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.

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 …

TIRED ZEBRA

There were hundreds of elephants congregated around the Hapoor waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – and I mean hundreds! Some were standing around in groups while others splashed and cavorted in the (by now) muddy water. Other groups of elephants were either arriving or departing, yet halted to greet others in the way that elephants do. Whatever their activities, elephants are wonderfully interesting creatures to watch and the parking area along the waterhole was crammed with vehicles – there was hardly space for a late comer to park.  On the opposite side of the road – attracting little if any attention – was a tired young zebra.

The sun was baking down as it looked around from its prone position. The noise of the elephants, the vehicles and the people might perhaps have become a little too much to bear.

It allowed the heat, the buzzing background noises and the comfort of the sand to get to him – and flopped down for a rest!

WALLOWING WARTHOG

This warthog approached the muddy patch below the waterhole at Carol’s Rest with a sense of happy anticipation.

When you look at a warthog from close up you can clearly see that it has very sparse hair cover. It also has few sweat glands and so it is important to be able to cool down on a very hot day. Thick mud is perfect for the job. See the way the warthog has almost ‘cuddled’ into the mud. A mud-wallow such as this will help to reduce its body temperature.

After some time spent rolling around in the mud, this one got up and gave itself a good scratch. This might have been to relieve an itch or to rid itself of biting insects.

The layer of mud on its hide will also help to protect the warthog from sunburn.

CADABA APHYLLA

These bright red flowers stand out all over the Addo Elephant National Park, giving the Schotia brachypetala (Weeping Boer-boon) a run for its money. Its name has eluded me for some time until now: Cadaba aphylla is commonly known in Afrikaans as either Bobbejaanarm (arm of a baboon) or Swartstormbos (black storm bush). It is colloquially called a Leafless Wormbush in English. It looks a little like a broom plant.

These leafless tangled shrubs are often thorny at the tops. It is the clusters of red flowers that catch the eye as one drives through the park.

Characteristic of the flowers is that the long stamens protrude above the bright red petals – rather like a flag calling attention to passing pollinators!

The Cadaba aphyllum are hardy plants that survive frost as well as drought – which is why it is an ever-present delight to see in the park.