All posts filed under: Animals

Through the Eyes of an African Elephant

As published on Jabulani > When an African elephant is born, it is completely blind… It relies on its other senses to navigate its strange new world from between its herd’s legs. As its eyesight develops, allowing it to seek out delicious soft green shoots and ripe Amarula fruit, and ‘keep an eye’ on other calves, the eyes remain small – relative to its size; it is, after all, the largest living land animal. They provide only moderate vision. Even with its tiny eyes, it remains one of the world’s most intelligent animals – described by Aristotle as “the animal that surpasses all others in wit and mind.” How it navigates its world and creates its complex inner life is through their sense of touch, hearing and smell, senses that humans have become much less adept at in comparison. In the dry season in the wild, elephants travel vast distances to track down new sources of water and food, but they are far more likely to smell or hear the water than to see it. Originally they roamed as far …

Buffy the Lion Slayer

Published for Jabulani. Read the post here > The Unexpected Camaraderie of the African Buffalo We’ve all had an itch we couldn’t scratch… Perhaps, desperately, when battling a tickle on your nose or foot, when your hands are tucked away under a cloak at the hairdressers, or wrapped around heavy shopping bags, while walking to the car. Twitch your nose or shake your toes all you like, the itch just gets more tenacious. Didn’t you ever wish for that third arm, a tail, or personal assistant maybe? The African buffalo has just that – a flock of assistants, named oxpeckers. These clever little birds spend their days in all the inaccessible places that even a tail can’t reach, cleaning and combing and picking. They clean the wax out of the buffalo’s ears and peck on ticks and other parasites. They clean wounds and even scar tissue. They also act as an early warning system and hiss at approaching danger. How delightful it would be to have our own oxpecker! Buffalo the Lion Slayer Lions are …

A Creep of Tortoises

A Blog for Jabulani. Read the post here > “Oh, a very useful philosophical animal, your average tortoise. Outrunning metaphorical arrows, beating hares in races… very handy.” – Terry Pratchett Strategy, that’s what’s needed. In order to be there at the end of the race, you need a strategy. To be a participant in the race of life requires a well-conceived plan. And so the tortoise grew a shell. Of course, in that amazing, fun, random and seemingly experimental way that nature has, tortoise shells come in a multitude of shapes, colours, patterns and sizes. Some have flaps and hinges and some are made in a 3D printer. South Africa, and in particular the Cape Province, has the richest diversity of tortoises in the world. In our reserve at Jabulani and in the Great Kruger Park region, it’s mostly leopard tortoise that we encounter, as well as some hinged tortoises and the cape and serrated Terrapins (freshwater tortoises). The leopard tortoise is a member of the not-as-famous Little Five… They are so-named because of their rosette-patterned shells. Unique to …

My Chemical Romance

Written for Jabulani, published here: The Silent Language of Elephants & Other Animals ~ The Jacobson Organ Making Sense of Elephants We’ve always known that elephants relied on their Big 5 senses of taste, sight, hearing, smell and touch in different ways – senses that are essential to everyday animal life, that complement one another and help them to track down fresh new grass and leaves to munch on. Senses that are used in search of ripe marulas and underground water in the dry season, that are vital in the all-important struggle to remain safe from predators, to hear the give-away rustle and detect that invisible lion in a wind-carried warning. But these animals have a sixth sense too… One that is used in those most important of pursuits – love, romance and procreation. Animals communicate through chemical or olfactory methods, such as through pheromones. Chemicals that provide information and deliver several messages, pheromones are released in various bodily fluids, such as sweat, urine, secretions from elephant’s temporal glands and in dung. To decipher these …

Tangled Up in Blue ~ Fish Eagles

The only thing I knew how to do Was to keep on keepin’ on Like a bird that flew Tangled up in blue. – Bob Dylan The scientific classification of the African fish eagle, Haliaeetus vocifer, gives a clue to its nature. Derived from the ancient Greek words hali, “at sea” and aetos, “eagle”  and vocifer, which refers to the vociferous call of this African eagle. It was named by the French naturalist François Levaillant, who called it ‘the vociferous one’ The mighty African fish eagle is a star of stage and screen, its film-star good looks giving it an air of superiority, its regal bearing leading us to fall head-over-heels. Its singing voice is known throughout the world, the haunting screech that lingers in both the endless African sky and, somehow, in our souls. Once heard it remains trapped in our memories, a lonely plaintive wail that resounds across Africa. Our shivering spine and erect hairs are a reminder of a long past time when we were the hunted. A primeval memory stirred by a …

