The Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is the only remaining of the African Big Five animals to be presented in our African Safari posting series. The reason they are marginalized is that there are very few remaining in the wild. The rhinoceros is a severely endangered species. We saw only three of them and they all were captives in highly guarded reserve areas. It may become the first of the big five to become extinct and this could easily happen within our lifetime. In the estimate of the South African government the “killing of rhinos by hunting will exceed that of births by next year, thus precipitating a slide towards the extinction abyss.” Without drastic measures they will be wiped out as surely as the dinosaurs.
The featured image shows the horns of the rhinoceros. These are the prize for which they are savagely and illegally hunted. All images were made in Botswana.
The drastic procreative measures include extraordinary protection from poachers and other hunters, careful management for natural breeding programs, promotion of high-tech breeding programs using artificial insemination and hormone management for increased fertility.
Rhinos are poorly understood therefore breeding is not easy. They have a long gestation period; the inter-birth interval appears to be ~3 to 4 years; sexual maturity of the female may be up to age seven; males up top ~10 years; fertility also may depend on ovulation cycle, hormone levels, and the size of pre-ovulatory follicles. Life span is ~40 yrs. Adult weight is 2.5K to 4K pounds. Management is difficult because they are not docile animals. Maximum possible offspring per life time is ~ 06.
There is some hope that breeding programs will at least stabilize the population. With the cooperative effort of the government of South Africa, Botswana “will become the next Noah’s Ark for rhinos in Africa”. The exact location of the breeding stations was not disclosed. There are also private animal breeders who specialize in these large animals.
On this trip we saw multiple endangered animal species including the Hartebeest, Gravy’s zebra, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Wild Dogs, Roan antelope, Thompson’s gazelle and the lesser Kudu. There are others which we did not see like the Pangolin and the Sable antelope.
My general suggestion is to visit the African nations that promote the wildlife and are safe to visit. See the animals, plants and ecosystems while you can because the future is unpredictable.
The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) are always near water. Most often they are in the water where they can be submerged. This blog recounts three experiences. There was an exception. In one of the camps where we stayed a small hippo was scampering under the board walk and into the woods in the evening. I believe that it was in the camp where it could take shelter from the local pride of lions. In the Okavango delta the hippos were in the river system and not very visible. When in the river of Chobi they were more visible from the stream and facing the bank. There they would submerge and occasionally reemerge to walk in the bank.
The feature image is a portrait of a hippo in the Mara river
The cows were watchful of their young as they both ate their fill of the grass. It was clear that there was some social group interaction among the adults. They tended to stay in loose proximity. This was really evident in the area of the Mara river in the savanna of Kenya. While in the river they were not interactive with the nearby crocodiles. The crocodiles know better and keep their distrance.
There was an occasion which was somewhat unexpected. Looking at the placidity of a small lake a dark bump breached the surface. In a few moments it became apparent that this was a very large adult hippo. It began to walk to and up the bank of the shore. This was a really big animal, perhaps the size of a small SUV.
It was silent and ponderously slow. The slow gate might not have been due to its size but rather because of the large gaping wound in its left shoulder. It was deep and relatively recent but no longer bleeding. He was moving away from the lake and toward the woods.
We followed it for perhaps 50 yards. The wound was easily seen. Now it could be identified as two large parallel gouges through the skin and into the muscle. The hide in that area is tough, usually about two inches thick. Add to that the penetration through the four inches of flesh layers below the skin and you have some idea about the severity of the injury. The muscle was not severed but the skin through the fat layer was missing. I hope that the resulting infection won’t be too bad. There will be a big scar.
The distance between the two wounds and their general shape strongly suggested that these were caused by the two lower tusks, The skin remaining was ripped upwardly. These were probably made by a rival hippo. They were apparently acquired during an epic battle between two mammoth hippopotami.
The fight must have been just hours ago during the night. I wonder what the other guy looked like. The other contestant was not in sight. This fellow, with help of the birds, was tending to his wounds. This wasn’t his first encounter. He had been in other scrapes and had the scars to show. These fights can be deadly. It looks like this guy will be back for another day. Hippopotamus are reported to kill approximately 500 people per year making them the deadliest vertebrate animal in Africa
#hippopotamus #wound #herbivore #aquatic #fight #dominance #Africa #Maasai Mara #Botswana
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The Bauhinia tree (Bauhinia blakeana)(AKA Hong Kong Orchid tree) is a native of Asia. All Hong Kong orchid trees today are clones of the original tree planted in a garden in Hong Kong in 1880. It has been reproduced from cuttings ever since. Although they are one plant system they have not been susceptible to diseases.
