MOTHER’S DAY

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ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

Gracious – look at the cost of postage 42 years ago – one could trust the post office to deliver in those days too! Because postage stamps were still widely used, they were an excellent medium through which to convey important messages, to encourage celebration, and generally to draw attention to various aspects of our society. In this case, Environmental Conservation was celebrated with stamps to coincide with World Environment Day in 1976.

Our recent visit to the Mountain Zebra National Park reminded me of this First Day cover for it features the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) along with a Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatis), the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and the Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus), all of which were regarded as endangered species at the time.

The stamps were designed and painted by the renowned South African Artist, Paul Bosman, who has been quoted as saying “I see art and wildlife conservation as a symbiotic relationship. Because art keeps alive the memories of wildlife in a natural setting, it stimulates a longing in the public to know that such scenes will continue to exist in nature.” This adds a dimension to the symbolic influence of such stamps, which would have been seen by many people from all walks of life.

THERE’S A DONKEY …

… on my veranda.

Not actually my veranda, but that of one the older houses in town which opens onto the pavement.

As with the Urban Herd of cattle, we often see donkeys roaming around the streets, usually in ones or twos – sometimes even threes. These ones are eating the kikuyu grass growing on a road verge on the outer edge of town.

Seeing a donkey on someone’s veranda was unusual enough to photograph, yet, on the same day on someone else’s veranda there were five!

They remind me of a well-known Afrikaans song:

O, die donkie is ‘n wonderlike ding, ja-nee
Die donkie is ‘n wonderlike ding …

Who can forget that wonderful poem by G.K. Chesterton about the Donkey:

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.
 

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.

 
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.
 

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

ANIMAL SPOOR

It is interesting to note that the word spoor, commonly used in South African English, originated c. 1823, from the Afrikaans spoor, which developed from Middle Dutch spor, which has the same linguistic derivation as the Old English spor, all meaning a ‘footprint’ or a ‘track’ which can be traced. Here spoor refers to the visible tracks of animals that allow us a glimpse of their presence even though they may have left an area.

These are tracks of an unidentified bird on a beach:

Snails and other creatures have created a veritable highway on the sand:

It is exciting to come across the tracks of animals, such as this antelope, while driving through a game reserve.

Of course this generally means that one cannot get out to look at them more closely or even to measure them, but with time, one can learn to tell one animal from another.

This is the spoor of a Cape Mountain Zebra:

Because we had seen one nearby, we can reasonably assume that this is the track of a Black-backed Jackal:

Selecting these images from hundreds of photographs of birds, animals and insects, has made me realise that photographing animal tracks, or spoor, may be a worthwhile activity in the future.

CAPE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA

Burchell’s Zebra is the one most commonly seen in South African game reserves.

The Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) is the smallest of the zebra species.

They differ from the Burchell’s Zebra in that they have broad stripes over their rumps and the horizontal stripes on their legs extend right down to the hooves.

Look at them closely and you will observe that their hind quarters are covered with broad black stripes, and a gridiron pattern of narrow, transverse dark markings above their tail.

What is particularly noticeable is that they have white bellies which are devoid of any stripes. They also sport distinctive dewlaps.

Another distinctive feature of the Cape Mountain Zebra is its pinky-brown muzzle.

ANTELOPE IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

Naturally enough, we expect to see Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) in the Mountain Zebra National Park situated on the northern slopes of the Bankberg near Cradock.

While we saw a lot of them, a variety of antelope populate the area too. Among these are Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus caama):

This is a predominantly grazing species that prefers medium-height grass and so are plentiful in the plateau area of Rooiplaat and Juriesdam.

It is wonderful to see large herds of South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck (Antidorcas marsupialis), grazing in the veld all over the Park.

We did not see as many Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) as we have on previous visits. This one was bounding across the grassland with considerable haste.

It was very interesting to happen upon a small herd of Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula) and to watch how quickly and nimbly they could run up the steep, rocky, mountain slope!

The Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) were scattered here and there. They are mainly browsers rather than grazers.

Sizeable herds of Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) as well as individuals abound in the Park.