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 #
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
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!
Feature image is a pride of Cheetah (Acinonyxjubatus) including female and her three cubs in Kenyan scrub.
Lions spend a remarkable portion of the daylight hours sleeping. I saw this typical behavior in the Florida Naples Zoo but I didn’t expect to see it so frequently in the wilderness of Africa. I expected them to be walking about and hunting and / or engaged in group activities. Seeing them sleeping up to 20 hours per day was a rude awakening. During the best daylight hours where photography would be easy, these critters were usually completely out of it. They would be sleeping in the roads and pathways without any care for traffic trying to pass. They were communally grouped, sleeping together among family members. Occasionally, they might be seen finishing off a meal from last night’s hunting but in general they were boring subjects
In the twilight hours, however, with the sun just at the horizon, the scene was dramatically different. Despite the near darkness, fog, and distance I was able to see the spine-chilling hunt of the packs in action. The pursuit could have been taken from a professional soccer coach’s play book. Each pack member had their position to play – scouting, blocking, hunting, and a final charge for the throat. Without team play all 16 lions would go hungry.
When visiting the local Naples Zoo, I imagined an animalistic sense. It was as if the captive animals knew the truth of their sheltered, human dependent relationship. At the zoo the animals pace around in their enclosures. There is nothing to hunt. There is no territory to defend. There are no mates to pursue. No families to care for. See out previous blog on the Naples Zoo. This is in contradiction to the animals seen in the African wilderness. There they were busy surviving as hunter, prey or both. On safari the animals are indifferent to the viewer. It is a sense that the people are not there because they are in a vehicle. The vehicle was of no importance. It was simply a noisy passing distraction.
From our nearly three-week visit, several species stood out as apex predators. These included lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, crocodiles, and eagles. Each of these meat-eating animals is magnificent in color, shape, skill, and speed. These animals need a large area under their dominion. The area could easily range from 20 to 400 square kilometers. Lion prides and dog packs hunted using carefully laid out strategies and roles. Of the cat and dog, it is difficult to suggest that one is superior to another as their hunting behaviors were very similar. What do they do the rest of the time? They sleep and just hang out.
African black panthers have not been photographed in 100 years until recently. The term black panther is most frequently applied to black-coated leopards (Panthera pardus) of Africa. I did not see this African animal.
A melanistic color variant of the African leopard – was filmed in Lorok, Laikipia County, Kenya, on remote cameras set up as part of a large-scale study aimed at understanding the population dynamics of leopards. Dramatic night photos of this are available at the link mentioned here. (*)
There were some Florida animals in the wild that were directly comparable to those seen in our African safari. These are birds and reptiles. The two apex predators that I saw most often were the Sea Eagles (Osprey) / African Sea Eagles as well as the Florida alligator/African crocodiles. The lizards spend most of their time cruising the water and lying on the shore waiting and watching for an opportunity to eat. The birds, on the other hand, were busy and exceptionally photogenic.
No doubt about it. The birds worked throughout the day. The African Sea Eagles and their cousins, Florida Osprey, were constantly searching and bringing fish back to eat or to feed their brood in the nest. The surprise was to see that these unfettered bird species which are different species but so similar in their size, behavior, and call.
We will spend additional time describing these bird and cat predators. The Zoo is wonderful to visit and see these animals. It is a good place to sharpen your camera skills for animal portraiture. It is a great place to show the real-life animals to children. Zoos are excellent for research and help preserve endangered animal stock. In the wild these same creatures are daily interacting with one another and their environment. There are no barriers separating them. They all struggle for survival. They pay no attention to people. If you want real understanding of the life in a giant working and evolving ecosystem you need to go out and experience it. We live in the Everglades reserve area. This is one of our National and State treasures. If you simply drive a few miles and walk into the Florida reserve area with a guide you may have an experience similar to ours in the Okavango Delta of Botswana
More than a pretty face. The Giraffes are some of my favorite animals of Africa
Check out the earlier blog posted describing the giraffes at the local Naples Zoo. How differently their wild behavior is when compared to the captive animals. In the Naples Zoo there is a group of male Reticulated giraffes.
