BABOON

Many visitors to our national parks are generally more interested in seeing the larger animals – especially lions – while others are focused on seeing as many different bird species as they can. The main attraction in the Addo Elephant National Park is naturally elephants, although one may be fortunate to spot a lion. Often dismissed by those intent on finding ‘more interesting’ animals are the smaller creatures. We have visited the park many times over decades and it is really only the last few years that baboons have become more prominent.

It is worth stopping for a moment to watch them in action. This one is picking thin twigs from a small plant and eating the leaves or seeds from it. These baboons have not (yet – hopefully never) been spoiled by visitors trying to feed them and so one can watch them going about their normal routine of finding food.

Here the baboon is reaching out for more of whatever this plant is that is proving to be worth eating. Its companions were further back from the road – if you see one baboon, there are bound to be others in the close vicinity so it is worth looking out for them.

Even whilst chewing, the baboon was on the lookout for the next tasty bite.

This part of the meal over, it was time to find something else. We left it at this point, having enjoyed observing the delicacy with which it picked out the food to eat, and the fine dexterity it employed to strip the leaves or seeds. These intelligent creatures are rewarding to watch in their natural state.

THIRSTY ZEBRAS

It is a week now that we have had to make do without water in our taps at home – the pump repairs, pipe repairs and whatever else may have gone wrong are supposed to be completed by Sunday. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to photographs of animals quenching their thirst in the Addo Elephant National Park. This time it is a herd of zebras.

Look at them, head down to slake their thirst at a waterhole. Drinking is clearly their main purpose for congregating here and judging by their focused actions, they must have been very thirsty.

Only a couple are left out, possibly they are keeping a look out on behalf of the others. There hardly seems to be space to fit in another zebra here.

This warthog didn’t think so either and settled down for a light doze in the sun until it too could get a turn to drink at the water hole.

WATCHING A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

One of the best places, other than in my garden, to watch Cape Robin-Chats (Cossypha caffra) in action is Jack’s Picnic Site in the Addo Elephant National Park. There they have become so accustomed to the regular ebb and flow of human visitors that they happily perch in the shrubbery – and even on the picnic tables – while they watch out for a morsel of food. Here is a sample of some of the many photographs I have taken there of these absolutely delightful birds.

Occasionally a Cape Robin-chat will alight next to one’s vehicle as soon as the doors are open – quite ready to inspect the picnic fare.

Indeed, it has already found what may be a sunflower seed among the gravel – left by a previous visitor to the picnic site.

This one is perched on a wooden step leading down to a picnic site. Its gaze is quite intense.

You can tell that this Cape Robin-chat has a wary look about it.

This youngster is already learning the ropes and is keenly watching the ground on the off chance that some food might appear.

LOOKING AT GIRAFFES

Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) count among my favourite animals in the wild. You would think that their long legs and necks would make them stand out yet, despite them being the world’s tallest mammals, they can easily ‘disappear’ into their environment.

They prefer to inhabit open woodland and wooded grassland, although have also adapted to the desert conditions in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, for example.

When you spot a single giraffe, do take a careful look around for they often occur in small groups.

Naturally enough, their height allows giraffe to browse on leaves and pods above the range of ‘normal’ browsers.

The long prehensile tongue is used to pull food into the mouth which is then stripped from the stems with spatulate incisor teeth. They are exclusively browsers, with most of their feeding confined to the foliage of bushes and trees. Like cows, giraffes spend some time regurgitating their food and chewing the cud.

As you can imagine, it is not easy for a giraffe to drink water. In order to reach the water, they have to spread their legs and bend down in an awkward position that makes them vulnerable to predators such as lions.

Fortunately, giraffes satisfy most of their water needs from the plants they eat and so they do not need to drink water every day.  Giraffes have elastic blood vessels and uniquely adapted valves that help to offset the sudden build-up of blood when their heads are raised, lowered, or swung quickly – as when drinking or fighting.

Both male and female giraffes sport skin-covered knobs (ossicones) on their heads. Female ossicones have a small tuft of fur on top, while male ossicones are bald. These knobs protect the head when males indulge in a ritualized form of fighting known as ‘necking’.

This involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength and is carried out during the time a female is in oestrus. They also intertwine their necks, which, to the casual observer, looks like a courtship ritual.