SYMBIOSIS

Symbiosis is an interesting word meaning ‘living together’ which derives from the Greek syn = together and biono = living. It is frequently used in the form of symbiotic relationships between plants / animals / birds. A very common example of a symbiotic relationship between birds and animals is the presence of Cattle Egrets that follow close in the wake of grazing cattle.

They are also often seen in the company of buffalo or zebra.

What these birds are doing is catching insects that are disturbed by the movements of the grazing animals. This is a type of commensalism whereby the birds benefit enormously from the animals, although what the latter get out of the relationship is uncertain – unless the birds act as a warning system perhaps.

I suspect this Red-winged Starling was using the bull as a convenient perch for the same reason – there were several other cattle grazing nearby.

A symbiotic relationship with more mutual benefit would be this one between the Red-billed Oxpeckers and the Nyala bull: the oxpeckers probe the skin and ears of animals in order to feed on the parasites harboured there. This benefits both them and the animal concerned.

In the case of these oxpeckers on a Cape buffalo, only one appears to be ‘working’, while the others are enjoying a free ride!

CAPE BUFFALO HORNS

The horns of Cape buffalo are characterised by a heavy boss (where the base of the horns converge in the middle of the head) and upward curved horns.

Look at the large symmetrical horns on this buffalo:

These horns are not as large, yet the boss is impressive:

One can tell that this is a younger bull because its horns are still hairy:

Given the amount of hair on this buffalo’s horns, I imagine it is even younger:

This old buffalo’s horns have a ridge between them:

Note: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

FOCUS ON BUFFALO

Size-wise, the African or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is no pushover:

Look at the beautifully symmetrical curve of the horns on this one:

This buffalo must have been in a tussle a long time ago as a result of which it has lost one tip of its horn:

Red-billed Oxpeckers were re-introduced to the Addo and Great Fish reserves in 1990 and play a role in ridding animals of ecto-parasites. Here one can be seen inspecting the boss of a buffalo:

Here is an old buffalo:

Sadly, this is all that remains of a buffalo that was no longer able to defend itself.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you wish to see a larger view.

A DAZZLE OF ZEBRAS

I have probably mentioned before that the pattern of stripes on every zebra is unique, rather like the whorls of our finger prints. This is evident if we look at individuals closely instead of simply seeing a herd of zebra in passing. Look at these three zebra faces and you will see what I mean:

While they brighten up any landscape, Burchell’s zebra fill an important niche in veld management as they are bulk grazers that can eat grass of a medium to short length, although they prefer shorter grasses which are high in nutrients such as nitrogen. Themeda triandra and Cynodon dactylon are their preferred grass species. Like the Cape buffalo and the wildebeest, they have a tolerance for the fibrous grasses which many other grazers prefer to avoid.

Burchell’s zebra are water dependent and are said to drink about 12 litres per day.

This is the time of the year for foals to be born. This one is resting after having gambolled round and round his mother, chased a warthog and jumped over an ant heap a few times:

EAT AND BE EATEN

The urban lifestyle is so far removed from the natural order of things: eat and be eaten. While some may have fruit and vegetables growing in their gardens or on their balconies, the majority of urbanites rely on supermarkets, butchers, bakeries and the like for their daily food. Meat comes wrapped in styrofoam and plastic, bread is pre-sliced in plastic bags, vegetables are ready picked and washed on the shelves – perhaps even pre-chopped / sliced / mixed all ready for roasting or stir-frying …

That is not the case in nature, where the eat and be eaten order applies.

This is what remains of a Mountain Tortoise:

A Zebra munches the dry winter grass:

What is left of a Kudu:

The grisly end of a Cape Buffalo that had been a meal for many:

This is a Warthog grazing – note the way it rests on its front knees:

They also rest on their knees when drinking:

An elephant tucks into a nutritious meal: