I’m enjoying the book too.

 

Earth – thoughts by Kahlil Gibran

Some random lines about the Earth from the Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran.

I love the writing of Kahlil Gibran. He had such a beautiful way with words and the things he wrote about long ago are even more pertinent today. There are some good lines here to meditate on. Enjoy …

I have ridden your seas, explored your rivers and followed your brooks.
I heard Eternity speak through your ebb and flow and the ages echoing your songs among your hills.
I listened to Life calling to life in your mountain passes and along your slopes.
You are the mouth and lips of Eternity, the strings and fingers of Time, the mystery and solution of Life.

Stunning seascapes

How generous you are, Earth, and how strong is your yearning for your children lost between that which they have attained and that which they could not obtain.
We clamor and you smile, we flit but you stay.
We blaspheme and you consecrate, we defile and you sanctify.

Beautiful mountains and rivers

We pierce your bosom with swords and spears and you dress our wounds with oil and balsam.
We plant your fields with skulls and bones and from them you rear cypress and willow trees.

We bury skulls and bones in the earth

We empty our wastes in your bosom and you fill our threshing floors with wheat sheaves and our wine presses with grapes.

Rusted waste in the desert

We extract your elements to make cannons and bombs, but out of our elements you create lilies and roses.

How patient you are, Earth, and how merciful!

God's jewels

Are you an atom of dust raised by the feet of God when He journeyed from the east to the west of the Universe?

Or a spark projected from the furnace of Eternity?

Sandy vistas

Are you a jewel placed by the God of Time in the palm of the God of Space?
Who are you, Earth, and what are you?
You are “I”, Earth.

Eland – S A’s largest antelope

I blogged a while back about our visit to the Botsalano Game Reserve near Mafikeng in South Africa.  This great little reserve is home to the region’s largest antelope, the Eland, where sizable herds can be seen.  We were very excited to have an opportunity to get relatively close to these magnificent animals as they are normally extremely nervous and don’t let you anywhere near them for a photograph.  We have previously stalked them on a friend’s farm, hoping to get close enough for a photo or two, but they picked us up every time and took off into the bushes before we could say “Jack Robinson”. 

Eland

The dry bushy veld around Mafikeng appears to be the ideal habitat for Eland, although they are quite adaptable and can also be found in mountainous grasslands (we’ve seen them high in the Drakensberg) and in woodlands, where they live on grass and leaves.  They do need plenty of water and will drink regularly when it is available.

Eland

Eland are distinguishable by their straight, twisted horns which grow up to 60cm in length.  Males are sometimes more grey in colour, whilst females tend to be golden brown.  Both sexes have a dark brown ridge of hair running along their backs.  Males have distinctive humps, almost like the Brahman bull, and can weigh up to 700 kgs.  Females are slightly smaller, coming in at about 450 kgs.  They breed throughout the year, with a single calf being born after a nine month gestation period.

Eland

Like Kudu, Eland can jump over high fences or obstacles with ease.  Clearing heights of two meters is no problem for them when they feel threatened.  Their only natural enemy is the lion, but they remain an extremely nervous breed even when faced with non-threatening situations.  In the wild they can live up to twelve years.  Males can be aggressive towards each other and compete in major battles.

Eland

It was wonderful to sit in the hide at Botselano and watch the Eland come down to the waterhole in great numbers.  They certainly are very regal animals and it was such a privilege to spend time observing them.

Eland

Black Wildebeest – The Gnu that’s not the Blue!

Tucked away in a far corner of South Africa, near the bustling town of Mafikeng, is a little game reserve called Botsalano.  Although it isn’t one of the more famous game reserves in the country, it definitely deserves a mention because it is actually full of pleasant surprises.  Not only are the bush campsites there quite magnificent, but we saw an abundance of game that included animals not commonly found elsewhere.

Black wildebeest Botsalano Game Reserve

I wrote a while back about seeing Blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), and at that time we didn’t have any decent photos of the Black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) which is a similar looking gnu, but distinguishable by its white tail, smaller build and horns that curve forwards.  Well, our stay at Botsalano rewarded us with wonderful sightings of these animals and we came away with many pictures to add to our collection.  Black wildebeest are typically only found in small areas in South Africa, so it was a treat to see so many of them in one place.

Black wildebeest Botsalano Game Reserve

The Black wildebeest is not stripy like its Blue relative.  Adults are dark brown, whilst calves are a much lighter colour.  Their white tails make them easy to identify, as do their sloping down backs, which are typical of the gnu’s.   They sound similar too, as they also converse with snorts and grunts that sound like the word “gnu”.