Giraffes appear very elegant with long necks and legs, brightly patterned coats, large eyes, and a crown of horns. They seem elegant. You can see them eating vegetation and walking or gently lopping across the grass land or through the woods. They are very quiet with almost no voice. It is surprising that a 1400-pound 15-foot animal can vanish as it wanders through the brush and tree scape. We saw them nearly everywhere we went. They do seem to group together in small clutches or shorter animals may partner with them for added alert of predators. Even when they are solitary, they don’t seem to be the choice of lions. We did see the remains of one which apparently perished from dehydration or disease. Drought is a problem in eastern Kenya.
The giraffes seem more whimsical in their behavior than on casual appearance. Drinking seems almost acrobatic as they assume an oddly geometric balancing act and when done almost jump to a full standing position. The birds which pick insects from their skin may at times get a bit too aggressive. Look at the photo of a jumping giraffe. It looks like it is dancing on its hind legs as it tries to shake off the pesky bird. It was so amusing to watch this performance. The group behavior of the giraffe clan was startling. They can be tough combatants. During some sort of competitive behavior, probably mating, these animals showed some of their true skills. In a pugilistic competition two giraffes went about using their heads, necks, teeth, and bodies in a full-body contact fight. At first, they seemed to be necking which I thought to be friendly. During the next hour, they rapidly progressed into an aggressive slugfest whacking one another with their heads and horns into the torso, head, and hind quarters. They beat each other ceaselessly with full strength occasionally biting, butting, and pursuing. From our vantage point we could hear nothing except the concussive thud when they bashed each another. We moved on after what seemed to be the end where the two protagonists walked away from each other. There seemed to be a winner. The larger of them walked a little and the smaller left the field into the bush. Simply imagine the bruises incurred after the hourlong fight; a 60-pound head with horns swing on a five-foot-long muscular neck and a thousand pounds of animal force behind each blow. It was impressive and gave a completely new dimension into my imagined elegance of these creatures.
There are four giraffe species. I could easily identify two, the two others not seen are the Southern and the Northern.
The Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchii) is the tallest of all land animals and it is an extraordinary sight to see. The giraffe is known for its graceful movements and for being very picturesque. At top speed, the giraffe can run up to 50-60 miles per hour. Kenya is home to giraffe (sub)species. In northern Kenya you’ll see the reticulated or Somali giraffe. Particularly rare is Rothschild’s giraffe (about which there is ongoing discussion whether it concerns an actual subspecies). In southern Kenya, you’ll come across Massai giraffes. Massai giraffes are different from reticulated giraffes in that they have jagged spots on their bodies, instead of polygonal liver-coloured spots. Approximately 33,000 Masai giraffes live in this region and most of them live in small groups. Approximately 16 – 20 hours of their day is spent feeding. Their favorite snack are Acacia tree leaves. Their long tongues and lips skillfuly avoid the Acacia tree thorns to snack on the tree’s leaves. As long as they have fresh vegetation, they can go without water for weeks. Typically the male giraffes eat from the top branches of the Acacia trees and the females eat from the bottom branches. Their greatest enemies are hyena, lions and poachers. Their greatest defence is their ability to escape at high speed and if necessary they defend themselves with their powerful kick.
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The cover picture is sunset at the Savute safari lodge. It was our first camp site of the trip.