Because the bloom is so attractive and had all of the anatomy to describe it as having flowers I could not see why it was sterile. The only option that I had was to inspect the organelles of the flower and see where the issue lie.
The feature image shows the flower with an obviously interested bee crawling inside.
I started with an intact bloom and removed parts to expose the major anatomic features. This was followed by a separation of the components for microscopic examination.
—-+—- Macro dissection
Each of the separated components of the system were examined microscopically. This examination revealed that the area of the ova was without a defined structure. There were no ova and the core was a simple homogenous field without characteristics. It was barren. It does not reproduce sexually and therefore cannot produce seeds. Because it cannot produce seeds and reproduction is limited to propagation from cuttings it is not invasive. The same is true for Plumeria which is also propagated from cuttings. We have shown a similar method in a previous post on Propagation of Orchids by Division.
This posting is made in response to questions rising from the Power Point Presentation titled Flowering Trees of SWFL. a full listing of the trees can be found on this site. To find it GoTo the banner on the home page, from the menu select Findings and select the PDF document. There are associated reference links. You may print the list for your convenience.
This is not about your father’s hunting dog. These are not household dogs which when set free in the wild become feral survivors. They are indeed a species unto themselves. Wild dogs of Kenya are a dying breed. The pack must have more than five dogs to maintain a threshold below which reproductive failure is likely. The area requirements of five wild dogs are estimated to be 65 to 150 square kilometers. Because they are a pack animal, they are transmitting rabies among one another. There is no one to care for this deadly disease and because they are not a high priority species. Because of environment change and disease they may become extinct. They are pack animals which work to hunt as a team just like the lions. Their method is different from lions where they run their prey down to exhaustion. That can run at 40 mph for hours. When the dogs take down their prey, they exercise dogged precision.
The featured image is a portrait of a Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus). The Wild Dog (AKA Painted Dog) is one of the world’s most endangered mammals. Perhaps only one thousand remain.
We saw a pack of about 12 resting in the shade of a tree with deep soft grass. The entire family was together and appeared to be contented. They lay down through the heat of the day in close contact with the soil for cooling. In the afternoon a head or an ear pops up showing that they are not sleeping but alert. As sunset neared the pack leader stood up all rose at the same time and began a fast-paced loosely grouped walk. They apparently had a powerful agenda in mind. We followed them and they in turn were in fast pursuit of dinner.
The pace picked up as they reach the Savanna where the woods thinned out. The chase was on despite our not seeing the target. The walk turned into a fast trot as the team members took their strategic positions; two groups in flanked positions and a lead attack group. In their favor the dogs had nose work, group communication, pack coordination, speed, endurance and survival instinct.
Then it was a full running chase of their prey through the deep brush. The impala had no chance to outrun the pack. They had it cornered in a dense brush area where the speed and agility of the lone impala couldn’t help. We were in the chase vehicle riding over the rough terrain with no road at about 25 mph. We lost sight of them in the bush for a minute.
The dog hunt compared to the lion hunt: (CAUTION ! If you don’t want to know, don’t read. I did not publish the more graphic scenes.)
The hunting patterns of the dogs was different from the lions in two specific ways; attack and kill. The lions arrayed the pride in a rough semicircle around the target . They had a specific female led attack crew of three that was headed by one lioness. The remaining members of the pride sat or stood watching the action and the young in the rear appeared to observe and hopefully learn. The dogs had another attack method. Their hunting team worked like a trident. The three phaylanxes approached in parallel. There were no watchers and all were running in hot pursuit. In the kill the lion grabbed from behind and brought the prey down. Then the lion bites into the throat to asphyxiate the prey. Once the catch is dead then the feast begins where the lead male to eats first. The dogs behaved differently. The first-to-catch team downs the prey and begins to eat indifferent to the kill. In this instance the prey was eaten to death. The catch was devoured boarding house rules, first-come-first-get. There was no hierarchal devision of the catch.