A small herd passing by

The open grassland in Botsalano suits them perfectly and there is sufficient water there for their needs.  Their diet consists mostly of grass and dry bush.   We saw them in typical herds of between five and fifty.  These herds usually consist of males, females and young ones, but sometimes male-only herds are formed as well.  Males are territorial and during the breeding season they can be quite aggressive protecting their females and young.

Black wildebeest near the waterhole

Because they are only found in isolated areas, Black wildebeest don’t typically have any enemies and can expect to live for about twenty years.  Unfortunately once they are sold to farmers or relocated to small reserves out of their natural areas, they can fall prey to the same predators that hunt the Blue wildebeest, namely lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyaenas.

Black wildebeest favour open grassland

 

As tough as …. a Honey badger

I thought I would lighten up a bit after blogging twice about the killing and culling that takes place in nature in Africa.  Time for a change and something different.  We traveled extensively in Botswana in August/September and spent a few days in the Central Kalahari revisiting Passarge Valley for a couple of days.  When we were there last we had fantastic lion sightings and were lucky enough to see lions again on our way into the area.  This blog is not about lions, however, but the fabulous sightings we had of Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis).

Beautiful specimen of a Honey Badger

On our first visit to Passarge Valley, our companions, Jon and Hillary, boasted about all the Honey Badgers they’d seen there on a previous visit.  Unfortunately for us it was the wrong time of the year for them and we came away disappointed because we didn’t see any.  Our timing on this trip was perfect though and we saw literally dozens of Honey Badgers.  We were fortunate to come across this magnificent fellow very early one morning and spent an enjoyable hour or so watching him scratch for food.  It was interesting to see how he rested his head on the ground as his front feet worked furiously at the ground.  It must have helped him maintain his balance and keep a very close eye on whatever he was unearthing.

Digging furiously for a meal

Honey Badgers are normally solitary animals, but they do also forage in groups of two or three.  One is most likely to see them at dusk or shortly after dawn as they are nocturnal and sleep during the daylight hours.  Their coats are quite beautiful – black on the lower half and silver/white on top – it almost looks like a cape draped over the back and head.  They are sturdy and stocky animals and have really powerful claws that are put to good use when digging for spiders, scorpions, ants and the occasional reptile.

Check out those claws

In southern Africa they are also known as Ratels and have the dubious honour of having an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) named after them.  These robust vehicles are designed to withstand landmines and are heavily armoured – implying that they are just as tough as the animal.  Honey Badgers, as their name suggests, love honey and often form alliances with Honeyguides,  little birds also known as Indicator Birds.  They move along together until the Honeyguide finds a bee’s nest, which the tough ratel then rips open and they both enjoy the feast.  We didn’t see any Honeyguides, but this little Ant-eating chat followed our badger around and managed to scrounge some insects from the diggings once the badger moved on.

Honey Badger followed by an Ant-eating Chat

The Honey Badger is impervious to bee stings and because it is quite aggressive it doesn’t have many predators.  The main ones are lions and, funnily enough, pythons!  Females usually give birth to two young ones after a gestation period of about six months.  Honey Badgers can live for over twenty years.

Beautiful specimen of a Honey Badger

If you’re keen to see one (or many) in the wild, be sure to visit the Central Kalahari during August and September.  And do stay in your car as they can be very dangerous.  We saw some foreign tourists, out of the safety of their vehicle,  trying to photograph one about a metre away from where he was foraging.  Not a good idea!!!

Honey Badger - Passarge Valley

 

Dinner time in the park

Africa is not called the ‘Dark Continent’ for nothing.  Life is cheap in Africa and nowhere is that more evident than in a game reserve.  Spend a couple of days driving through any one of our reserves and you will see death at every turn.  It may be a bird eating a lizard or a mouse, a snake eating a bird or something much larger like a cheetah eating a buck.  Death stalks almost every animal and very few are privileged to live without predators.  You’d think that it would mainly be the smaller birds and animals that are at risk, but we found that even the enormous elephant is vulnerable and part of the food chain.  On an early morning game drive in Chobe, Botswana, we came across a fresh carcass of a young elephant that had been attacked by lions during the night.

Breakfast time in Chobe

Elephants aren’t normally killed by lions as there are animals that are much easier for them to prey upon.  However, we saw no less than three elephant carcasses in the space of about three days in Chobe recently, which showed that perhaps there is a new trend happening with the lions there. These kills certainly provide food for many different animals besides the lions.  Apart from the jackals, hyenas and vultures that normally feast on carcasses, we also noticed a Tawny eagle protecting his piece of the action.

Tawny eagle joins the feast

Even a little mongoose came along to see what was in it for him.

Mongoose at elephant carcass

There is seldom a dull moment in Chobe and you have to keep your camera at the ready all the time.  Tawny eagles are well worth keeping an eye on.  We saw this one swoop down and catch a francolin, which it took up into a tree.  Once it started eating, the feathers were literally raining down.

