DIURNAL

What does the word diurnal conjure up for you? For some it may relate to things which occur on a daily basis, such as reading the newspaper (or news online), writing in a diary or keeping a journal of some sort. Its roots are deeply embedded in Latin: dies (day) and diurnus (daily) became diurnalis in Late Latin, from where it moved into Middle English.

I tend to think of ‘diurnal’ in terms of creatures that are active during the day. Among these are:

Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) colloquially known as a Dassie – they can be seen basking in the sun on large rocks, particularly during mornings and late afternoons.

Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), South Africa’s national animal, are most active in the early mornings and late afternoons.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) tend to hunt early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Impala (Aepyceros melampus) are mainly active during the day, except during the hot midday hours, and ruminate at night.

Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) forage during the day from sunrise until shortly before sunset.

Given my recent interest in butterflies, this quotation from Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man is pertinent:

During the night colours are not visible, and there can be no doubt that the nocturnal moths, taken as a body, are much less gaily decorated than butterflies, all of which are diurnal in their habits.

EARTH DAY 2020

Does one say ‘Happy Earth Day?’ Can it be a happy Earth Day when the planet is mantled by an unseen enemy that has brought the world’s population to its knees, caused hunger, uncertainty, fear, suspicion and concern to the fore on a scale that no climate change warnings, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanoes have managed to do? The spread of the COVID-19 virus has isolated us, caused us to look inwards, to contemplate where we are, what we do and to question our future.

There is much to celebrate and Earth Day is an opportunity to focus on those good things: biodiversity, water, clean(er) air … life, living, loving, and caring for and about others – these are aspects that the down time the virus has brought to us. Time to think about the food we eat, where it comes from, what we eat, how much food we really need, how to be innovative about making meals from food we already have at home instead making a needless trip to the local supermarket.

The internet abounds with ideas on how to cook / bake with ever fewer ingredients; how versatile other ingredients can be as substitutes for those we have run out of. Are we eating less / more healthy food / snacking less? Those with gardens appear to be appreciating them more – I certainly do – and have greater empathy for those who do not.

Earth Day this year is one of contemplation and appreciation. As we have been housebound for 27 days now I look back with a sense of nostalgia to various trips we have undertaken to game reserves in South Africa – at the time, never doubting that we could return whenever we had both the time and the resources to get there. The virus had other ideas.

We do not have to travel very far to observe Cattle Egrets as flocks of them follow the Urban Herd around all day and many fly over our garden at the end of each day on their way to perch in one of the tall trees near the centre of town.

Ostriches are always a delight to see in the various game reserves we have visited in the country. We used to see a lot more being farmed around here – South Africa provides 60% of the ostrich-meat supply market despite farmers having to battle with problems such as drought and avian influenza – which has made these birds very familiar over time. They are still wondrous to see in the wild.

Now we can only imagine and remember the joy of driving round the corner of a dirt road to meet an Elephant and her calf walking towards us.

When will I see a Waterbuck again?

Or Impala grazing in the rain?

Or a Lioness looking at me contemplatively?

These and all the other birds and animals will still be there when we are ‘free’ again. I remain thankful for that.

Enjoy Earth Day in your own way.

INTERFERING WITH NATURE

Grey Rhebuck (Pelea capreolus), endemic to South Africa, are well-camouflaged antelope unless one sees them right out in the open. They are covered with thick, woolly hair that is grey-brown in colour; their bellies are white, as is the underneath of their tails. Although they are predominantly browsers they also eat shrubs, roots and seeds.

The photograph below that was taken from a distance and in poor light shows a pure white Grey Rhebuck next to a normal one. Despite the poor quality, see how it stands out like a sore thumb – there is absolutely no advantage for the white one, other than to be a target for a meal.

Why interfere with nature to breed creatures such as this?

Impala (Aepyceros melampus) are common Bushveld antelope, although they have been introduced to game farms elsewhere in the country. They are brownish with lighter coloured hair on their flanks. Impala are mixed feeders, both browsing and grazing.

The market for hunting exotic coloured animals is the drive behind breeding dark ones such as this.

I was interested to read in the article linked below that at one time specially bred colour variants of animals such as impala and wildebeest were big money-spinners: “In 2014, breeders advertised golden wildebeest for between R500 000 and R1.4-million and black impala from R190 000 to R500 000.” This is no longer the case: it seems too many breeders jumped onto that bandwagon and so such animals are no longer considered ‘rare’ and the demand for them has dropped.

So much for interfering with nature to gain a ‘buck’ or two!

https://mg.co.za/article/2019-01-11-00-the-exotic-game-market-goes-bang

 

IS IT RIGHT TO FIDDLE WITH NATURE?

Hunters in South Africa seem to have become imbued with a desire to bag ‘something different’ – what else but demand (and the monetary rewards from satisfying such demands) would drive the selective breeding of wild animals for different colour mutations? While it is true that natural colour variants occur from time to time in free-living wildlife populations, these are rare occurrences. Are these ‘novelty’ animals now being bred to encourage more hunters? Do people breed them simply because they like seeing white Blesbuck

black Impala

or coffee-coloured Springbuck?

As the natural colouration of animals suit their natural environments, I wonder what benefit breeding animals specifically for unnatural colour mutations can have for the individual animal, the species, biodiversity or conservation as a whole. Apart from the initial ‘look at that’ factor when seeing the results of such breeding, I cannot help thinking that the originals still look better!

Having said this … perhaps there is an advantage tucked away somewhere … are we not better off with the carrots, beans and potatoes we have today instead of the ‘originals’, not to mention cows and all we get from them.