In the previous description of the lion hunt they were not successful. In this dog hunt they were very successful.
We departed the area as the full moon was rising in the east. We began the one-hour race back to camp across the Savanna and through the woods at 45 mph to beat the setting sun. This was despite the lessening visibility, deeply rutted roads and sloppy creek bed crossings. We were to be back before total darkness. When we were two miles out of camp riding the deeply rutted road, twilight nearly over, we were nearly run over by a herd of 8 Cape buffalo running at full gallop through the dark dense woods. They crossed our road 20 feet in front of us escaping from a pride of lion in hot pursuit. Then we rolled into camp fifteen minutes late. Our driver was skillful, with quick reactions and strong hands. He could give endurance race drivers a few lessons. The dogs ate. Now it was dark as a black hole and time for our dinner.
#dogs #antelope #hunt #Africa #Kenya #Maasai Mara #Wild dogs #endangered #pack #hunt #painted dog #
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The antelope species make up the vast majority of Africa’s wild mammal population.* There are millions of them grazing across the land. They are vegetarian. Grazing animals consume the annual growth of the Savana and woodlands. They trim the grass, shrubs and trees. They are prey for the carnivores and spread the seeds of the plants. They are an integral part of this great ecosystem.
The feature image is a magnificent male Greater Kudu in a forested area of the Okavango Delta
These animals are part of an animal clade called Ungulates(**) because of their toes with hooves. The ungulates also have horns that are bilaterally symmetric without branches but with variations such as twists, spirals, rings and flutes. These appendages are bone covered with keratin. They are well adapted to their coarse vegetarian diet and have a specialized digestive system which allows them to digest cellulose.
They all move together in groups because safety is in numbers. Part of that behavior includes mixing with a herd of other similar grazing animals for added protection. Included in this group are Gazelle, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Eland, Reedbuck, Gerenuk, Dik-dik, Kudu (lesser & greater), Wildebeest, Ayala, Bongo, Oryx and Impala.
My first introduction to the antelopes was a charmer. The little doe wandered into our campsite and simply walked in front of me as if by magic. Fortunately, I had my camera and like it was by plan she waited and posed for me for this portraits.
These animals had the most interesting behaviors, colors and horns. I found the Impala to be the most beautiful. They have such large eyes and their coats are gorgeous; so shiny and without any blemishes. The distinctive markings on their rumps are narrow vertical black stripes. They are also very busy. Unlike the big cats, they are always involved in some activity. Since they are grazers they eat the low grasses. This unfortunately distracts their attention and they can’t look up for dangerous prey like lions or dogs. Therefore, when you see them, there is a rotation of grazers and sentinels with their heads up. When they are chased or pursued they are extraordinarily fast and agile. When fighting for dominance in their herd they use their horns, sometimes with deadly precision.
Perhaps one of the remarkable features of the giant Kudu antelopes was their spiral horns. Spiraled but nearly straight, the antlers of the Kudu were the most distinguished. The white stripes of their coats were also easily recognizable.
During a game drive through the shallow swamp the water buck obliged us with his massive ringed horns.
If our guide had not pointed it out I would have easily missed seeing the Dik-dik. It is so small and blends so easily with the ground color that it was almost invisible. It was smaller than the tiny doe that visited the camp site on another occasion.
Along with the general mix of the population, the antelope species have an important and sometimes grim role in the African landscape. They are the object of the predators. We have already reviewed the predators of this region. Check out our blog site that describes the wild dogs of Africa.
The last few days of our expedition gave meaning to our adventure. We were in the Kenyan Maasai Mara, thrilled by the larges animal migration of on Earth.
On the cover photo is a group of blue Wildebeest. AKA the common wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus) it is a large antelope found in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Maasai Mara of Kenya is contiguous with the planes of the Serengeti National Park and the Tanzanian National Park. All are part of the Serengeti plane. These images are from the Kenyan Maasai Mara National Reserve. It was the most favorable point to observe the Great Migration when we were there. As the weather changes from dry to the rainy season the grass regrows. It is the grass which provides food for the grazing animals. This is irresistible to the wildebeest, zebra, impala, buffalo and other animals who follow this growth by the millions. The dead grass remains after the tops have been eaten to the ground or burned off. The rain brings a fresh regrowth. This regrowth replaces the razor-sharp stubble with soft young plants.
