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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
The very name Addo Elephant National Park conjures up images of elephants and that is what most visitors expect to see when they arrive. While it is true that on some visits we have literally seen over a hundred elephants, there have been times when we have been fortunate to see the odd one here and there – and even times when not a single elephant has made an appearance!
One has to be patient though and simply driving around the park from one water hole to another is not likely to yield the best results. Be prepared to wait and keep your mind open for other possibilities. I find that African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) – also known as Cape Buffalo – are worth watching, whether you come across a single one or a herd.
Occasionally we have been fortunate enough to observe a buffalo encountering an elephant at a waterhole.
Or cooling off in one on its own.
These bulk grazers bear interestingly shaped horns with those of the males being characterised by a heavy boss.
Their heavy-set bodies and thick legs carry no particular markings, yet I find their faces are fascinating to observe.
With the mercury rising to 38°C and with so little left by way of grazing during this prolonged drought in the Kruger National Park, we watched with interest as two grizzled old Cape buffalo bulls (frequently referred to as dagga boys in South Africa – old bulls that have been kicked out of the herd to fend for themselves) lumbered slowly across the bare veld to the almost empty Matjulu waterhole.
The buffalo looked for all the world like two old codgers who had spent a long time together, bound by a history of shared experiences. They walked abreast at times, sometimes even bumping together as they headed for the water.
Number One was clearly the leader.
Slightly larger and more robust looking than Number Two, he carefully eased his way down the ribbed concrete sides of the waterhole and bowed his head to the water to drink.
Number Two circled the waterhole, as if looking for a safe place to enter, before he too eventually lowered his large frame into the hollow and bent down to drink.
The water was not even deep enough to cover their hooves.
They drank for a long time, quenching the thirst borne of a long walk perhaps. Number One dominated what must have been the slightly deeper end of the waterhole. When Number Two nudged his way in he was unceremoniously biffed out of the way and retreated to the shallowest part.
At last Number One had had his fill, looked up and took a measure of his surroundings whilst licking the moisture still dripping from his lips. He slowly turned to nudge his companion as if to say, “It’s your turn now” before carefully hauling his bulk out of the concrete hollow. He stood solidly on the side, waiting patiently until Number Two had also drunk his fill and was ready to get out. The two old codgers stood next to each other for a while – getting their breath back perhaps. Then, by common consent, they moved off together with Number One slightly in the lead.