Tag Archives: African Wildlife

African Wildlife Encounter #2: African Wild Dogs with Puppy

On this day while in Tembe Elephant Park we were working to habituate three African Wild Dogs (also called Painted Dogs) to the sound of the vehicle. The goal was to get them used to our vehicle so that we could both identify all the members of the pack, check their health, and eventually dart them for translocation to a safer area. To do this, we routinely had to locate the alpha female which wears a radio-collar and place parts from a dead Nyala or Impala on the ground, chained or tied to a tree.

A recording of Painted Dogs making a kill was played and usually after 10-20 minutes the pack would have found us and sniffed out the free food. This was the first time that we saw the puppy come out from its den.

Painted Dog pups typically den for their first several weeks, suckling from their mother and, when they’re old enough, eating food regurgitated to them from their older pack members or small bits of food brought back for them. After only a couple of months they must be strong enough to follow the pack’s nomadic lifestyle and keep up on the exciting hunts. Once old enough to keep up with the pack, Painted Dogs typically let the youngest eat first to make sure that they have enough nourishment, which is why we see the adult deferring to the youngest member. The twittering sounds heard int his video mostly come from this feisty pup who is excited to have this feast and also bravely guarding his meal!

Like their canine cousins, Painted Dogs give birth to several pups per litter. Unfortunately the little pup in the video, probably 8-12 weeks old, was the only survivor. While it’s not uncommon for pups to be lost due to weakness or disease, it’s most likely that predator persecution by lions was the cause of this pup losing its siblings.

The pup was very strong and active during the observation period, as shown in this video. The high-pitched vocalizations that are heard are characteristic of Painted Dogs and serve as a means of expressing excitement over their meal and letting others in the pack know that there is food to share.

More Information:

Many people have mistaken the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) as a diseased Wolf, Domestic Dog, or even Jackal. However there are several defining visual characteristics which set the African Wild Dog apart from its distant relatives in the Canidae family. The most obvious feature is the coloration of its coat. Often they have three distinct colors represented: white, black, and tan, although there are some dogs with little or no white. Close-up, it’s also easier to make out their ears which are larger than a similarly-sized dog’s or wolf’s and much more rounded than triangular.

African Wild Dogs are better described by their other name, “Painted Dogs,” because they are naturally wild and evolved independently from the other extant species in the Canidae family, which includes Wolves, Jackals, Coyotes, and Domestic Dogs. Painted Dogs live in packs with usually around a dozen members, but packs have been observed with three times that many members. They are among Africa’s most successful hunters. Painted Dogs achieve their goals at least 30% of the time, about twice as often as large cats including Lions which may hunt as a pride.

Unlike Lions and other species that live in a close-knit group, Painted Dogs often let their young eat first. This suggests that the dogs are not only grouping for social reasons, but because they are stronger as a pack and only as strong as their weakest member.

African Wildlife: Hyaenidae Family (Hyena and Aardwolf)

Hyenas and Aardwolves play an integral role in their habitats and show tremendous diversity between species. Interestingly, Hyenas are categorized in the feliformia suborder of the carnivora order due to a physiology and behavior more similar to cat-like species. Each species has shown unique adaptations that allow it to be individually successful in specific environments and they have all out-lasted the dog-like species that had similar bone-crushing adaptations millions of years ago.

While not typically called a Hyena, the Aardwolf is classified in the same suborder, but is not a descendant of the same ancestors of its bone-crushing relatives. The name Aardwolf is derived from the Afrikaans words “earth” and “wolf” because it primarily feeds on termites rather than on large animals or plants.

The other three species in the Hyena family are known for their ability to crush bones, one of several specializations that evolved millions of years ago and allowed the ancestors of modern Hyena to succeed in varied environments and compete successfully with rival species in their region. Spotted Hyena have the strongest jaws of any mammal and are capable of exerting enough force (1140 lbf/in2 ) to crush elephant bones.

