THE DISTINCTIVE ZEBRA

There is no doubt that zebra are photogenic – I have a great number of photographs of them – for they are strikingly beautiful animals. I am particularly fascinated by the patterns on their faces as one can tell from these that, even though they might ‘all look the same’, there are indeed unique features about them. Zebra are often described as having patterns similar to our fingerprints; that no two zebra are exactly alike. I commented on a blog the other day that apparently the stripes on either side of a zebra are different. This is an observation I have read about but, as we usually only see one side of a zebra at a time, it is difficult to verify. Hunting through my collection, I came across a photograph of this zebra drinking at the Domkrag waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – an opportunity to see one from above.

The more I look at these two photographs, the more I appreciate how similar the stripe pattern is on both sides – until you actually follow the pattern closely. We seldom get the opportunity to do just that when we see zebra in the wild.

Zebras are distinctive. Their stripe patterns are an indication of just how distinctive they are – each one slightly different from the other.

MISSING THE DIVERSITY OF POSTAGE STAMPS

I used to be an avid stamp collector – never serious enough to warrant being called a philatelist – from a young age. The range of subjects depicted not only on South African stamps, but the excitement of finding stamps from other parts of the world thrilled me in the days of no internet, no television – and no cell phones! As Christmas approached the pile of mail my father brought home increased in size and interest: Christmas cards were posted from so many places that piqued my interest enough to enjoy receiving a stamp album, hinges, as well as a magnifying glass as gifts. I would happily spend time carefully soaking stamps from envelopes, waiting for them to dry, and then sorting them. Like most beginners, I began by sorting stamps into countries – doubtless guided by the printed albums of the time.

Then I realised my real interest lay in themes. I sorted my growing collection into categories and gradually became aware of narrowing my interest to mainly environmental themes. Along with this came a desire to develop a set of themed stamps into a narrative, which the stamps would illustrate. I found some of these the other day which included the development of agriculture, how elephants have been used by humans, and the clan totems of the Tswana people as depicted on the stamps of the then Bophuthatswana. During the period we lived in that ‘independent’ homeland, I discovered a particular richness in the stamps of the various homelands that pitted the map of South Africa.

There used to be a rich diversity of topics featured on the stamps that adorned even the most mundane postal items. Look at the corner of this envelope franked in Port Alfred, a seaside town not far from where we live. We still regularly received mail in 2017 – alas hardly ever any more.

There is a mixture of two series of stamps on this envelope: of the eight stamps used, five come from a series launched in September 2010 that featured the Richtersveld conservation landscape. This area, in the north-west of the country, is the eighth World Heritage site in South Africa. The Richtersveld was returned to the Nama people under the land restitution programme and is maintained as a conservation area. The stamps were designed by Jolindi Ferreira, who was a student at The Open Window School of Visual Communication, in Pretoria, at the time. The ones here depict a Grey Rhebok, a Namaqua Sandgrouse and a Namaqua Chameleon.

The other three stamps, designed by Sacha Lipka, are of beadwork artefacts held in the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town. The show a Zulu neckpiece of lion’s claws, a beadwork angel, and a beadwork cell phone.

With so little in the way of actual mail finding its way around the country, I have probably not purchased postage stamps for the past three years at least. Looking at these ones makes me realise how much we miss!

Note: Click on the photograph for a larger view.

TRAVELLING LOCAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped our wings in ways we would never have imagined a year ago. Initially there was the anxiety of repatriating South Africans abroad who needed to come home as well as the hundreds of people trapped here who had to return to their homes and places of work abroad. Then we were stuck: at first confined to our homes; gradually being allowed out to exercise; being restricted within provincial borders; and now we can – still with caution – enjoy what South Africa has to offer.

With so many overseas trips cancelled – and still not possible – ‘travelling local’ has taken on a new lease of life. There is a lot of ground to cover in this beautiful country! Friends and neighbours are taking advantage of setting off to explore hitherto unvisited areas or hiving off to the familiar delights of iconic places such as the Kruger National Park.

While confined to home during the initial lockdown phase, I got to know my garden very well indeed – as well as the creatures that share it with us. Nonetheless, I would gaze through our front gate with a degree of longing, yet only ventured as far as our local supermarket on my weekly grocery shopping expeditions.

Expeditions they have been too: rising in the pitch dark to enter the shop when it opened at half past six in order to avoid the lengthy queues that gathered outside after sunrise. I still go early even though the queues have somehow dissipated, and now can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong at the start of the day. I am home by seven in the morning and the rest of the day stretches ahead, with the worst task already behind me.

‘Freedom’ first came in the form of being allowed to exercise close to home. We have got to know our local streets very well. How’s that for ‘travelling local’?

I clearly recall our first day visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. What a rigmarole it was to get in as we had to book the visit beforehand and show proof of our residence in the Eastern Cape. Then, as now, one had to fill in various forms and have one’s temperature taken – and of course wear a mask. Even though the shop, restaurant and the picnic area were closed, this didn’t detract from the sheer joy of leaving the confines of our town and being in the wild once more.

I have visited the area a few times since then, but the Mountain Zebra National Park was ‘calling’ too – especially once overnight accommodation was allowed. For the first time ever, we eschewed camping to stay in a chalet.

Another favourite place that has simply had to be savoured once more is the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Spending four days there was restorative for my soul.

We have not yet left our home province, but the rest of South Africa is beckoning …

DASSIE PORTRAIT

It is about a year since I wrote about the delightful dassies we see in this country. That is what they are commonly known as: their ‘important’ name is Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis). Dassies have endearingly short, stocky bodies with small ears and short tails.

I find their heart-shaped black noses rather appealing.

An intriguing fact is that their closest living relative is none other than the African elephant! The similarities in the structure of their feet and teeth apparently point to this evolutionary relationship.

Another interesting fact is that to enable them to see possible predators, such as Black Eagles, coming out of the sun, and to take evasive action, dassies have evolved a moveable membrane in the eye which shields the pupil and allows vision directly into the sun.

In the photograph below you can see the darkish spot on the back of this dassie. This is its dorsal gland, which is used to secrete a smell to mark their territories.

WHEN IT RAINED

Earlier this month we were treated to swirling clouds and a darkening sky followed by a short bout of rain.

If you look very closely, you might see a White-rumped Swift flying high against the clouds.

Puddles formed very quickly and the Urban Herd that happened to be grazing on the old golf course took advantage of the handy supply of water.

These puddles were very shallow and didn’t last for long.

I often wonder where these animals source their drinking water – these puddles must have been a boon to them.

Although the puddles were soon gone, the effect of that rain shower has been amazing in terms of greening up the grass and refreshing the other plants – apart from freshening the dust-laden air!