How Do You Build a Nest? One Strand at a Time…

Blog published for Royal Chundu here > Resting, Digesting & Weaver Nesting From around November to April, the European and North African migratory birds are back on the Zambezi and the river’s resident birds get all dressed up in their breeding plumage. During this time, it is nesting season and the weaver-birds get right to plying their trade. When it comes to feathering their own nests, the male southern masked weavers simply don’t. They’re adept at the basics: a secure fixing, a waterproof roof and an entrance that keeps intruders where they belong, but the fluffy bits are up to the Missus. Location, location, location Nests are often positioned on out-of-reach branch tips or water-surrounded reeds to ensure that raiders, in search of eggs or hatchlings, go unrewarded. Kivu Boomslang, African harrier hawks and vervet monkeys are among the trouble-makers and so the spot chosen by the male weaver will be one of the prerequisites that inform the females’ willingness to move in. Attracting the female requires a combination of finding the best available site, …

Be Still, My Beating Heart ~ The Peace of Esiweni

  “The light of oneness is available to all of us, present in hidden aquifers where life’s waters continue to flow, waiting in a living silence for us to notice.” ― Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Pemba has the biggest, most constant smile I’ve ever seen on a guide. It’s one of the things I remember most about our safari in the Nambiti, at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in South Africa. On our game drives through the reserve, we’d talk now and again, and then lull back into a content quiet in the warmth of the day, beside giraffe moving across the open plains (be still, my beating heart), or black rhinos browsing and lions drinking from shallow pools.     In the silence, we’d look over at each other and smile. I saw Pemba’s smile more often than I heard him talk. And talking was no problem for him. His beaming face simply took over, recognising the need for quiet, while communicating all there was to communicate. And I understood each message, each unspoken sentiment. How fortunate we …

The Foraging Flâneur – The Charm of a Giraffe Named Oscar

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.   There was talk of a tall, handsome man about town roaming the wilderness of Epako Safari Lodge in Omaruru, Namibia, where we found ourselves one April afternoon. The man went by the name of Oscar. Oscar Wilde in the wild. Yet, he was in fact not a man, but a giraffe, and not a he, but a she. Oscar’s name was given to her more in the way of Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue”, than any traditional gender-appropriate naming strategy. And in case we were in any doubt, there was proof. When we arrived at the lodge, Oscar had just given birth. For the second time. Where her infant was we did not know.     Just as she was eluding my gaze so was she hiding her new-born in a secret location out in the 11,000 hectare private reserve at Epako, while she went about the duty of the foraging flâneur, eating furiously from every bush that passed her approval, to provide …

Do You Ride? – A Horse Safari in Kenya

First published in the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog > Do you ride? People are always asking that. It’s not good enough that we’ve bravely mounted bicycles and game vehicles and slept among roaming lion prides and night-creeping hippos. We need to ride horses too, through the greatest wildernesses in the world. I’ve witnessed many travellers scoff at such a question. I’ve also witnessed pro-riders leap gallantly at the suggestion, heading out on rides as often as time on their safari allows. I’m somewhere in between these two types. To the invite to ride, I scoff and leap at the same time. “Yes, of course I ride! I’ve been on six horses! And I’ve never fallen off! Although I did once contemplate bolting from a spooked horse during his furious downhill dash, one dark and scary night in the countryside.” The Chyulu Hills in Kenya, at ol Donyo Lodge, is no simple countryside, though. Nor is the Maasai Mara, at Mara Plains Camp. There are all kinds of marvellous animals hiding and seeking. At ol …

A Safari Morning

In the early morning, mine is the only voice I hear. You might think this odd. You’ll think, ok, this girl talks to herself. But it also has to do with reflexes. Tap my elbow and see my arm shoot out. Stand on my toe and hear me shout. Show me a sunrise from a treehouse in the wild, the sound of elephants and that coo coo of a distant dove and listen for my woahs and wows. My unbelievables and you’re kidding me’s. There’s the voice inside my head too, when the peace and quiet feels too good to disturb. This is how a morning in my villa at Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa begins. This is a morning in Africa, the wilderness. Without anyone around, my hands dance from white duvet to coffee cup, slipper to nightgown, as I slip out through the sliding doors, closing them to keep the monkeys out (I’d much rather they played in the trees). I take my place in the moving gold light as it spreads over …