To give you a sense of location, distance and time this post provides maps, lodging, accommodations, and transport details
This map shows the scope of the trip:
Africa Camp sites were:
Savute Safari Lodge on the Savute Channel and water hole Linyanti, Botswana,
Camp Okavango on the remote Nxaragha Island on the edge of Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Chobe Game Lodge in the Chobe National Park on the Chobe River, Botswana
Sweetwaters Reserve, private 24,000-acre sanctuary, Kenya
Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya
Kichwa Tembo Camp in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
All of our accommodations were in “tents”. These were substantial secure structures with partial masonry walls and floors and included lavatories and toilets, electricity, beds with nets, flaps over screens that open to panoramic views of the wilderness and walking paths. The camp sites had a central hotel like area that included meeting and dining areas, full service bar, and observation decks,
We stayed two to four nights at each camp site. We took as many as four “game drive” trips from the central camp with a private driver/guide to see the surrounding countryside and wildlife. The vehicles were open sided with covered or convertible tops. In the afternoon there was always a civilized picnic from the parked car, parked in a cleared spot in the bush, with coffee, tea, mixed drinks or wine along with baked snacks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served buffet style at the camp site dining lodge.
Although the camps were fenced, animals were able to pass through the camp. Walking guests were always accompanied by staff in the twilight as they went to or from the central lodge. The animals were diverse and not threatening. On every walk in camp I saw small hippo, dic-dic, antelope, baboon, warthog or impala. Many of these were visible throughout camp during the day or night.
The travel distance between the two target areas is about 1500 miles by air. We flew from Okavango delta to Chobe by bush plane and then drove to Livingston and continued to Nairobi by jet. From Nairobi to the Sweetwater lodge we went by private car. From Sweetwater we flew to Kichwa Tembo.
The bush planes were modern single engine aircraft with a passenger capacity from 12 to 20 people. These bush planes did have a luggage weight limit of 30 pounds, however, it was not severely enforced. There were no scales and some passengers did have hard suitcases. I would not recommend pushing the regulations. There is no real need to take more as the weather is relatively constant and there are laundry options at all of the lodges.
There are other travel options such as automobile which were greater in duration and have additional risks. Driving from the Okavango to Massai Mara takes two days to cross Botswana Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. Considering the condition of the roads, questionable accommodations, and cost differential I don’t thing that it is advisable.
For more information, all of the camp sites and lodges have their own websites. They are reasonably accurate. If youconsultthe national websites they provide excellent detailed information. When we were in Zambia and Kenya no-one checked for yellow fever vaccination. There were no significant insects seen on our travel throughout our trip. We did wear long pants and shirts and hats for insect and sun protection. Most of our clothing was purchased from REI or Eddie Bauer. There was no internet service. Emergency communication services was available for guests through the business offices at most camp sites.
All of our travel arrangements were done through Nature Expedition International agency. I provided an agenda, list of desired observations and time schedule. The agent then shopped the trip to providers and agencies to build a trip. This included camp sites, accommodations and transportation. All meals were included. We arranged all of our in and out of Africa flights. These flights could be cancelled with full refund up to 24 hours prior to departure. We purchased travel insurance through Berkshire Hathaway Travel and did not include the cost of the flights.
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#Okavango #Kenya # travel #Savute Safari Lodge #Camp Okavango #Chobe Game Lodge #Sweetwaters Reserve #Samburu Game Reserve #Kichwa Tembo Camp
The previous posting on Africa showed the photographic preparation for the trip. This posting is an introduction to the upcoming blogs which will feature the animal and plant wildlife in more detail. This photo safari was planned for thirty years. It has been postponed three times. At last, this was the opportunity to go. Botswana and Kenya are the two countries we visited in sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons to go there were their diversity of wildlife, ecosystems, and safety. The month of August was selected to be timely to see the greatest density of animals in the most clement season. It was also an opportunity to look for the similarities and differences of the comparable African and US locations. Here are thoughts, impressions and recounting of the two weeks of experience there.
The title sunset image is typical of the African sky. The beautiful sunset red comes from sand and minerals of the desert suspended in the air and refracted by the light. These same sands which are blown across the Atlantic Ocean color our Floridian sunsets too.