One of the most thrilling wildlife spectacles on earth was spread before us like pepper on a salad. We stopped to watch this ancient migration sight that this area supports. You can see in every direction that the savanna is covered by hundreds of thousands of animals. It is hard to comprehend that they actually number in the millions. They are visible to every horizon, slowly moving to follow the fresh growth. They meander about eating and mingling, occasionally fighting and challenging one another for mating or protecting one another from the daily challenges of survival, reproduction, and predation. For reasons unknown to us they may gallop along following some instinct or stamped when startled or frightened. It is this cumulative picture of integrated behavior based on soil, seasonal weather, prolific plant life and a massive accumulation of thousands of animal species which underscores the interdependency of this huge ecosystem.
We did cross the Mara river and its tributaries where crocodiles and hippopotamuses were swimming or simply resting. The hungry crocodiles were ready at a wildebeest crossing to take advantage of the weakest or most vulnerable animals. We did not see this classical behavior but none-the-less the trap was set. Predators and scavenger animals follow this migration in the ladder of primacy with the lion at the apex.
The wildebeest is the keystone animal of this ecosystem. It is the primary consumer of the grasses. It has a high reproductive rate. It is the resource upon which all of the carnivores and scavengers depend. They till and fertilize the soil. A single calf is born after 8.5-month gestation. Bands of female wildebeests are in control, leading the entire herd towards new grasslands. In the mid-20th century, the wildebeest population was decimated. The herd was cut down to one third of its normal size because of the rinderpest viruses (a variant of the measles virus). It originated and was spread from domestic livestock. As a result of loss of the grazing animals the grass lands grew uncontrolled. This over-growth subsequently changed the natural fire regime to an intense wildfire which burned nearly the entire Serengeti. This was an ecological disaster. Millions of domestic animals also died. Plant and animal species collapsed. Because of a massive human intervention including vaccination and quarantine the wildebeest population has been transformed. The Serengeti and Maasai Mara have been magnificently rewilded and the population of these animals is back to a stable 1.5 M with no disease detected in the last 8 years. Perhaps my 30 year wait to go was helpful because it allowed the wilderness more time to recover.
The sight of all these animals and the resource to feed and accommodate all of them provides a small but expanding view of the might of the ecosystem. At one time in the distant past this view would have been quite prosaic. Imagine Neanderthal or possibly the older Cro-Magnon people living with this type of annual migration. They would have been part of it. They would have been much earlier than our current view of history, but it probably looked like the American Great Basin to the First Peoples and early settlers of the Americas. We must appreciate that this area is just a few hundreds of miles from the Olduvei (Oldupai) gorge where Lewis and Mary Leakey (beginning in 1937) found fossilized hominoid remains dating back hundreds of thousands of years. (Pronconsul 25 million years old). What were those people thinking when they saw this sight? The ancient hominoids and modern tribal peoples were and still are intimately connected with this environment. Their moment-to-moment survivals depended upon understanding this grand recipe and also the small, intimate details of their surroundings. The people of the Maasai tribe move their domesticated herds in synchrony with the wildlife, plants and rainfall. They know this because of their exposure to a multigenerational experience. They now participate in separation of their herds of domestic cattle and vaccination from Rinderpest and Foot and Mouth disease. We were so poorly prepared to comprehend systems as complex as this in just a few days.
I think that there are many lessons to be learned from this. For at least a million years hominoids and humans have learned that living in harmony with the constantly changing environment is a prerequisite to survival. The environment changes including geologic-like continental drift and volcanism. Weather changes, due to wind and rain/snow, land slides and floods, drought, temperature and storms. Species changes with mutations and natural selection. Human behavioral changes including perception and interpretation of surroundings, the value of group behavior and behavioral adaptation by creation of societies. Society changes with development of institutions like religion and governments. Behavior changes lead to exploration, discovery, invention and industrialization. The nomadic herders of today who live in near Stone Age conditions with cell phones will change. What changes will Space Age people make? We, the people of the space, information and atomic age have the ability to affect all of the aforementioned changes. We have the opportunity to do so because we live with disposable wealth and a discretionally directed time.
