HEIMWEE FOR THE ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

We have been in lock-down for ninety-five days already – despite having moved to Level Three (‘advanced’ Level Three nogal!) that allows more businesses to open, we still cannot visit family and friends nor can we cross provincial borders without a permit – and you require a very good reason to get one of those. National Parks are now open for day visitors, yet the above-mentioned restrictions make visiting the Kruger National Park out of the question. In the spirit of the photograph below, I will look back to share some of the delights of the Addo Elephant National Park which we hope to visit again before much longer.

Naturally, one goes to the Addo Elephant National Park to see elephants – they seldom disappoint. We have seen herds of over a hundred individuals congregating around the Hapoor waterhole; been surprised by single elephants right next to the road; and have enjoyed watching small groups – such as the one these two are part of – at the Domkrag waterhole. Here we are able to get out of our vehicle and look down at these magnificent animals as they go about their daily life.

You might be fortunate enough to come across a Secretary Bird striding through the grasslands.  They occur singly and in pairs – it is always worth scanning the veld to see if you can spot another one.

Zebras grace the landscape in Addo – they might occur in small groups or in much larger ones that stretch across the side of a grassy slope. They are always a delight to observe.

I am always pleased to come across the large Mountain tortoises that lumber through the grass or patiently cross rocky areas. This one was taking advantage of a puddle in the road after rain.

Then there are the beautiful Cape Glossy Starlings that brighten the landscape.

By keeping an eye open for more than just animals, you get to enjoy some of the many butterflies too.

ZEBRAS – ICONIC ANIMALS

I never tire of seeing zebras for their distinctive black-and-white striped patterns place them among the iconic animals in large parts of Africa. The stripe pattern of individual zebra is unique and is not even the same on both sides of the same animal.

Zebras need to drink water often. These ones are approaching a waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. Note the wires overhead designed to keep elephants away from this particular water point to give other animals better opportunities to drink.

Because they are mainly grazers, we tend to see zebra in herds on the grassy plains – often in the company of wildebeest. Their teeth are able to both grind and crop grasses, which means they can eat coarser grass than the wildebeest do, for example. While they are social animals and give the impression of being peaceful animals, they do nip each other from time to time.

This dusty looking zebra stood in the road next to us in the Pilanesberg National Park – during my last visit to such a place before the arrival COVID-19 confined us all to barracks! Its nose might have become discoloured from having been rubbed against a damp termite mound, of which there were some nearby. The vehicle I was in is reflected in its eye.

They are often seen in the company of wildebeest – both animals eat different types of grasses and share protection against possible predators: zebra have good eyesight, while the wildebeest have a well-developed sense of smell as well as hearing. Zebra are photogenic animals, this pair being a fine example of how different they can be.

ANIMALS ARE WHAT THEY EAT

How often have you come across the saying ‘you are what you eat’? The context is usually a discussion (or lecture by a newly-converted-to-the-latest-fad-dieter) about the need to eat healthy food in order to maintain our sense of well-being. What we eat is frequently linked with every aspect of our health, ranging from the negative effects of certain foods on our health (the interpretation of these depends largely on the current perspective of the speaker) to the long-term impact on our mental health.  These days we are confronted with so many different choices of foods from all over the world as well as the temptation not to cook at all, but to rely on ready-cooked take-away foods. Obesity! Too much sugar! Empty nutrients! Meatless Mondays! We are bombarded with advice, scare tactics, recipes and suggestions … what are humans supposed to eat? Plenty of red meat, say some. No meat at all, others claim. Be a vegetarian – no, veganism is the answer. What are we to do? The trouble is that we have evolved to be omnivores – take a good look at your teeth.

What about wild animals that have no recourse to food imports, refrigeration, different cooking methods, gardens, supermarkets, delicatessens or restaurants?  How come they seem to keep fit and healthy with only grass, seeds, leaves – and meat – to eat? Their teeth provide a clue, for animals can be described by what they eat. Carnivores, such as Lions, eat meat.

Not all carnivores live on prey they catch but also eat carrion. Spotted hyenas are known as scavengers for this reason. They are quick to hover around the fringes while the Lions eat their fill after a kill.

As an aside: while you might not often see this in the wild, you may notice from time to time that your pet dog eats grass only to regurgitate it later. This is part of a natural process to clear parasites from their digestive system – no trip to the pharmacy for them.

English is a precise language and nowhere more so than in the sciences. There are specific names for everything: detrivores eat decomposing material, while folivores are animals that only eat leaves. Frugivores eat fruit. Generally speaking, plant-eating animals are known as herbivores. Included in these are South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck.

Herbivores that specifically eat grass, such as Zebra, are grazers.

Browsers, like Kudu, also eat off trees and bushes.

Animals that eat seeds are called granivores; if they eat insects they are known as insectivores; mucivores eat plant juices; mycovores eat fungi; and nectarivores eat nectar. Omnivores, such as the Black-backed jackal, eat both plants and meat.

Then we get piscivores that eat fish, sanguinivores eat blood; and saprovores eat dead matter.

These are all part of nature’s way of ensuring that nothing goes to waste. What a contrast this is to the average human beings who lay waste to the environment in order to process food and then leave so much non-biodegradable waste in their wake!

Note: This post was inspired by Trevor Carnaby’s fascinating book, Beat about the bush: exploring the wild.

NATURAL PATTERNS

There are natural patterns all around us which both draw our attention and by which we recognise things, such as a zebra or a tomato plant rather than thinking these might be a bushbuck or parsley. I think we absorb the patterns we see in nature as part of our recognition of the world we live in so that we can appreciate our surroundings and understand what things are. Some patterns are subtle while others are bold, beautiful and quite remarkable to look at.

Think about spots for a moment. Look at the variety of spots that make up the coat of a leopard:

Then there is the pattern of spots on the belly of this African barred owlet:

Should you mention stripes in nature, I immediately think about zebras. You can see any number of these animals and you will recognise them as zebras, yet look closely enough and you will appreciate that while their pattern is familiar, no two zebras look exactly the same.

In the bird world, the African scops-owl makes good use of stripes to help it blend into its environment.

Patterns of ripples are created when water or wind pass over sand, or water runs through sand:

I find the patterns of spirals and cracks present in wood are especially beautiful and interesting:

 

THE LOVELY RED HARTEBEEST

The Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) has been featured twice before in this blog. This is not surprising for these plains animals with a conspicuously white rump are always a pleasure to see – especially when their reddish-brown coats shine in the sun.

These two adults are standing close to a youngster in the Addo Elephant National Park. Note the different colour of the young one as well as its short spiky horns. Here is a closer view of a different lanky youngster.

A little further on, an adult picks its way over the dry stony ground towards the water at the Domkrag dam.

There are antelope droppings near its front feet and elephant droppings on the ground ahead of it. They are frequently seen alongside zebra in the plains.

These two appear to be unperturbed by the fighting zebras in their midst. The length and narrow width of the muzzle of the Red Hartebeest make it a selective feeder. Being non-ruminants, zebras are bulk grazers and have wider muzzles that help them to be more tolerant of the available grazing.