This lengthy monologue is only a rudimentary description of a very large subject. It is intended to help understand and appreciate the reasons for these features seen on this expedition and to summarize the complexities of the climate, geology, the flow of water on the land, the interdependency of species and some similarities to areas in the USA. The two major eco systems were marshlands and savanna. In Botswana the wetlands of the Okavango delta were the focal point. In Kenya the savanna of the Maasai Mara section of the Serengeti was of greatest interest. The Okavango delta ecosystem has some similarities to the wetlands found in the Southwest Florida Everglades National and State Park systems. The Maasai Mara is more like the grasslands of Montana where, 250 years ago, buffalo, antelope, elk, and wolf roamed in their own great migration.
Climate and Geology:
The Okavango delta is 19 degrees south of the Equator. The Florida Everglades are 19 degrees north of the equator. They receive approximately the same amount of energy from the sun. The marshlands of the Okavango delta and the Florida Everglades are both essentially inland dispersions of fresh water. The Okavango is a unique feature of the Kalahari Desert. This delta is deep in the interior of the land mass and the climate is continental. Unlike the Everglades, it does not have the moderating exposure to a neighboring ocean. It has a soil basis of sand that averages 200 feet deep. On top of that is a soil of a few inches depth with mixtures of soil brought by wind, flood, and a thin organic compost. The average elevation is 3100 ft. The delta has three biome types that include savanna, woodlands, and swamp. The Okavango River supply is derived from the confluence of the Cubango and Cuito rivers in Angola. The annual flow reaches the delta between March and June with maximum flow in July. Additionally, there is seasonal 18-inch rainfall in the Okavango from November to February which adds to water shed.
Floridian Everglades are at sea level and are founded on petrified sea bottom called sedimentary rock with a high calcium carbonate basis called limestone. The Florida Everglades topsoil is an average 17-foot-thick layer of marl (calcitic mud), peat and muck. The Everglades are subtropical wetlands whose freshwater system begins near Orlando in the Kissimmee River. The average annual rainfall is 60 inches. The Everglades have a maritime weather with tropical storms and moderation of climate. Climatically, there are no hurricanes in the Okavango and in the Everglades there is no drought.
In support of the science of plate tectonics. The Americas and Africa were one land mass 200 million years ago.
The concept of moving plates of the crust of the earth suggests that at a distant time in the past the assembly of the plates separated into the various land bodies. The shapes of the land mass fragments seen today can be manipulated as puzzle pieces into a larger land mass that fits together quite well. This particular assembly is called Pangea. If this is how the continents formed then there is a strong relationship between the eastern geology of the Americas and the western African geology. This fit is not entirely perfect, however, when considering the length of time for the division to transpire it is remarkably good. This has been supported by substantial evidence of rock formations that span the continents.The science is based on continental fit, matching rocks, fossils, corals, mountains, glacial striations, magnetic lineages and direct measurement of the movement.
About 98% of the water that goes into the Okavango delta is eventually lost through evaporation and transpiration. Transpiration results when water moves through the plant and evaporates from leaves and flowers. Despite the subtropical sun generating intense evaporation, the delta’s water is fresh, not salty. I was surprised by this because non circulating ponds of water in the middle parts of the islands have very high chemical and salt concentrations. This chemical concentration occurs in thousands of islands. The reason the water is fresh is that trees on the edges of the islands create a barrier of natural filters between the inner part of the islands and the floodplain. The second reason is a process of transpiration caused by trees. Water flows into the delta and carries with it silica and soluble minerals like sodium carbonate. As the water is lost from the trees, the silica and salts remain to build islands. The center of the islands concentrates the accumulated salt and as a result the vegetation dies from dehydration leaving a central bare white mineral spot. Termites facilitate island formation when they build nests of organic material, fungus, soil and water. These mounds of soil and nutrients promote tree and other plant growth. When the seasonal water rises the termites build skyward forming islands. Eventually the nest is abandoned to form a new colony. The mound then collapses from animal invasion and erosion. Termites are the keystone species of the Okavango. Without them the delta would be like the desert. Water would be lost, and life would be less dense and less diverse.The Okavango has no palm trees and pines are also nearly absent.