The Spotted Hyena, also known as the Laughing Hyena because of its trademark vocalization, is one of Africa’s largest predators and the largest of the four species in the family. Another interesting aspect is that Spotted Hyena females have high levels of testosterone which plays a role in the hierarchy of the clan as it is females that are dominant, with an alpha female taking precedence in the clan and taking the largest share of any group kill. Females also are typically the most aggressive and largest. High testosterone levels may also be responsible for the development in female Spotted Hyena of ambiguous genitalia.

Conservation Status & Threats
Injured female Spotted Hyena by the side of the road in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Injured female Spotted Hyena by the side of the road in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Spotted Hyena and Aardwolves are listed as “least concern” by IUCN, with the Striped Hyena listed as “near threatened” and the Brown Hyena as “vulnerable.” Habitat loss may represent the largest threats to the Hyaenidae species, but pesticide use in agriculture and pest control also plays a role in harming Aardwolves which eats primarily insects. In addition, there is a lot of misinformation and folklore which harms the relationship between humans and Hyena, furthering beliefs that the animals are ugly and evil.

This mistreatment and misunderstanding has in the past been exemplified in South Africa where the Aardwolf has been mistaken by land owners as a vicious carnivore and killed to protect livestock. Incidentally, overgrazing leads to a suitable habitat for termites, which Aardwolves can then control through predation, without impacting the livestock. This mutualistic relationship has helped farmers understand the utility of local Aardwolf populations.

However predator persecution, demand for traditional medicine, and poaching-related wildlife crimes can still present a noticeable impact on local populations. In particular, scavenging vultures are being increasingly targeted by poachers, who know that circling vultures act as a beacon that there is a newly dead animal. Anti-poaching rangers use such insights from the environment and quickly respond to a potential threat. To counter this response poachers have been poisoning the remains of animals to intentionally target vultures, however the poisons affect all scavenging species in the ecosystem including Brown and Striped Hyena and juvenile African Sea Eagles.

Various Hyena species have been blamed for livestock attacks or theft but only Spotted and Striped varieties have been known to kill humans and potentially livestock. Whereas the Brown Hyena is more likely to have been found scavenging remains that it finds and not be the culprit. However scavenging behavior, including digging for recently buried remains, have made many people regard Hyena with suspicion and fear. But that hasn’t prevented some individuals, and even warlords, from keeping Spotted Hyena as guard animals or exotic pets. However due to the nature of the animals, this relationship does not work out very well and many adult Hyena become too aggressive to be domesticated and lack opportunities to manage its hygiene, impacting its long-term health.

In some areas the species are killed for their parts for use in traditional medicines. These practices are evident in many old cultures, including ancient Romans and ancient Greeks, where specific parts of the Hyena were believed to aid in fertility or protect against evil. Hyena also have negative associations in both Middle Eastern and African folklore and mythology, partly due to the perception of scavenging animals being evil or related to the occult because they interact with dead bodies. However with scavenger animals to “clean up” the remains of dead animals, even if they are rotting or toxic, their habitat and human habitats would be at much greater risk of disease.

Habitat & Life

Distribution of species in Hyaenidae family, by Craig Pemberton (CCA-SA3.0)

All species in the Hyaenidae family are capable of vocalizations, although some barks are more reminiscent of a laugh than others, particularly in the Spotted Hyena. All species also bear a similar shape, with the forelegs being longer than the rear. It’s thought that this trait allows the meat-eating Hyena to more easily pick up carcasses or bones and carry it to their den, which could be kilometers away, or stored in one of their hiding spots.

The Spotted Hyena and Striped Hyena have the greatest ranges, each dominating significant portions of Africa. The Spotted Hyena is found in most open plains, bushveld, and rocky areas of sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the majority of South Africa. Spotted Hyena can travel up to 80 km (50 miles) a night as they search for food or a new clan. The Striped Hyena is the only existing species of the genus found in the Middle East through to India, but also survives in North and East Africa. The Brown Hyena is confined to a much smaller area, but has ranges throughout most of southern Africa due to its hospitable bushveld and grassland. Aardwolf populations are divided between parts of East Africa and the majority of southern Africa.

Clans of Spotted Hyena rely on several hierarchies to establish dominance over one another. Females are at the top, but an alpha female leads the clan and may kick members out. Her female relatives are typically the other top members of the hierarchy. Males establish their own dominance hierarchy that may determine which male(s) are allowed to mate with females. Clans of Spotted Hyena may range from 2-10, but hunting packs are typically 2-3 individuals.

