The humble warthog

Most people associate warthogs with Pumba, the funny character from The Lion King. My first ever sighting of ones of these little creatures was at Kruger from a far distance and it was hidden behind fallen tree trunks and bushes so all I ccould see was grey and the tusks. But from where I sat without my glasses and it being my first safari, my first thought was: “Mini rhino!” 

Physically, the male warthog has four warts on his face whilst the female has two. It is thought that the males have more to protect them from the tusks during their dominance fights with other males.

During my studies, these little creatures have actually endeared themselves to me as I learnt about their social behaviour, which may be similar to the domestic farm pig. Of all the animals, the warthog is a romantic, a story I love to share whenever I am on a game drive taking guests!

Focus on elephants

This month I have started a new life in unchartered territory! I’ve started work at a new NGO focused on African elephant conservation.

I’m very excited to be able to work in this space as elephants are magnificent creatures and have such an impact on the environment for other little creatures and plant life. They are are the gardeners of Africa. 

As part of my role I am looking into other NGO’S and the work that is already being done and seeing how we can support those activities, whether it is to connect with other NGO’S who can provide complementary functions, finding more efficient solutions to save them costs, bringing across donors to make them aware or supporting local communities in order to prevent them from becoming part of the problem.

The NGO’S I’m most looking forward to meet are those who’ve done so much work in expanding wildlife protected areas and opening up corridors and migratory pathways. Years of dedication, advocacy and strong conservation understanding is needed for this to happen. I would love to see how we can open up more of Africa for these animals who used to roam all over Africa and are now only 1.25% of theirestimated original population!

Bat-eared foxes

Easy to identify compared to most foxes, this mammal has conspicuously large ears used to listen for insects underground.  Its staple food is the harvester termite yet they also have been known to eat small rodents and fruit. The bat-eared fox also has the most teeth of Southern African mammals that I studied, which are shaped optimally for eating those tasty termites.

We were lucky enough at Marataba Game Reserve, South Africa to see the bat-eared foxes, like the ones on the featured image, on a regular basis. They are known for being very rare to spot on safari.

This photo above and below are from Central Kalahari Reserve, Botswana.

They are predominantly monogamous and we often saw them only in pairs, or as a family with young.

My favourite observation of these cute animals was watching them forage.  They crouch and put their ears low to the ground to listen for sounds underground.  When they know their food is arriving to the surface, they have this very accurate pounce and digging action.

In the dark of night

If you’re lucky on safari, you get to observe the most elusive of Africa’s big five, the leopard. Most of the time all you get is a fleeting glance before they disappear into the bush.

One night we were privileged beyond belief.

We were watching a movie in our self-made outdoor galactic cinema with projectors, and safari vehicles and beanbags as seating.  Some of the guys left the movie early to go get a good night’s sleep before another big day of learning. 

Suddenly we heard them come back. They said ‘Come, come, you’ve got to see this!’

Up we went and everyone went scurrying for flashlights. Down one end of camp across the marsh another flashlight was shone. A leopard. No! Two leopards canoodling under a tree on the geophasia bank!

Everyone was super quiet but in awe as we watched their interaction.

They looked comfortable enough for me to leave and grab my camera and tripod right on the other side of camp. I was praying that they would still be there when I got back. And with my very poor camera skills I was very happy to capture 1 decent photo of these two beautiful cats.

To watch them groom each other and make contact was sensational. Normally leopards are so solitary. Magical moments to treasure.

The Little Five of Africa

Marketing of Safaris in Africa frequently refer to the Big Five, being the most acclaimed of African animals from the hunter’s perspective back in the day.

Africa’s Little Five includes the above elephant shrew, the rhinoceros beetle, the leopard tortoise, the antlion and the buffalo weaver.

As you can probably guess, it’s named for it’s trunk like snout but isn’t at all related to the elephant.
This wild elephant shrew was photographed at Marakele National Park. It scurried from rock cover to rock cover in a flash and yet was so comfortable darting beneath our legs as we sat on the rocks to observe.

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So of the Little Five, I’ve yet to see a rhinoceros beetle and have only managed to track antlion larvae and see the adult version of an antlion, being the lacewing.

African Penguin 

Recently, I went to show some family the beautiful city of Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Of the many beautiful and insightful things to do there, a visit to Boulders Beach is a must in order to see the endangered African Penguins which have a safe haven in the form of this cordoned off nature reserve.

There is a restricted breeding area where we were fortunate enough to watch a mother warm and care for its young, and a group of young ones obviously trying to learn to swim in the busy surf crashing on some large boulders by the waters edge.  It was great to see these animals in action.

Some stay close to the fence line with the boardwalk and it’s a bit disturbing to see how unaffected by humans they are.

They say their vulnerability as a species has been due to habitat destruction, fisheries reducing food supplies, guano collection (which increase their breeding vulnerability) and oil spills as they are flightless birds so have difficulty avoiding them. In June 1994, approx. 10000 penguins were oiled and 50% died.

African penguins with black oystercatchers

Human activity again is essentially the cause for the drop in population of these little guys!

Cultural understanding 

Having spent a good portion of my time in Zululand of South Africa, I’ve tried to learn a bit about these beautiful people.

Firstly I’ve been trying to learn the language. I’ve a long way to go before I get more culturally aware but the following phrases are the first steps:

  • Sawabona – hello
  • Yeah Bo! (That’s what it sounds like, I’m not so sure about the spelling) – an emphatic greeting
  • Siyabonga – thank you

    We went to a zulu dancing and cultural centre in Natal where we learnt about how marriage takes place in zulu culture. It costs a man at least 11 cows to win a wife from her family. And they can have multiple wives… If they have sufficient cows!

    The zulu traditional dress includes using animal skins and fur, making colourful beadwork and assagai shields made from animal hide.

    Their music and dancing is joyous and energetic filled with rhythm and drums.

    Shamans from the zulu culture throw animals bones to see into the future and determine whether a woman is suitable as a wife.


    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.

    Giraffa camelopardalis

    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!

    Giraffe eating leaves

    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.

    Big ball of cud
    Chewing the cud