Tawny eagle catches a francolin

The raptors are always hungry.  African fish eagles are ever-present and one can usually find one or two eating a fish.

African fish eagle with a catch

We were surprised to see that even the Yellow-billed kite is not averse to fishing.  This one (not photographed in Chobe, but at Kalizo Lodge) was an excellent fisherman as he perched above our tent every day with a fresh fish.

Yellow-billed kite with a fish

I think he fared better than many of the local anglers at the campsite.

 

Cheetahs – Natural Born Cullers

On our recent visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we were lucky to see six cheetahs – two with kills and four in a group lying in wait for an unsuspecting Springbok to come into their path.  Unfortunately we didn’t actually witness the kills, but must have arrived shortly after the chase had happened on both occasions.  Cheetahs are the fastest of all animals and can reach speeds of up to 100 kph during a chase.  They prefer to hunt alone, but do also hunt in groups, usually for larger prey.

Natural born culler - a cheetah

On the road between Mata Mata and Twee Rivieren we came across a lone cheetah happily feasting on a Springbok.  Along with a number of other spectators we watched fascinated as the cheetah steadily made its way through the meal.

Cheetah with a kill

Occasionally it would stand up, as if to shift the contents of its stomach to make room for more food.

Standing up to make room for more

We left after about half an hour and when we returned much later, we saw that the cheetah had no intention of  leaving much of its prey for the gathering Black-backed jackals.

Making sure there's not much left

The following day we came across these four beautiful cheetahs that seemed to work in a group to hunt their prey.  They were obviously on the look-out for their next meal, but bush telegraph works very well and the small herd of Springbok about half a kilometer up the valley were keeping wary eyes out for them.  We waited patiently for something to happen, but it obviously wasn’t our day to see an actual kill.

Group of four cheetahs

Driving on the road from Twee Rivieren to Nossob we missed a kill by minutes.  This exhausted cheetah was catching its breath after the chase.

Exhausted after the chase

Once rested, it dragged the Springbok to a more secluded spot.  If we had arrived minutes later we would have missed the sighting altogether.  Talk about good timing … well almost …. as we did miss the kill.

Cheetah dragging a dead Springbok

Hey you – get off my mound!

One of the things that we love about game reserves is the interaction between the various animals and birds.  There is always an animal or bird that is intent on eating another one, or encroaching on the others territory.  Animals guard their territories very fiercely and we saw this quite plainly in an interaction between a Southern pale chanting goshawk and a Slender mongoose in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

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We stopped to watch the goshawk that was perched on a termite mound, not realizing that a little drama was about to unfold before our eyes.  With binoculars and camera trained on the bird, we noticed an agitated mongoose run around the base of the termite mound and stand up on its back legs to chase the goshawk off.  The mongoose obviously felt threatened by the goshawk in some way, even though it looked pretty innocuous to us.

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Now we’re not up on ‘mongoose speak’ but the photograph shows the mongoose giving the goshawk a verbal lashing for intruding on its termite mound.  What was said was apparently sufficient to scare the bird off, because it took to the air very quickly.

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Once it had gone, the mongoose took possession of its termite mound and claimed victory after its little turf war.  Mongoose 1 – Southern pale chanting goshawk 0!

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Fascinating to watch as it all unfolded.  We apologise for the poor quality of the photographs, but they were taken quite a distance away from all the action.

 

The African Wild Cat

There’s something special about being in a game reserve and seeing the big cats like lions, leopards and cheetahs and then coming across a little African wild cat.  Wild cats look so much like domestic cats that it’s hard to believe that they aren’t the tame, lovable creatures that rule our hearts and homes.  Although they live side by side with their larger cat family members, Wild cats have to be alert and cunning as they are preyed upon by lions and leopards.  Because they’re nocturnal you don’t see them very often, so when you do, it makes the occasion quite memorable.

African wild cat

We’ve come across these cats a few times in the wild.  They’re usually seen at sundown and disappear very quickly when they see humans.  However, on our last two visits to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we were able to spend some time photographing them.  They are mainly terrestrial, especially when hunting rats, mice, spiders and birds, but you actually need to keep an eye out for them in trees, as our most successful sightings have been during the day when they’ve found a nice spot on a branch to sleep on.  If you’re very lucky, they will lie there warily watching you without running off.  Our biggest problem was not being able to get out of the car to get close enough for a decent photograph.

African wild cat

Wild cats are solitary animals that only get together to mate and a successful copulation results in a pregnancy lasting about two months.  Breeding takes place throughout the year, peaking during the summer months, and litters usually comprise of two to five kittens.

African wild cat

African wild cats (Felis lybica) are greyish in colour with stripes on the legs and tail, and the females are slightly smaller than the males.  They’re found throughout the region.

African wild cat