Striped Hyena are more solitary than other Hyena and typically live in monogamous pairs and it’s the responsibility of the male to defend the den and young while the female forages for food. Alternatively they may hunt or scavenge in a family unit along with their young for one or more years.

Brown Hyenas may create a clan out of a family unit of many young, or organize into a small group of males and females with one alpha male dominant. Foraging may take individuals upwards of 50 km in a night as it looks for something to scavenge. Because kills are not always abundant, Brown Hyena may prey on rodents, eggs, and even eat fruits and vegetables to significantly supplement its diet.

Relatives

“Aardwolf taken at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.” by Greg Hume (CCA-SA3.0)

The Aardwolf (Proteles cristata), an insect-eating species that looks similar to the Striped Hyena, is also in the Hyaenidae family, but is in its own subfamily (Protelinae), while remaining a part of the overarching Hyaenidae group because of many similarities to the common ancestors of the Hyena. The Aardwolf specializes in eating termites and is predominantly nocturnal, when it will digs holes into sandy soil or termite mounds and may eat two hundred thousand termites and larvae in a single night, but may leave the nest intact so as to preserve the population for future predation. There is evidence that the Aardwolf will also eat small rodents and birds to supplement its diet.

Aardwolves are notably smaller than Hyena, standing 40-50 cm (1.3-1.6 feet) at the shoulders and weighing only 7-15 kg (15-33 pounds). They can be distinguished from their Hyena cousins by their slender build, coloration, and the five toes on their front paws.

Identification

Brown Hyena. Source: South African Tourism (http://www.southafrica.net)

Striped Hyena and Brown Hyena are about the same size, but their different markings make them easy to distinguish with the shaggy hair of the Brown Hyena very distinctive among the Hyaenidae. In Brown Hyena the males are typically a little larger than the females. Both sexes have large manes, the largest of any Hyena species, with long guard hairs that can stand on end to make themselves look larger to potential threats.

Spotted Hyena females have ambiguous genitalia which can make identification between males and females difficult. However female Spotted Hyena are typically also larger than the males as well as more aggressive, particularly in keeping their fellow clan members in line. Both males and females lack a significant mane, which differentiates them from the Aardwolf and Striped and Brown Hyena.

Comparison (Figures are approx.)

Attribute Brown Spotted Striped Aardwolf
Head and body length 1.1-1.3 meters (3.6-4.2 feet) .95-1.65 meters (3.1-5.4 feet) 1.0-1.1 meters (3.2-3.6 feet) .5-.8 meters (1.6-2.6 feet)
Shoulder height 64-88 cm (2.1-2.8 ft) 70-92 cm (2.3-3.0 ft) 60-95 cm (2-3.1 ft) 45-50 cm (1.5-1.6 ft)
Mane length 30 cm (1 ft) ~0 cm 20 cm (0.66 ft) ?? cm (?? ft)
Tail length 18-27 cm (0.6-0.9 ft) 25-36 cm (0.8-1.2 ft) 26-47 cm (0.8-1.5 ft) 20-30 cm (0.6-0.9 ft)
Male weight 37-45 kg (81-99 lb) 40-86 kg (88-189 lb) 25-55 kg (55-121 lb) 7-15 kg (15-33 lb)
Female weight slightly less than males 46-93 kg (101-205 lb) 25-55 kg (55-121 lb) 7-15 kg (15-33 lb)
Litter size 1-5 1-5 1-3 1-5

Sources

“Proteles cristata”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“The National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife” by Peter Alden, et al. (Copyright 1995 by Chanticleer Press, Inc.)

“The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals” Revised Edition, by Richard D. Estes (Copyright 1999 by Chelsea Green Publishing Co.)