From the successful story of the rewilding of wildebeests in the Serengeti we have started on a new path. The wildebeest story is considered one of the most successful rewildings of our time. Rewilding efforts have been remarkably successful in Yellowstone, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, ocean reef areas and many more. These efforts can not only save species and restore habitats but also fight the climate change crisis. Rewinding Florida is an active effort and a topic worthy of further exploration and discussion.
When driving across the savanna of Africa you may hear galloping of hooves behind you. Don’t expect horses. It will be zebras!
The featured image is a portrait of a plains zebra.
There are several theories about the stripes on the hides of zebras which include ease of identification for foal, camouflage, and to chase flies away. None of these are proven. So why do zebras have stripes? Because they can.
There are three subspecies of these aquus, Grevy’s Zebra (Equus grevyi), plains zebra (Equus burchelli) and mountain zebras. They differ in size and coloration. Grevy’s, are a subspecies sometimes found at the Maasai Mara. They are the largest, at about 900 pounds, 5 feet tall at the shoulder, and 8 feet long. Plains and mountain zebras (Equus zebra) are 1 to 2 feet shorter and about 200 pounds lighter. The Grey and mountain zebras are found in the North African regions like northern Kenya. The males and females of the same species are about the same size. The gestation period is about 13 months. These horse like animals can’t be used as draft animals, can’t be crossbred, and can’t be domesticated. They are just wild, free-spirited animals living life to the fullest and on the edge.
The Planes Zebra is the national animal of Botswana. These are by far the most frequently seen species on our safari.
Zebra in the Delta
Zebra in the Mara
The zebra are herbivores that eat mostly grasses and some leaves. They are usually prey to the carnivores especially the big cats. The Maasai Mara has significantly less water and fewer trees than the Okavango. The zebras seen here were part of the great migration and as you will see had a different behavior. They were more social, there was more competition among the male zebras and they were co-mingled with the other grazing animals like the wildebeests and African buffalos.
If I had to pick an animal that comes first to mind when I think of Africa I would be torn between the zebra and the giraffe. They are both such a visual surprise. We saw them throughout the day and in most locations. The stripes did not significantly contribute to their camouflage. As mentioned earlier the sight of many of their predators may interpret them differently than human perception. Just for fun, you should read “West With Giraffes” by Linda Rutledge
The lions working as a pack can take down a very large animal like a buffalo. The prey needs to be an animal big enough to feed the pack of as much as twenty members. Each of the members may weigh as much as 400 pounds. The lions depend on coordination, speed and strength. The lions communication among each other with roars, cries, yelps, bellows, and groans along with body expressions and pheromones to express a wide variety of thoughts. You may be aware of the difficulty in “herding cats” so you can imagine a herd of 18 cats organizing and executing a Cape buffalo hunt. Each bull may weigh up to 2 tons, running at 40 miles per hour on the open savanna. These images tell the story of the hunt. They were captured in low light and foggy conditions at considerable distance while the animals were in full running motion. It was impossible to make a video of this with the limitation of the photo equipment at hand.
The featured image is a male lion, “King of the beasts”. See our previous post on African Predators.
There were 18 lions strategically placed on the plane. There was a small herd of 9 adult male Cape buffalos grazing at the shore of the river.
The lions included about 8 female, three male and the remainder adolescent and young. All would feed or go hungry depending on the result of this hunt. Three females were in the lead for the hunt with one singled out to do the take down. The pride of lions was spread across the plane between the river and the hills.
In the theater of the hunt the lead three females were closest to the buffalos while the young are farthest. The middle space has the slow-moving remainder of the male and female adult group. The herd of eight Cape buffalos were all male, moving eastward, parallel to the river, grazing in the grass and already angry. There were no surprises as they are always alert and always angry. Easily visible were their heads with their massive horns slashing like a sickles, side to side, as they foraged. This was a bachelor group, boys only, who could no longer keep up with a full herd; no longer able to compete with the younger males for dominance and mating. The cattle egrets had already flown off their backs.
It was morning twilight. The sun was just about to rise and there was a low fog caressing the grass on the plane. We had been waiting for about an hour. The bulls were slowly moving east and the lions were moving west camouflaged in the back light of the sunrise, the tall grass and the low fog.
