SCENES FROM NATIONAL PARKS

South Africa is blessed with several national parks. It takes time and travelling long distances to visit even some of them, yet none disappoint. Today I will feature scenes from a few of them. The Addo Elephant National Park is not very far from where we live and so, every now and then, we go there for a day visit. Given its name, visitors naturally expect to see elephants there:

It is also a good place for birding, where one might be fortunate to see raptors such as this Jackal Buzzard:

The Mountain Zebra National Park is also easily accessible to us and is the perfect place to spend a few days. Visitors here would obviously expect to see mountain zebras:

However, one might also be fortunate to spot a cheetah lying in the yellow grass:

There are red hartebeest in the Karoo National Park – which makes a good stopping point between where we live and Cape Town:

One can also enjoy seeing ostriches striding along the open veld:

The world famous Kruger National Park is several day’s journey from here and hosts an enormous variety of plants, birds, insects and animals. When we consider the alarming rate at which rhinos are killed in this country, we cannot help but feel privileged to see them from close quarters here:

The name on every visitor’s lips is ‘lion’. Mention the word and people speed up and jostle for space to see even the tip of the tail of one. Equally exciting to see though are leopards:

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the furthest away from us and – despite its remote location – is such a popular destination that one has to book accommodation about a year ahead. This is an incredible place for seeing lions:

It is also a marvellous place for seeing the very beautiful crimson-breasted shrike:

BIRD BATHS AND BEES

Just as people, birds and animals seek water to drink when the weather is hot and dry, so do bees. The water in this shallow bird bath at the entrance to the Mountain Zebra National Park is edged with bees and flies taking in much-needed moisture.

Communal taps inevitably drip. Some taps in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park have simple cement bird baths placed under them which both helps to save water and provides for the thirst of bees – lots of them. One actually has to approach these taps with care.

Birds and animals have to approach these watering points with care too.

I was thus impressed to see that in the Karoo National Park not only are bird baths provided under the communal taps, but clear signs warn one to be careful of the bees that will inevitably come to share the water during the hot weather.

Or … perhaps these signs sensitize visitors to the importance of bees and the role they play in keeping our environment healthy.

Either way, it was good to see them.

GEMSBOK

Among the most elegant and majestic animals we have the privilege to see in this part of the world is the Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) These antelope are at home in the drier parts of the country and are commonly seen in The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Their metabolism is superbly adapted to conserve moisture, which means that they can survive for some time without water. It is therefore quite special to see one drinking at a waterhole.

Gemsbok can also sometimes be seen licking the dry sand in order to obtain essential minerals.

 

Closer to home, in the Mountain Zebra National Park, it is a treat to see them grazing on the sparse grass cover. Gemsbok also eat succulents and tsamma melons (Citrullus ecirrhosus) to supplement their water requirements.

Apart from their magnificent colouring, I find their long spear-like horns very attractive.

They can be useful for scratching an itch too!

Pesky flies are swished away with a flick of the tail.

BAT-EARED FOXES

I made my first acquaintance with Bat-eared Foxes (Otocyon megalotis) during the long drive up to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park decades ago – they were all dead, having been hit by vehicles speeding along those long straight roads with nary a curve in them. Even the warning signs couldn’t prevent that. This is very sad for Bat-eared Foxes pair-bond for life and both the male and female look after their cubs.

Fortunately I have seen many live ones since, mostly in the more arid regions around the Augrabies National Park and in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as they prefer to live in areas with short grass and open ground. We have been visiting the Addo Elephant National Park on a regular basis for about three decades and never seen Bat-eared Foxes there – until a few weeks ago. We had stopped to watch a herd of zebra and, when we moved on, the sound of the engine starting flushed a pair of Bat-eared Foxes from the grass right next to where we had been parked! This accounts for the rear view.

These foxes have unusually large ears in proportion to their head, reminiscent of many bats, which gives rise to their name. You can clearly see this one’s large ears. As we assumed it was the only one, we were happily surprised to see two of them bounding away through the short grass.

Of course it would have been fun to have seen a front view of them, but beggars cannot be choosers – and the bushy tail is very evident in the photograph below. I consider myself fortunate to have seen them at all for, although they tend to be diurnal during winter and nocturnal in summer, they are not often seen during the day unless they happen to be foraging in the late afternoon.

These interesting little foxes follow a varied diet of insects – such as termites and grasshoppers, small rodents, lizards, small snakes and wild fruit. I find it particularly sad that, apart from those living in protected areas and on many game ranches and farms, their survival is threatened by a loss of their natural habitat as well as trophy hunting and the trade in their skins.

LIONS

It was while I was listening to the sound track of Born Free this morning that it struck me how fortunate I have been to have seen lions so often in the wild. It is the one animal that tourists – and not only the ones from abroad – have at the top of their wish lists when they enter game areas such as the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We have enjoyed some of the best sightings at the latter place and yet have also spent ten days there without seeing a single one!

We had been waiting patiently at a water hole shortly after sunrise. Our attention was focused on birds and the activity of a couple of jackals nearby when this pair of lions came padding across the dry river bed. Notice the dust being thrown up by their large padded paws.

They drank deeply and for a long time.

Early on another morning our attention was drawn to definite sounds of distress not far from the camp we were staying at. The gates had opened not long before and we were met by this scene of two lionesses doing battle with a wildebeest, kicking up a lot of dust in the process!

Within minutes Black-backed jackals had come to investigate within a safe distance as the two lionesses settled down to rip open the carcass – only to be usurped by an enormous male that appeared from nowhere! While on the subject of males, tourists would give their eye teeth for a sight such as this one strolling across the road in front of us in the Kruger National Park. This photograph gives you a good idea of how large their paws are.

Much closer to home, here is a lion seen in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape.

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