“Walker’s Mammals of the Modern World” Sixth Edition, Volume 1, by Ronald M. Nowak (Copyright 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press)

Further Reading

Hyena Conservation

 

African Wildlife: White Rhinoceros & Black Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum & Diceros bicornis)

Rhinoceros are the second largest family of mega-fauna on land, with only the Elephant being larger and more dramatic in the way that it can change the landscape. Mega-fauna have the most important role in the ways that ecosystems change and can even change one type of ecosystem, from woodland to savanna. Or they may choose to let new trees grow in an area with only sparse trees, creating a new forest. They also provide a vital task in nutrient transport, effectively fertilizing areas with important substances that help to keep soil and plants healthy for future generations. These immense changes can take years or even decades, but Rhinoceros are not migratory animals and will stay in one region for generations continuing to nurture or destroy small habitats and turn them into ecosystems that are capable of supporting completely different wildlife.

Within the Rhinoceros family Rhinocerotidae there are two species native to Africa: White Rhinoceros and Black Rhinoceros. However these names do not describe their color, but may be related to the Afrikaans word wyd (wijd in Dutch) meaning “wide” used to identify the White Rhino which has a characteristic wide or “square-lipped” mouth. The Black Rhino is called “hook-lipped” due to its prehensile upper lip that can grab onto leaves and food. Black Rhino are browsers, where the food is taken directly from the plant or tree, usually combined with moving from one food source to another without completely eliminating the edible portions which preserves the plant for future use. White Rhino tend to be grazers, with their diets primarily consisting of grass.

Ancestors of the modern African Rhinoceros species evolved around 50 million years ago and led to the divergence of a number of individual species and subspecies that lived throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia and were capable of surviving millions of years of climate change.

Conservation Status & Threats

Head of a male Javan rhino (1934).
Head of a male Javan rhino (1934).

There are two subspecies of White Rhinoceros, one of which is functionally extinct, and seven or eight subspecies of Black Rhinoceros, with three extinct and the others on the brink of extinction. These two species are very closely related and appear to share more commonality with the Indian and Javan Rhino than the much older Sumatran species.

According to old data the Northern White Rhinoceros is still officially considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. However the Northern White Rhino subspecies has only three remaining individuals, all of whom are in captivity. This population is far too small to reproduce naturally, however it may be possible for DNA to be saved from these individuals and stored for future use. The White Rhinoceros’ Southern subspecies is the only group with a large enough wild population to survive and is estimated at between 17,460 (2008, IUCN estimate) and fewer than 14,500 individuals. However with poaching on the rise throughout Africa, and more than 1,000 Rhino lost in South Africa in 2013, their number are expected to continue declining and reach a point where the population is declining faster than the species is able to reproduce.

Historically this is not the first time that Rhinoceros have faced extinction in Africa due to humans. In the late 1800s and early 1900s trophy hunting and colonization brought Southern White Rhino populations to such low levels that many countries believed the animals to be completely extinct within their borders, however it’s believed that around 100 or so individuals of the Southern White Rhinoceros subspecies were able to survive and in the past 100 years their population have increased dramatically. The Northern White subspecies’ population also reached critically low levels, but its re-population was less significant and poaching, especially during the 1980s and 90s, has completely wiped out wild populations.

Conservation and reintroduction efforts to repopulate the White and Black Rhino species have been successful in some areas, however Kruger National Park in South Africa, which has the largest population of Rhino in the world (mostly White Rhino), is seeing the highest rate of decline. During the Cold War era several countries in southern Africa suffered large losses of their Rhino and elephant populations, particularly from groups using Rhino horn and Elephant ivory to pay for weapons and equipment to fight colonial powers or civil wars. But it is now these countries, some with only a handful of Rhino left, where conservation groups are seeing success with better land management strategies oriented towards sustaining diverse wildlife populations, active wildlife monitoring, and 24/7 protection of high-value species. These conservation efforts in turn support the local economies and tourism industry which underscores for the local people the importance of maintaining their natural resources.

Anti-poaching operations throughout southern Africa and eastern/central Africa are also yielding results. Botswana has moved their remaining Rhino populations into a large, remote reserve that is heavily protected by anti-poaching rangers yet is still accessible to tourists who spend substantial amounts of money on tours that help to fund further protection and re-population efforts. Kenya has also taken a serious anti-poaching approach over the past several years and now hosts hundreds of anti-poaching rangers in high-risk areas, especially along the border of Tanzania where much of the Elephant poaching has typically occurred.