The cats began to spread out making pincer formation. It appeared that they would have a lead group on the attack from the south driving the buffalo along the river into the pack. Just as the fog was ready to evaporate and as the sun sparked a finger of light over the horizon the approach begins. The prime huntress crept rapidly toward the rear of the prey.
The lead buffalo bolted to a gallop, the others immediately followed suit in a straight line. The lioness was immediately running at full speed charging into the middle of the group. The buffalos all seemed to be in good condition; fast and powerful. In a second, the lioness, now at the end of the line, reached out to grasp the hind quarter of the slowest animal.
She missed! Now she was then out of pace with the line of the departing dinner. They outran her and she has no backup! All that work was without reward. The opportunity was lost.
The pride, depending on this effort for this meal, watched it evaporate with the fog. I guess that this was not unusual. The buffalos were gone, and the pride began to regather as the harsh sun rose fist high above the horizon of trees miles in the distance. The long shadows of the highlands and the light fog still obscure the details of the undulating plane.
The adolescent lions who were watching and learning the skill of the hunt began to rough play as they ran in from the eastern fields. They knew that in the evening twilight of the day there would be another show and hopefully dinner.
We did not see the next take down but you can see the result. The dominant male ate first until it could eat no more. The others then dove in to feast. The other members of the pride then devoured the carcass until it was bare bones. When they were finished they slept which may be for days.
Any remaining scraps were the choice of jackals, hyaenas and buzzards. The only remaining signs after the kill was blood-stained grass, teeth, horns, bones and the smell of death.
Life and death on the African savanna is fearsome and pragmatic. This show of cooperative group behavior and sheer power demonstrates the reason for the title. “King of the Beasts”.
#Africa #lions #Cape buffalo #buffalo #hunt #king
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4 responses to “Lions in Africa – Sunrise Hunt for Cape Buffalo”
This posting focuses on leopards of Africa. We saw them several times during our safari and each time was a special event. They are magnificent animals and are among my favorites of the trip. Leopards are mentioned a previous posting on predators.
The leopard in the cover picture is one of a series at one location.
Leopards are not pack animals but like the lions they are maternal family providers. Yep, momma brings home the antelope. She is out there birthing, nursing, protecting, chasing, fighting and guaranteeing that there is enough for all or else there is no next generation. Except for the lions, male cats are solo actors coming together for mating during estrus season.
It was easier to watch the leopards than the cheetah because they were more frequently found in areas that we visited. Their visually attractive spotted coats and near proximity to our vehicle made the desire to touch/pet them very strong. As they moved through the underbrush, grass and trees this provided an opportunity to see them from all angles. Only the single female cats were seen but our guide insisted that a single kitten was placed in hiding. We never saw the little ones.
The coloration of these animals is not as diverse as pedigree house pets, but they are so impressive. The cheetah and leopard pelts are similar, however, the leopard spots are more distinctive because of their increased pattern diversity. The patterns on the cat coats make them very difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. It is easy to see that the value component of color helps to break up the visual image.
Watching them was like watching water flow. There was no resistance to their smooth movements as they slipped through the grass or leaped through the tree canopy. Their eyes were so brilliant, they were a dazzling attraction better than a “cat eye” agate.
False Color Image
Perception used for hunting by humans is mostly by visual search. This includes shape, color, movement and patterns which attract attention. For most other animals the visual cues that attracts attention are movement and shape. Animal vision sensitivity, focal point and wavelength is different from human. Cats share a common visual perception of the world. Their eyes have a physiology and anatomy very different from humans. Their eyes are exceptionally large making close focusing difficult. The light receptors in the retina of the back of the cat’s eyes don’t have the receptors for red and blue. They best see yellows and greens. A sub-retinal reflective layer increases sensitivity. This layer is what makes the cat eyes look bright when reflecting a pointed light in dim setting. These adaptations are best used for vision at twilight and night. During the daylight hours the coat colors and patterns may make them seem nearly invisible.
A Few Notes About Cat Physiology
Odors for animals are also very different from humans. It has a much broader range for which there are no clear terms. The world experienced by differing species may result in vastly divergent perceptions and experiences. It is difficult to describe a multi-dimensional odor and sound world. We simply don’t have a vocabulary to express our understanding of these concepts.
