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Hungry, Hungry What?

Why it’s a hungry, hungry river horse of course. Doesn’t sound right? Ah, well perhaps hungry, hungry hippo sounds a little more familiar. We call this third largest mammal a hippopotamus (which comes from the Ancient Greek for river horse), and you will find him in or by the water. He can walk under water on the river bed and sleeps in or beside the water.

The cow gives birth in shallow water (the calves are able to swim before they can walk), and hides her baby in the reeds. After a few days, they both rejoin the rest of the herd.

Have you ever heard the myth that the hippopotamus sweats blood? If you look closely at their pictures you may see some of the oily red substance they secrete that was the root of that myth. This substance acts as a moisturizer and sunblock all in one. And under the African sun, we need both!

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We were lucky enough to watch these fellows basking in the African sun, but we did it safely from a blind. You don’t want to get too close to these guys. They are the most dangerous mammal in Africa and responsible for the most human fatalities in the wild.

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The increase in attacks on humans is primarily attributed to people’s arrogance and disrespect while in the wild. I wouldn’t dream of disrespecting this animal who is capable of chomping a wooden canoe in half. How can a puny human weighing a couple hundred pounds have the audacity to mess with a three-ton animal with a mouth like this? 

Hippo

Google Image

So if you’re ever cruising along a river in Mpumalanga or Limpopo and you’re lucky enough to see these eyes, get your pictures, but do it from a safe distance. If you’re doing that kind of touring, you probably have a zoom lens. Use it!

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This will be my last article on the animals of South Africa–for now–unless someone asks for a particular animal we may have seen in our visits there.  I’d love to hear your comments or opinions on this series, and I look forward to starting a whole new series on an entirely different topic next week.

 

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Where Antelope Roam

Let’s look at just a few more of the many antelope that roam in South Africa.

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The Impala is one of the most slender and graceful of the antelopes. The female, as you can see in the first picture, does not have horns. The ram, standing tall in the second picture has the recognizable lyre-shaped horns. 

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Because of the arch-like structure of their horns, they can interlock and throw their opponents.

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But their greatest defense against their predators is their speed and amazing ability to leap up to nine feet and cover distances of thirty yards. Here is a link to the image of such a leap.

And then there is the klipspringer–Afrikaans for ‘rock jumper’. The reddish-brown coloring of this small antelope is excellent camouflage for the rocky area which it inhabits. They only stand up to two feet tall and only the males have short horns. Without the zoom lens of the camera, I could barely see these two. I think they’re little beauties.

Clipspringers

The final antelope I’ll share is the magnificent sable.

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Both the male and female of this large black and white antelope species have horns. When attacked by their predators–even lions–the sable will confront them with these scimitar-shaped horns. They often kill the big cats.  This powerful animal is a real beauty.

We’ve been privileged to see these and so many more antelope on our visits to South Africa. Let me know if there are any other species you’d like to see or learn more about.

I’m looking forward to sharing lots of pictures and information on one hungry, hungry animal next time. Guess what it is.

BlondeSig-gkb

 

 

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What is a Kudu?

The Greater Kudu is one of the most majestic antelopes in Africa.

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The male kudu weighs up to a quarter of a ton and is easily recognized by its long, spiral horns–the longest of any antelope–and the thin white stripes on its tawny to gray-brown coat.  In a mature male, if those horns with their double twists were straightened, they would average a whopping four feet long. 

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Kudu can be caught munching on various trees and shrubs, with their favorites being fruit, pods, forbs and creepers.  However catching them at anything is quite lucky. The kudu is a timid and wary antelope, and I didn’t see nearly as many of them as I did the impala which seemed to be everywhere. But that’s a story for another day.

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My husband, Lee, was fortunate (and skilled) enough to get this wonderful shot of a female kudu. She doesn’t have the magnificent horns, but she certainly has the same big ears.  (Lee won best of show at the York Fair with this picture, and I have to thank him for sharing it with me for this post.)  The female isn’t as large as the male but has the same markings and mane. Isn’t she gorgeous?

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Though kudu are distributed widely in South Africa, we found them (with the help of our guides of Van Wijk Safaris)  in dense brush and wooded foothill areas of Kruger National Park and the Province of Mpumalanga. (Final two pictures also courtesy of Lee Bostic, Photography)

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Seeing this magnificent animal in its natural habitat in beautiful South Africa made my heart beat a little faster. Such sightings were such an awesome privilege. It makes the heart long for another chance, another sighting, another breathtaking experience.