Habitat & Life

A female Black Rhino and her male calf. (Photo from International Anti-Poaching Foundation)

Gestation in the Rhino species of Africa is 15-16 months, much shorter than the African Elephant’s 26 months but longer than the 9 months for humans, and the calf will stay with its mother for 2-3 years or more. Female Rhino may stay with their mother for even longer and sometimes groups of females may form herds. Male Rhino tend to be solitary creatures, but White Rhino are comparatively more social and less territorial.

This social behavior, as well as population density, influences the size of the territory that a Rhino or family may have. Some are capable of maintaining relatively small home range of only a couple square kilometers while others have a solitary range of more than 100 km2 . The Rhinoceros of Africa live in savanna, bushveld, and tropical and subtropical grassland. Due to the temperature of their environment and their immense size, Rhino like to stay cool and will find an area with mud to bathe in. These mud baths become easy ways to identify how many Rhino are in a given range and how large the range is. Rhinoceros will also use urine and dung to leave a territorial marking, then kick up the ground to help disperse the scent over a larger area, or use it to identify themselves or their gender to other Rhino in order to find appropriate mates. In the case of males coming across other males, this may lead to a territorial dispute or fight for mating rights with females within a similar range.

Since Rhino will fight for mates and use their horns, dehorning can have positive effects by reducing injury to other rhino. But the effect dehorning has on the local environment is not well understood. Rhinoceros are mega-fauna that can have dramatic impacts on the trees and plants within their ecosystem, even going so far as to kill trees and in the process change the animals that may benefit from a specific area.

A dehorned Rhino. (Copyright AFP, 2013)

Rhino that have had their horn removed are called “dehorned” and can live a normal life without their horn. The dehorning process should be relatively painless for the Rhino, though Rhino are typically tranquilized using a modern dart gun. Tranquilizers are not perfect, however, and like in other animals can have a fatal effect on the Rhino. However the majority of Rhino are able to wake up again after being tranquilized and the process of removing the horn, which is made of keratin, does not hurt. This is likely due to there not being any nerve endings in the horn.

Adult Rhinoceros have no natural predators, but they do still receive the benefit of a mutualistic relationship with Oxpeckers (Buphagidae family) and other helpful birds that eat ticks and mites that perch on Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Giraffe, and other wildlife. Oxpeckers provide a regular cleaning and get an easy and relatively safe place to feed on bugs. The Oxpeckers also serve another important purpose that greatly helps the wildlife that they commonly perch on and clean: they give an audible warning if they spot a potential predator nearby. This warning can be for approaching humans, a stalking Lion, or other perceived threat that might attack a weak or young Rhino.

Relatives

A depiction of a Woolly Rhinoceros by Charles R. Knight.
A depiction of a Woolly Rhinoceros by Charles R. Knight.

It wasn’t until around 7 million years ago that modern Rhino species developed in the form of the White Rhinoceros in Africa. The Black Rhinoceros diverged as a separate species a couple million years later. The Indian and Javan Rhinoceros species are thought to have evolved most recently, within the last 2 million years, and appear to be the most closely related to the African Species. By some accounts the Sumatran Rhinoceros species, descendants of the same ancestors from 50 million years ago, may be the oldest extant species and may have evolved more 15-25 million years ago.

There are many extinct species of rhino and ancient species from which more recent species evolved. Most notable is the Woolly Rhinoceros which was a native to Europe and northern Asia. Like the Woolly Mammoth, the Woolly Rhino lived more than 11,000 years ago and may have existed for 2-3 million years before climate change and hunting by humans brought this species to extinction. It’s believed that the Sumatran Rhinoceros is most closely related to this extinct species.