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#Africa #Okavango #Maasai Mara #leopard #vision #spots #perception
UNDERSTANDING THE TWO ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS BY COMPARING THEM FROM THE GROUND UP.
To help understand what is happening in this system it may be made easier by look at its parts. There may be some errors in this method but at least this is a reasonable hypothetical start. Let’s begin with the idea that every detail is important and that everything is interconnected. Also, if a part of the system is lost the entire system is compromised. See the map at the end of this posting.
The featured image shows one of thousands of termite colony mounds
The Okavango and Mara locations are very different not only in location and elevation but also in geology. Two soil samples were taken from typical road side areas in the savannah-like landscapes away from human traffic areas. Under the microscope you can see that the individual sand grains are transparent, something which is not obvious when looking at the sand with the unaided eye. The sand of the Delta (Fig. A1 & 2 is made up mostly of silicon dioxide (SiO2). It is completely glassy. It is not soluble and has no mineral content. Volcanic pumice Fig B1 & 2 is a complex particle aggregate of ash feldspar. It is an incomplete glass with other minerals at the particles’ surfaces. The Mara soil has a much higher metabolizable mineral content which makes the soil more fertile than the Delta.
The Delta is flat but it is cyclically flooded and the colors are green and tan. The islands of the Delta were built by the humblest of creatures. The termites as architects, engineers and builders have created a landscape of unbelievable variety. They harvest the dead plants and with the sand of the Kalahari desert and they build massive, nearly indestructible castles reaching meters into the sky. The nest height is determined by the water level. The higher the water level, the taller the nest will be. When the population reaches a critical mass, a new colony is initiated. With erosion by water, wind, and the burrowing of animals the mounds collapse and islands grow. As a result of centuries of this cycle the islands provide a collective of soil used by the large mammals, birds and fish. The aquatic plants are supplemented by grasses, brush, bushes, and trees. These form savannas in the Delta for non-migrating herds of grazing land animals and the creatures which accompany them. They also encourage aquatic animals like fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals which are supported by the aquatic environment.
The water levels rise and fall because of the flow of several rivers that end in the Delta. The water never reaches the sea; hence the Delta. Water is lost by evaporation and transpiration. The animals have a reliable supply of water and plants. They do not migrate.
The Kenyan savannah is so starkly different from the Okavango Delta they seem worlds apart. The Serengeti plane colors are tan and beige. The Mara land is flat and dry. In contrast to the Delta, the Maasai Mara is the result of volcanism and rain. Dominating the landscape is the ancient volcano of Mt. Kenya along with the range of uplands that are a result of the enormous energy expended in tectonic plate collision and the spread of the great Rift Valley. It stands as a plateau at an elevation of about 1,480 to 2,280 meters. The volcanoes of the area have created a mineral rich soil which when watered by the seasonal rain provides an opportunity for lush grass to grow. There are few trees growing on the savanna of the Mara making it seem like a great lake of soil dressed in golden grass. The Mara also has riverine forests. The seasonal rains are predictably distributed regionally causing the rotation of the animal migration. The people of the Maasai tribe move their domesticated herds in synchrony with the wildlife, plants and rainfall.
These two systems are much more complex than this simple description. This only becomes apparent after returning from there, collecting and organizing observations, and reflecting on the diversity and life forms and cycles. This leads to many more questions such as: Where did the glassy sand come from? Why do the two areas share so many identical species? Why are there so few cactus or pine species? How would you summarize the comparison of these two areas? Perhaps these questions can stimulate discussion in our comment section.
Here are portraits of birds of Africa from the clade Aequorlitornithes. The Aequorlitornithes include all shorebirds, waterbirds, flamingos, grebes, gulls, tropicbirds, penguins, including pelicans, ibis, and heron.
The cover picture is a Yellow Billed Stork (Mycteria ibis). It is feeding along the shore with the hippo lying inches away. The hippo provides a sense of scale. Additionally it shows that the animals of differing species cooperate unless they are direct predators.
Be sure to look at our post of portraits of the Inopinaves in a previous blog, African Birds, Inopinaves.
EGRET & HERON
There were many other birds which I observed but did not photograph because of poor conditions. These include Western Cattle Egret, Quella and Red billed African Oxpickers. Several varieties will be mentioned when showing the birds cleaning or riding on the ungulates.