 

 

 

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It’s Primate Time

Monkeys — Baboons — What’s the difference?

Well, just like all roses are flowers, but not all flowers are roses…

roses        sunflower

So similarly, all baboons are monkeys, but not all monkeys are baboons.

I preferred watching the antics of the monkeys, but let’s first take a look at the baboons.

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There are five species of baboons, but the one we saw in South Africa was the Chacma Baboon.  It is one of the heaviest, with males weighing from fifty to nearly one hundred pounds, and lives in social groups. These troops did not seem at all worried about the humans driving slowly by.

While the monkeys we will see later are both arboreal and terrestrial, the baboons are not arboreal. You will find them on the ground eating, walking, or hitching a ride. Their diet consists of everything from fruit, leaves and insects to rodents, birds, small antelope, and Vervet monkeys,  They are not looked upon favorably because they will also raid human dwellings to feast on goats, sheep, and chicken.

There are two kinds of monkeys in South Africa — The Vervet and the Samango

 

Both Vervet and Samango monkeys are arboreal where they have a diet primarily of fruit, leaves, and insects. The Vervet is more common in South Africa and can cause a lot of damage to commercial fruit orchards.

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This shot clearly shows the silver-gray body and black face of the Vervet. Although my pictures show individual monkeys, they are social animals and also live in troops.

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And I was lucky enough to get this little guy quenching his thirst.

As you can see, their usual diet is often supplemented by anything they might find–or steal–from humans. You will find monkeys anywhere people picnic and at many  outdoor restaurants. While stopping for lunch in Kruger National Park, one jumped down and attempted to swipe my food, but Andries Van Wijk moved quickly to intervene. They were both so quick, I barely knew what happened. By the time I spied the little pilferer, he was already looking for his next victim. 

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Next we’ll take a look at some beautiful and fascinating antelopes. Let me know if there is anything else you’re curious about or would like to see.

There is so much to see in South Africa, and with the help of our wonderful guides Andries and Steffi Van Wijk, I look forward to seeing more on our next trip there. 

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Birds of South Africa

My husband, Lee, and I are not birders, but he is a photographer with a good eye and a ready camera. Fortunately, as we’ve traveled together through Kruger National Park in South Africa (a birders paradise), whenever he spotted a beautiful bird, I would grab my camera and get some pretty good shots myself. My pictures aren’t as exceptional as his, but I enjoyed taking them, and I’d like to share a few with you. So here’s a tiny sampling of a half-dozen of our feathered friends.

1. Lilac Breasted Roller

Of the approximately 500 species found in the park, I believe the Lilac Breasted Roller is one of the most beautiful. If you’re in search of this colorfully feathered creature, you will usually find it perched at the top of a tree from which vantage point it can spot its meals of insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds or rodents on the ground.

Lilac Breasted Roller in Flight

I was fortunate enough to catch this one about to take flight. At this angle you can see the beautiful cerulean blue under its wings.

And then there’s Africa’s big bird with its long legs and weighing 140 to more than 300 pounds – the Common Ostrich

2. Ostrich in the wild
Ostrich hanging around the lodge

This large flightless bird is in the order Struthioniformes–yes, I had to look that up–along with kiwis and emus. The ostrich also lays the largest eggs. It has the fastest land speed of any bird and with those long legs can run thirty-five to forty miles per hour. But the ones I’ve encountered were in no such hurry as they enjoy the main source of their diet which is plants.

Now let’s take a look at a bird that’s a little–make that a lot–smaller. The weaver birds range in size from about 4 1/2 to 10 inches long.

3. Weaver Bird

It gets its name from the unique way it uses grass, leaves, twigs and roots to build their nests. You can tell this individual is a male by the bright yellow coloring, and using its beak and feet, it can actually tie knots with these materials. If she approves of it, the female, which is a brown and buff color, will help him to complete it.

4. Martial Eagle

One of the largest eagles, (and the largest in Africa) the martial eagle is an average of thirty-four inches in length with a wingspan of six to more than eight feet. It was a real treat to get a picture of this one. They have extremely keen eyesight, and can spot their prey from as far as three miles away.
You can often see the martial eagle soaring high above hilltops so that binoculars may be needed to get a good look at them.

5. Verreaux’s eagle-owl

And then there’s this unique fellow. The Verreaux’s eagle-owl is the only owl with bright pink eyelids, and he is also the largest African owl measuring up to twenty-six inches long. The fact that it’s nocturnal may explain why he is looking kind of sleepy in this shot. They sleep rather lightly during the day and wake quickly to defend themselves if attacked.