Identification

The Big Game of Africa (1910) - Black Rhino (top-right) & White Rhino (bottom-left)
The Big Game of Africa (1910) – Black Rhino (top-right) & White Rhino (bottom-left)

Both Rhino officially have two horns, but the Black Rhino sometimes has a third, very small horn between its larger two (see above). Horn length of various Rhino species does not depend on hereditary or genetic factors as in Elephants. Rhino horn is made of keratin and is constantly growing, but through use in fighting and rubbing against trees the horn frequently gets shortened and sharpened. The front horn is typically the largest and longest, measuring up to 1.5 meters in the largest specimens, with the rear horn shorter and with less curvature. Rhinoceros that have had their horn freshly cut to prevent the animal from being poached will have a flat stub where each horn is supposed to be. It only takes a few years for these horns to grow back and the Rhino do not appear to suffer any ill consequences due to being dehorned.

Size is the most easily defining characteristic when comparing the White Rhino to the Black. The White Rhino is typically twice the weight of the Black Rhino and will look notably larger. It also has a more profound “hump” above its front legs, which is not as pronounced in the Black Rhino. Additionally, the White Rhino has a square mouth and no prehensile lip whereas when eating, the Black Rhinoceros’ narrower mouth and prehensile upper-lip becomes noticeable.

Comparison (Figures are approx.)

Attribute White Rhino Black Rhino
Head and body length 3.8–5 m (12.5–15 ft) 3.0–3.8 m (10–12.5 ft)
Shoulder height 1.5–1.8 m (5-6 ft) 1.3–1.8 m (4.3-6.0 ft)
Horn length 0.9–1 m (3-3.3ft) 0.5–1.5 m (1.7–4.8 ft)
Speed 48 kph (30 mph) 54 kph (34 mph)
Female weight 1,400-1,700 kg (3,000-3,700 lb) less than males
Male weight 2,000-3,600 kg (4,500-8,000 lb) 800 to 1,400 kg (1,800 to 3,100 lb)
Life span 40-50 years (est.) 30-40 years (est.)
Litter size 1 calf 1 calf

Sources

“Black Rhino”. Rhino Resource Center.

“White Rhino”. Rhino Resource Center.

“Dicerorhinus sumatrensis”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Ceratotherium simum ssp. cottoni”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Ceratotherium simum ssp. simum”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Rhinoceros Information on AWF.org

Walker’s Mammals of the World, Sixth Ed., Vol. 1 by Ronald M. Nowak

White Rhinoceros Information on WWF/Panda.org

Northern White Rhinoceros Information on WWF/Panda.org

Southern White Rhinoceros Information on WWF/Panda.org

Black Rhinoceros Information on WWF/Panda.org

Further Reading

Rhinoceros Introduction on PBS.org

Rhino Horn Use: Fact vs. Fiction on PBS.org

Southern Africa 2014: What I enjoyed most about volunteering in Zimbabwe

The most enjoyable aspects of volunteering in Zimbabwe break down into three simple parts: the people and culture of the region, the great food that made every meal a morale-boosting focal-point of the day, and the incredible experiences gained through encountering the wildlife we were there to learn about and help protect.

People & Culture

Overall I had a great experience volunteering with the IAPF in Zimbabwe. The opportunity to work and camp alongside experienced anti-poaching rangers was phenomenal and gave me a lot of insight into what everyday life is like in the wild of Africa as well as what the local people are like. Everyone that I met during my adventure was very welcoming and friendly, even those not affiliated with the tourism industry. I also had a great time with the other volunteers and we interacted well with the many rangers at camp and as we participated in their patrols and training.

During day-to-day interaction with the rangers we learned a tremendous amount from where the best place to stand in camp to get cellular coverage to how to select elephant dung to burn in the campfire to keep mosquitoes away. Learning bush survival tips from the rangers was one of my favorite aspects of the entire trip and allowed a chance for the volunteers to interact casually with the rangers while still learning the ropes. We also had opportunities while on some of the patrols to get to know the rangers personally and find out whether they were married, how many kids they had, and what their aspirations for their children were. Many of the rangers wanted their sons to be involved in conservation as well.