The vegetation in Florida also plays an important role. The ocean barrier to salt invasion are mangroves which are salt tolerant. These mangroves are key to prevention of back flow of the salty ocean and hold the soil preventing erosion. Some fresh water flow does reach the ocean creating a relative partial positive pressure. The soils of the Everglades are rich in nitrates and farmers increase the nitrogen of a large portion of the Everglades. This has resulted in an overgrowth of a complex of bacteria species which feeds on the nitrates and deplete the nutrient value of the topsoil. The Everglades have no Acacia trees and lots of mosquitos.
The Kenyan savanna is climatically and geologically very different from the Okavango savanna. Kenya is at the Equator. It is a mile high in altitude and the soil is volcanic in origin. It is more like the area around Denver CO. It is surrounded by hills and mountains and has two rivers flowing through it. The major river flow is the Mara. The other is the Talek. It is part of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem spanning Tanzania and Kenya and has been geologically very active with ancient and recent rock formations. It is in the Great Rift Valley. It is in this valley that the million-year-old petrified remains of very early hominoids have been found.
The plants and animals are widely different in speciation in these three areas but they have similar behavior. This may be the result of adaptation to similar geologic and weather conditions. The apex predators of all locations are big cats. All have eagles, egrets, large carnivorous reptiles and cats and lots of grass.
The effect of the behavior of large numbers of modern people on the Florida ecosystem is dramatically different from the African locations. The Everglades water flow is highly engineered and not necessarily for the best. Southward flow of the Florida delta is interfered by highways and farms to the point that it does not meet the sea as it original did. The Okavango delta also does not meet the sea. In Africa the observed locations have relatively low populations and have been benignly neglected or protected from hunting, industrialization, mining or drilling and farming so that the plants and animals have survived basically unchanged for centuries or even millennia.
Romancing Wild Africa:
We went to see the animal life of Africa and did not go to see the cities, towns, or villages. We did not have much contact with the people of the areas we visited. Africa is a huge, populous, resource rich continent with a history that dates to the origin of most species. There is great wealth and great poverty. Too many people have nothing. They live an impoverished stone age existence in the space age. I acknowledge that many of these are desperately poor and politically persecuted to enslavement and/or death. The NGOs, like CARE, work to help many but must be careful to manage their limited resources. They also try not to support the migrant people in camps to a better level than the local people. The native residents also live by subsistence on gardening, raising a few cattle, contract farm working, tourism, and crafts. Some also engage in a variety of illegal endeavors such as poaching and grazing their animals on park land. You can read the newspapers for details of other antisocial behaviors such as intertribal warfare, abduction, extortion, theft, civil insurrection etc. Desperate people do desperate things.
The wilderness of the savanna of Africa is nothing like anything in eastern US. There is no sense of luxury to the plants or the soil. Much of the topsoil is sand deposited by wind and water. The stark beige color varies little by the source of volcanic mineralization. The organic content is not a rich loam of plant breakdown. It is thin and the organic content is from the sparse droppings from animals or the occasional bush or more rarely from a tree. Animal droppings are recycled by the life on the planes and provide an episodic line of trees from incompletely digested seeds. The brilliant emerald green plants, startling blue sky and the breathtaking color of twilight is such a relief from the monotony.
We will look in greater detail at the findings of this two-week photo expedition in the following blogs. They will focus more on species than locations.
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#Africa #Okavango #Botswana #Kenya #Everglades #transpiration #Maasai Mara #salt #tectonics #transpiration #evaporation #Tanzania #marsh land #savanna
2 responses to “African Wild Dogs – Hunting”
This was my absolute favorite part of the safari. Great write-up. My adrenaline rushed as I continued to read. Trident yes! “Dogged precision” – you are indeed a punster.
When we return to Africa we can include more video with audio. That should bring it even more to life.