I highly recommend participation in the Cornel Lab of Ornithology found at eBird. It a great resource for identification and information. To understand the naming of birds used in this blog site check out the previous discussion on bird identification in the Everglades Ark posting. When you go to the Okavango in Botswana, Africa, there I recommend a very useful field guide. It may be purchased online or at the Chobe National Park Lodge.
“THE CHOBE COMPANION”, Hancock P, Randall R, Sandor Books Ltd, Maun Botswana, 2014. ISBN 978-99968-0-247-8
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Here are 22 birds portraits. August is not necessarily the best time for birding in the places where we were. Large flocks of varieties of European and North African migratory birds fill the Okavango Delta of Botswana during the “green season”. The best time for this is October through April. The Maasai Mara reserve is most noted hosting the largest bird species, Ostriches. This area is a major destination for migrating birds between November and February. From June to July the Mara River is filled with weaver birds and bishops. We saw only the weaver nest remains from the last season. The Okavango claims 475 confirmed species. Kenya claims 1145 confirmed species.
The cover picture is a male ostrich. He was herding his flock of female birds and would occasionally trot around them with great powerful strides.
The Inopinave clade includes all land birds and songbirds, including raptors, hawks, owls, toucans, falcons, parrots. For conversation in this publication, I subdivided this clade into raptors, hornbills, scavengers, guineafowl, general bush birds and ostrich. To understand the naming of birds used in this blog site check out the previous discussion on bird identification in the Eeverglades ark posting.
GENERAL BUSH BIRDS
Aequorlitornithes are presented in a following posting. They include all shorebirds, waterbirds, flamingos, grebes, gulls, tropicbirds, penguins, including pelicans, ibis, and heron.
There are so many bird species in these two countries. Many of them are migratory and can be found in Europe and Northern Africa. I sorry to have missed the best of the birding season. Perhaps another trip just for birds and insects would be another adventure. Unfortunately the season for birds is coincident wit insect seasons. I’m not sure that my allergies to biting bugs would appreciate that exposure.
I highly recommend participation in the Cornel Lab of Ornithology found at eBird. It a great resource for identification and information.
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Elephants are so complicated. They live a long time and remember a lot. They have multi generational, socially interactive lives. Their social structure is matriarchal. They are the largest terrestrial animal and spend most of their time eating. They are herbivores that need a large ranging territory with water, grass and trees for grazing and drinking. They maintain their dispersed social interactions by communicating great distances using growls that are at very low frequency. Most of this vocalization is inaudible to humans.
Featured image is a rogue male elephant showing his stuff.
There is a mixed opinion regarding the ecological impact of elephant herds. On the small scale when elephants crash through a small village or hut the residents are not amused. They want the animals out. When the elephants tear up the trees on the sparsely vegetated savannah the plants are demolished and can’t reproduce. Conversely the elephants help to propagate the trees and other plants by eating the tree fruit and, after digestion, they drop the undigested seeds with nutrients along their paths. Hence they promote new growth. Survival of plants and animals comes down to population density and environmental pressure. The poachers are a terrible plague on the animals of these areas. The local game rangers pursue this criminal behavior in the park areas armed with high powered rifles. Outside the parks the issue is more complicated. The people in the near park areas depend upon tourism. They know that it is in their best interest to cohabitate with the animals. Progressive seasonal drought is another problem for the elephants. They may need to travel long distances from the vegetated areas to water. During this search for food and water the weak may succumb to predators such as lions or to dehydration. This is the reason that Okavango Delta is a high value breeding area for elephants.
You might notice the difference between the two reserve areas. In the Okavango the elephants can easily stand in the marshlands feeding and drinking. In the Maasai Mara the elephants live on the savanna and need to go to the rivers and drink from the shore where they are less protected.
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5 responses to “Elephants”
Thank you for posting the fantastic pictures. It’s always amazing seeing animals in their natural surroundings.
Hello! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects? Thank you!
Monkeys are always amusing to watch and in Africa there were no exceptions. Here are a few images that captured my attention in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Most of these were Chacma Baboons.
These animals are smart, agile and prehensile. Always lock your tent or cabin because these little rascals will open the door and look for food making a mess as they go. There were so many opportunities to photograph the primates and so little time.
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