6. Wire-tailed Swallow

With the bright blue top feathers, the bright white underneath, and the chestnut cap, I think the wire-tailed swallow is gorgeous. He is of course named for the long thin tail feathers that look like two wires trailing behind.

Wire-tailed Swallow in flight
(Google image)

I hope you enjoyed seeing a few of my favorite South African birds. Let me know if you’d like to see more.

Until next time…

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Giant Giraffe

The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world reaching heights of fourteen to seventeen feet.

Have you ever stood next to a professional basketball player? Well neither have I, but I have stood next to some men who were 6’3” to 6’5″ and possibly taller. You can get a crick in your neck talking to one of these tall folks—though many are totally worth it—but can you imagine standing next to one of these giants and looking up?

It was simply amazing to see their height as they walked down the middle of the road past our safari vehicle. And driving through Kruger National Park, it is not uncommon to see the giraffe with his head above the trees snacking on leaves from the top of the branches. A whole lot of food goes down that long neck as they eat up to 64 pounds of tree twigs, grass and fruit a day.

This gentle giant may be a vegetarian, but the lion is not, and one of the big cat’s favorite foods is the giraffe. For this vulnerable beast, his best defense against predators is to sleep for only short periods of time—from ten minutes to two hours a day. (That kind of reminds me of my colicky babies first months of life.) Another way this otherwise docile animal can defend itself is by kicking–and he can really pack a wallop.

As we slowly made our way through the park, we were lucky enough to catch a group of giraffes visiting a watering hole, and it’s funny to watch them drink. Because of their height, they must part their front legs to lower themselves to the water. This little guy didn’t have quite as far to go as his elders.

And look at the hitchhikers on this guy. On first glance I thought there was something wrong with him, but upon closer examination (with the help of my camera’s zoom), I realized those were indeed little birds. I later learned these little winged passengers are called oxpeckers (or tick-birds), and they’re feeding on ticks or other parasites.

This unique and strangely beautiful animal is quite social, and if there is anything better than seeing one giraffe, it’s seeing three or four or even five standing tall above the trees like sentries looking out over their domain.

In each of our trips to South Africa, I have discovered its beauty was beyond my wildest imaginings. Many thanks to Andries and Steffi Van Wijk who have been our guides. Van Wijk Safaris never disappoints!

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Let’s look at the last three of the “Big Five” starting with the beautiful leopard.

Next to the lion, the leopard is the biggest of the African cats and perhaps the quietest. You won’t hear him roar. At most this silent creature will give the occasional cough-like call.
The leopard is a solitary animal. Male and female only spend a brief time together when mating, and then the male takes off. The female, of course, then raises the cubs on her own

If you recall, I said in a previous article it takes a bit of luck to actually get to see the lions, even at Kruger National Park. Well, it takes a whole bucket-load of luck or good fortune to actually spot a leopard. They lurk in the bush or rocky kopje (or koppies—small hills) usually hunting in late afternoon or at night.

They stalk or ambush their prey, getting as close as they can, and then, with a burst of amazing speed, pounce on it. They quickly end it, biting its neck and dragging it off. They carry it up to low lying branches in a tree to keep it away from scavengers and dine at their leisure.
We’ll be heading back to South Africa in a few months so wish us luck—maybe we’ll spot one this trip.

But we’re much more likely to spot this big guy–the White Rhino.

The white rhino and the black rhino are close to the same color which is gray. So how can you tell them apart? Take a look at the lip.

    Black Rhino – notice the pointed upper lip

                                                     White or Square-lipped Rhino

1-white-rhino-gc590aThe white rhino is primarily a grazer and not as aggressive as the black rhino, but looking at the horns (which are actually densely packed fibers–not real horns), I don’t believe I’d like to tangle with either of them. And in spite of their stubby little legs and massive bodies, they can run remarkably fast for short distances.
                                                 So don’t get too close!

Now, if you spend any amount of time in South Africa, I’m sure you’ll get to see the African or Cape Buffalo.
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But probably not this up close and personal. And not usually all alone. Since they are gregarious, you will more often see them running in herds of hundreds. Their grazing behavior changes the long grass lands into shorter grassy areas for other animals to graze upon.

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(Picture courtesy of Pixabay)

So there’s a look at the Big Five, but there is so much more to see in South Africa. So many more animals. So many birds with amazing colors like I’d never seen before. So I’m not finished yet. 
There’s more to come!








TT

 

 

 

 

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