Over the course of my trip I had a couple chances to experience the local culture and way of life, but much of that required cutting through the tourist-friendly façade. Most of the white Zimbabweans that lived locally and worked in the tourism industry worked in the area of wildlife conservation or in high-value occupations, like helicopter pilot, that require education and experience most easily gained in expensive foreign universities. Most of the black Zimbabweans that lived locally were either unemployed (officially, unemployment in the country is 80%) or working at all levels of the tourism industry from making carvings, running shops, and operating safaris. It was sad to see such income disparity dividing the people of Zimbabwe and due to its past of being a colony and a minority-ruled country Zimbabwe now has strict regulations relating to operating a business and the way that ownership is shared. Despite these vastly different lifestyles and the political and economic problems in the region Zimbabwe was still a great place to visit.

Great Food

Africa has some great traditional foods and with the strong tourism industries in many of the countries in southern Africa there is a huge fusion of cuisines catering to tourists from all over the world. Indian food has a strong following, as does traditional western fare, but the fusion of African and western foods blended together exciting flavors and made for a great dining experience.

Nsima Relishes (mealie pap or corn meal with relishes) by Jpatokal on wikipedia.org

The above photo shows three relishes or flavorful toppings and in the top-right corner is nsima in the Chichewa language, but also known as sadza in the Shona language, and mealiepap in Afrikaans. Because Africa has over two thousand recognized languages there can be a lot of different terms for a single dish and often the most popular and common languages are understood across language borders.

In the region I was in we called it sadza and sometimes mealiepap, but its name also depends on how its served. While in Zimbabwe we had sadza, which as a staple food was served the traditional way: as a side to virtually any main dish. Since sadza is just corn-meal it acts like potatoes would in the west: as a heavy starch that goes well with fish, pork, red meats, and all kinds of vegetables. In South Africa it’s commonly made into a breakfast porridge and served with only a bit of butter or peanut butter. Any way you have it, it’s a great way to get some long-term energy and is especially great for long days outdoors.

While volunteering with the anti-poaching rangers we were camped more than an hour away from the nearest town. We didn’t and couldn’t partake in the tourist food and restaurants while on duty and couldn’t afford the expense, either. However when we were near our main area of operation we were able to have the majority of our meals at a central facility and there was a chef dedicated to the task. This benefit our time management by streamlining our schedules to make sure that we never went hungry before going out on patrol and by keeping us focused on our duties rather than shopping, preparing, and serving food. Of course, we were responsible for cleaning up after a meal, which followed my thoughts on Meal Planning, Cooking, and Cleaning in the Field.

We were very lucky to have the luxury of a dedicated team member to prepare and cook for us. Good food, including fresh-baked bread and fresh vegetables, helped to keep morale high and our chef knew exactly how large our portions should be to keep active people well-fed and healthy. He had a great sense of taste and while he wasn’t always able to use the most diverse ingredients due to cost and our remoteness to a grocery store he always created meals that we looked forward to eat. That the volunteers in the group represented four continents didn’t pose a problem and every meal the chef made for us was excellent and familiar to our varied tastes.

Amazing Wildlife

game_walk_02

As volunteers we had the opportunity to go on game walks — hikes through the bush to observe wildlife — provided to us by professional game guides. These were very different than our patrols or snare sweeps and didn’t carry the ominous feel of walking into the unknown that sometimes hit us as we ventured through thick brush or climbed up rocky hills. Each game guide’s duty was to help us move through the wilderness safely and remain respectful of any animals that me might encounter indirectly through their tracks or directly. Understanding animal behavior, being able to read tracks and sign, and having the clear-headed view and insight to keep our group out of harms way takes years to learn and only a few individuals can be certified as game guides, a role that we all deeply appreciated. We also had at least one ranger with us as an extra set of eyes and ears, but who was also trained and legally allowed to use the right amount of force in the event of an encounter with a dangerous individual.

Our game walks provided a great experience to move freely through the region, taking in the changing terrains as much as possible while learning about the plants and trees that are used by the animals but also for wilderness survival. Many of the game guides offered up a lot of fascinating information on how different plants could be used for making rope, which leaves and bark were used as traditional medicines, and how different flora affected the environment around them. Having the game guides around was a fantastic learning experience and they helped to keep us from walking into trouble. Just as important, the opportunity to walk with these qualified individuals didn’t cost us anything beyond what we had paid for the program, which saved the volunteers a lot of money and didn’t put pressure on us to “get our money’s worth.”

