WALKING PAST THE URBAN HERD

We had barely set off for a walk when, only a short distance from our home, we met this cow eating grass on a neighbour’s verge. As with most of these cattle that wander at will through the suburbs, this one looks in good condition. We found her calf lying down in the grass not far away. Apart from grass, they also eat aloes, succulents and browse on the branches of low-hanging trees.

Here is part of the rest of the herd grazing in the park between the street and the main road into town. The park hasn’t been mown for the best part of the year, so one cannot blame the cattle for being attracted to the green pasture – luscious compared to the dried out winter grass covering the rest of the veld.

These members of this Urban Herd had already started wandering up towards the industrial area on the edge of town. This lies at the end of the path and through the green bushes on the horizon. The mowing here has been done by the resident at the end of the road – not the municipality!

Many years ago this grassy area was a well-manicured lawn. No more: this cow is taking advantage of the municipality’s neglect to have a good munch before joining the rest of the herd going up the hill.

KUDU AND OSTEOPHAGIA

In a wildlife quiz you would be correct in saying that Kudu are predominantly browsers which feed on a variety of leaves, pods, vines, and even succulents such as Spekboom and Aloes.

They are also known to graze on occasion.

What one seldom sees is Kudu eating bones.

This is the first time I have witnessed them doing so, although I understand it is a fairly common activity – especially during the winter when calcium and phosphorous are not readily available in plant form.

Eating bones is known as osteophagia and, in the case of these Kudu, is a way they can supplement their diet – in the way that we might pluck extra calcium or vitamin tablets off the shelves of a pharmacy. Note the shaggy winter coat of this Kudu.

During the time I was observing these animals, some appeared to be licking the bones; others picked up bones and dropped them; while others definitely chewed the bones.

WARTHOGS EATING

Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) are ubiquitous in the Eastern Cape. There are sounders of them all over the Addo Elephant National Park that are ignored by many visitors who drive past them, possibly hoping to see ‘more interesting’ or ‘spectacular’ animals further on. Next time you see one close to the road, stop for a moment and watch how the warthog eats. The first thing you might notice is the typical kneeling position they take up when feeding. Callouses on their wrist pads are present from birth and cushion them while the warthogs feed. Their rather strange-looking short neck helps to provide the leverage it requires to dig up tubers or pull up grass.

It is thus worth taking note of the warthog’s rather flat face ending in a rounded snout that encloses the nostrils. This shovel like upper lip is hardened cartilage, which makes it every bit as useful for eating as is the trunk to an elephant.

The prominent warts on the face are a combination of bone and cartilage which helps to protect their faces should they get into a fight. The tusks on their upper and lower jaws are not only used to fight and defend themselves against predators, but for eating. Warthogs can use their tusks and their tough snouts to lift the soil if necessary. This warthog is shovelling the soil with its upper lip.

Eating and breathing go together. Here the warthog is blowing the pile of soil away.

There is more to the common warthog than meets the eye at first glance!