MAGNIFICENT KUDU

Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) are such common antelope where I grew up, as well as in the Eastern Cape where I now live, that I am taken aback at how relatively few photographs I have of these majestic, regal-looking animals. They are awesome to watch as they move elegantly through the veld or stand stock-still and look at one, totally unaware of their fine features, silently waiting for you to leave so that they can continue with their meal in peace.

They are mainly browsers.

Although they graze too.

I had a particularly close encounter with a kudu bull whilst walking through the Namib Naukluft National Park in Namibia over forty years ago: I had separated from the group and taken a narrow path through some thick bush that would lead to a dry riverbed lower down. I turned a sharp corner and came face-to-face with the unsuspecting Kudu bull, not more than a meter away. We eyed each other briefly. Then he turned away quietly to go down the path. I watched him but did not follow and allowed the unique experience to wash over me again and again before I joined the rest of the party.

While they are protected in our national parks and game reserves, during the hunting season kudu on private farms and in hunting areas are shot mainly for their meat, although some bulls are earmarked for their magnificent horns.

These horns were presented to the First City Regiment in Grahamstown by the then Duke of Montrose – then Colonel-in-Chief of First City – on the occasion of his departure for Scotland in July 1989. They originated from his ranch in the then Rhodesia.

The females do not have horns.

As one drives along the network of South African roads one encounters numerous road signs warning motorists to watch out for kudu – especially at night.

Kudu are the main culprits, although one needs to be on the lookout for other forms of wildlife too. Kudu are large animals, weighing up to 270 Kg and have a tendency to jump into the road at night after being dazzled by the headlights of the vehicle – crashing into the vehicle, causing extensive damage and even death. We once had a young kudu bump into the side of our vehicle early one misty morning. Fortunately, we were travelling slowly and it proved to be a sidelong encounter from which both parties emerged unscathed. The presence of an abundance of kudu creates hazardous driving conditions for motorists in the Eastern Cape and so this encounter served as a sober reminder of the dangers of driving in the country around here between dusk and dawn.

 

SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK

When is a goose-like bird not a goose? When it is a South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana), which looks remarkably like a goose at first glance – particularly when in flight where they could easily be confused with Egyptian Geese. The ‘shel’ of shelduck originates from the Middle-English sheld meaning ‘pied’ – a reference to their plumage. Tadorna is the French word for ‘shelduck’ while cana refers to the greyness of the head. It is the males who sport the grey head and females the white. Both sexes have chestnut bodies marked with black, white and green.

They are fairly commonly found at inland dams and rivers. These ones were photographed at the Hapoor waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. They eat algae and crustaceans in the water and can also be seen in farmlands where grain crops are grown.

These birds form long-term pair-bond and tend to gather in large flocks to moult after breeding.

South African Shelduck

 

CHURCHES THAT REMAIN

The Eastern Cape is not only home to numerous forts, battle sites, graves and monuments that attest to its turbulent past, but there are a number of churches dotted about the countryside – many no longer in use but which remain as a testament to spiritual succour as well as on occasion providing shelter in times of need.

One of the two focused on here is a stone church at Burns Hill, a site where, in 1846, the Xhosas attacked a British wagon train, capturing and destroying half of the 120 wagons and carrying off the wine and regimental plate of the Seventh Dragoon Guards. The whereabouts of the latter remain a mystery.

The corrugated iron roof is rusted, the windows are broken, sections of the guttering have disappeared and the down-pipes have fallen off. A tall tree shades one side, otherwise its surroundings are bare except for some cactus that has taken root in recent years.

Another church that probably dates from sometime after 1856 is St. Mungo Church, situated in the Beanfield Location outside Alice. The rear of the church provides evidence of the ravages of time: a hole in the wall, sun-baked bricks exposed where the plaster has fallen off, a large crack in the wall, and evidence of broken guttering.

These images reflect the state of this church building.

The pile of bricks in the corner suggest a desire to repair some of the damage to the church.

The dusty and torn Xhosa Bible and collection plate hints at a congregation still using this place of worship, if not regularly then at least now and then.

Outside the church is a simple monument erected by Toc H which reads IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL IN THIS VALLEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1850. This being the Tyumie Valley, where the Gaikas under Chief Sandile attacked military settlers.

You can read a reference to this in http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/?inventory/U/collections&c=A182/R/6046

CHASING THOSE URBAN COWS

The Urban Herd (one of them) was at it again: invading a suburb and chomping anything green they could find. We came across this woman chasing a herd of about forty of them away from her home, using a floor mop!

The cows didn’t seem too perturbed. Most ambled down the street, while a smaller group broke off to munch at decorative shrubs planted outside the gates of a home. The woman persevered.

Hoping to avoid them altogether, we turned down a side road – only to meet the herd at the next corner.

This one decided to turn the tables on us and refused to budge, so we had to turn tail and drive the other way!

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

BIRTH IN SUBURBIA

This cow, a member of the expanding Urban Herd, gave birth unaided in the middle of a patch of Senecio flowers growing on some open ground outside some houses in the middle of a suburb.

In no time at all, two local dogs came sniffing around.

The cow was still raw.

Her udder was distended.

While she must have already eaten her placenta, the dogs seemed to be particularly interested in something in the patch of flowers once the cow and her calf had moved away.

By then she had endured enough of their unwelcome attention and nudged her calf towards the relative safety of a nearby park.

We saw them elsewhere in the town a week later: cow and calf appear to be thriving.