Zim14_zebra_family_02

The game walks and game drives also allowed us to get close to wildlife in a safe and respectful way. Many safaris that tourists experience in quick tours of the bush end up startling the animals that people are paying so much to see, ruining the opportunity to take photos and see animals in their natural element. But by approaching elephants and buffalo, two of the most dangerous animals on the continent, with respect and with the guidance of the game guides and rangers we were able to observe much longer than most tourists.

If you’re interested in participating in conservation adventures jump over to the Get Involved page. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of wildlife conservation and anti-poaching methods that can assist in protecting the world’s wildlife and improve standards of living for humans please view our Objectives page. To make a financial commitment to preserving our wildlife please take a look at the Conservation Organizations & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers featured on the Conservation Groups page for featured recommendations and details.

Wildlife Overview: Ellipsen Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)

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Left: Two alert females.                                                                                            Right: Male grazing near the bush.

Characteristics:

Shoulder Height:  1-1.3 meters (3.3-4.3 feet)
Body Length:      1.8-2.2 meters (6-7.3 feet)
Weight:           150-250 kg (330-550 lbs)
Horns (Males):    55-100 cm (0.9-1.25 feet)

General Info: The Ellipsen Waterbuck (Common Waterbuck) is a subspecies of the Waterbuck, one of Africa’s 60 native species of antelope and is common throughout savanna in parts of the continent south of the Sahara. Waterbuck are great animals to watch in the wild because of their interesting behavior, particularly the frequent contests between males to vie for dominance of a territory. Ellipsen Waterbuck are particularly easy to identify because of the white ring on their rear which resembles a toilet seat. They are good swimmers and use this to their advantage when escaping predators.

Male Waterbuck display sexual dimorphism in that they have long twisting horns, while the females do not. Horns can be 55-100 cm (0.9-1.25 feet) in length and typically curve slightly forward towards the tip. While Waterbuck are generally easy to identify from other antelope species, being able to distinguish the unique aspects of their horns can aid in identifying a partially visible animal.

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A female Ellipsen Waterbuck with two young or calves. Click the image to view the highest-resolution version.

Habitat & Life: Waterbuck prefer grasslands and woodland or mixed areas where short- and medium-height grasses are available to graze on. They prefer grasses, but will also eat small plants and leaves. Most of their water is consumed from nearby water sources, unlike some animals such as the adult ostrich which gets all of its water through eating grasses and foliage.

Subspecies such as the Ellipsen Waterbuck by their nature are polymorphs of their overarching species, meaning that animals of one subspecies can successfully mate with another subspecies and produce fertile offspring. Because of this hybrid Waterbuck subspecies may been seen in areas where there is common territory.

The quality of their habitat has an effect on their reproduction cycle and female Waterbucks near the equator are thought to be capable of reproducing year-round, while individuals further away from the warmest climates may only be capable of reproducing once a year during the rainy season.

When calves are born they spend 2-4 weeks hidden and are fed only by their mother’s milk. It takes 6-8 months before the young Waterbuck are fully weaned and male Waterbuck at 8-9 months will leave their herd or family, possibly to join a bachelor herd until around 6 years of age when they become territorial and will seek out their own territory and mates. However males are sexually mature at 14-18 months old and will be seeking a partner within their herd or in a female-only herd from then on. Females reach sexual maturity at 12-14 months.

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Predation: Waterbuck are active during the day and night, and perhaps less active during twilight periods when crepuscular predators such as Wild Dogs and Spotted Hyena. This may help Waterbuck keep hidden from their natural predators which include Lion and Hyena (particularly Spotted Hyena which hunt in packs to take down large animals), but also Leopard and Wild Dogs. Waterbuck are not particularly fast antelope, and so must rely on remaining out of sight of predators and be vigilant to threats so that they have the best possibility of escaping. They will also use deep water to their advantage and will retreat from predators by swimming across rivers.

Sources:

Ultimate Ungulate. Kobus ellipsiprymnus. <ultimateungulate.com> Downloaded on 25 Feburary 2014.

“The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals” by Richard D. Estes (Copyright 1993 by Chelsea Green Publishing Co.)