The African buffalo is one of the Big Five, a term that signifies what hunters classed as the most difficult animals to hunt on foot. The buffalo is known for being cantankerous animals, easily spooked into a stampede or worse, to nose up with their eyes straight at the threat and run, buck their heads down just before and attempt to hook their horns into the intended victim.
There was a period of time back in the late 1800’s when the African buffalo was nearly wiped out due to disease. Rinderpest was one of the most devastating of animal diseases killing millions of buffalo affecting about 90% of the buffalo population.
These days African buffalo still suffer, during drought seasons when water sources dry up. Several parks around Africa include as part of their conservation management practices a game count of African buffalo especially in dry season, in order to monitor and maintain the species.
Being such a unique looking animal, the giraffe has a special place in many people’s hearts. Its name “giraffa” is derived from an Arabic word meaning fast-walker. When it was first observed by English-speaking people, it was thought to look like a camel with leopard-like colouring, hence the second part of its species name “camelopardalis”.
It has evolved over time with such unique characteristics in order to survive in the wilderness of Africa. As the tallest animal in the world, it’s long neck enables it to reach food at the tops of the acacia trees, minimising it’s competition from other herbivores. A very long tongue and flexible upper lip enable the giraffe to reach the crowns of small trees and nimbly pull leaves from amongst the thorns. It even has horny papillae on its lips and tongue to further protect it from thorns!
Like many even-hooved animals, the giraffe is a ruminant with 4 stomach chambers much like the cow. Below you can see the giraffe chewing the cud it has regurgitated to further extract nutrients from the food it has digested.
Zebras are a beautiful species, with their stunning black and white stripes.
There are many theories for the colouring, the most postured one being that it enables the individuals to gather together and “dazzle” a predator to the point of confusion where they have difficulty isolating a particular individual as potential prey. Another one is that it helps with discouraging biting flies and thermal regulation.
So is the zebra black with white stripes OR white with black stripes?
The African wildebeest are internationally renowned for their great migrations through the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti. During my time at college, the local students would tell me that generally these animals are known for not being the brightest animal, and there always seems to be the one wildebeest with an identity crisis hanging out with the zebras. Even I’ve observed this in Kruger, in Marataba and in Hwange!
They are more locally known as gnu, an indigenous word originating probably from the sound that the wildebeest make. When we were walking in the bush as part of our Back-up Trails Guide course, these animals would gruffly snort when they see/smell you and stand to attention and watch as you walk past.
Wildebeest are territorial animals and they leave scent marks in order to communicate to other animals where their territory is. This is a photo of one making its mark in the dirt – they turn and twist as if they are trying to scratch an itch on their back… quite funny to watch and very different to those grizzly bears who cleverly scratch their backs on tree trunks.
During rainy season the bush is very thick so it’s not the best time for big game viewing. But summer is an amazing time for bird viewing as there are so many migratory birds around.
I also find that without the distraction of the big game then you do notice the birds more.
The featured image are a pair of cuddling laughing doves, appropriate for this Valentine’s week!
Below are some more birds from a game drive in Hwange.
Curious looking Knob-billed duck. Up close you get to see the beautiful aqua green colouring at his rear! Sensational.
The Lilac-breasted roller, one of my favourite birds due to the magnificent array of colours. It unfortunately has a horrible screeching call but it’s very distinct and is usually a lead into its aerobatic rolling when finding a mate.
I find birds of prey very difficult to identify. This one I think is a tawny eagle due to the yellow gape below the eye and the legs which aren’t stovepipe so can’t be a lesser spotted eagle and they aren’t broad so it’s not a steppe eagle. If you can confirm or identify correctly please do! I would appreciate it.
Last year at NJ More college, we created so many wonderful memories and there were so many days where we said to ourselves: ‘Could it really get any better than this?’
Then came the best day ever. This leopard was my personal highlight of this game drive and I was so rapt that I could capture it in the brief moment we were allowed into its world before it turned off into the thick veld.
Leopards are definitely my favourite predator. There’s something magical about them… their elusiveness leaves you mystified and wanting more, their instinctive nature to hunt or hide is mesmerising in its totality and physically they are solid yet elegant, strong but dainty & silent on their feet. Such an impressive animal to watch.
I am happy that they are so elusive as it helps them survive in this day and age of humans, the destroyers.
There are many stories of leopards and lions around the world being manhunters and whilst it is chilling to read, in some ways nature fighting back for its rightful place on this planet is heartwarming. It’s a shame that humans are so effective due to sheer numbers in outdoing nature. Happy to be part of those trying to rectify humanity’s mistakes.
From our course on nature guiding we learnt to distinguish 3 types of chelonians: the tortoise, terrapin and turtle.
The tortoise is the one you typically find on land and has feet appropriate for walking.
At NJ More we managed to witness this leopard tortoise swim!
A terrapin lives in freshwater unlike the turtle which lives in seawater.
As a comparison here is a sea turtle from a diving trip in Bali many moons ago.
The leopard tortoise is one of my favourites and are awesome to see in the wild. They are part of Africa’s Little Five. Below is a photo I took of one during our Wildlife Photography sessions at NJ More Field Guide College with Mike Tucker from Big5Photos.
Birding has become a new hobby that I have grown to love here in Africa for several reasons: 1) so many birds here are stunning in the colours that you see 2) there are SOOO many of them and 3) learning about their individual characteristics truly makes it more than just a little thing flying in the air!
Lifers are new birds that you haven’t ever seen before and can add to your life list of birds (proper birders keep a tally!).
So here are some of my new lifers from this Botswana trip.
Open bill stork
Black-crowned night herons with the spotty juvenile.
Northern black korhaan in display
My new favourite birds, Southern carmine bee-eaters
Wattled crane (with a saddle-billed stork on the left)
I really wanted to see a black heron after watching that video compilation of animals from BBC with the voiceovers. The black heron is the one that does the “daytime”, “night time” display. Unfortunately it wasn’t the right time of day to see this one hiding under its wings… next time!
This one looks like those gym junkies you see and how they strut sometimes showing off their muscles.
I saw this and thought… this kori bustard is strange looking with the black on its back and legs!
Lifers include pied avocet and my first bullfrog!
Check out the spurs on the legs of this fowl!
So fortunate to see this kori bustard displaying for a few females! His swagger was amazing to watch.
Wild changes for life. Life for the wild. Conservation in action.