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.

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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.

BLACK-BACKED JACKAL

The Black-backed Jackal (Canus mesomelus) counts among my favourite animals to see in the wild. I have spent hours watching their social behaviour in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and enjoy spotting them in the Addo Elephant and other National Parks. These omnivores have a special character about them: they look bright, alert and trot in the veld with a rather jaunty air, like this one in the Kgalagadi.

One of my favourite things when camping in the wild is to listen to the high wailing calls and yelps of the Black-backed Jackals from early in the evening through to the dawn. Sometimes you can make out the calls of one being answered by another and then another until there is a chorus of them. This, along with the call of the African Fish Eagle, is one of the iconic sounds of the South African bush. The one below was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Black-backed Jackals are often regarded as cunning, intelligent scavengers which are quick to arrive at the scene of a lion kill, for example. One can see them darting in and out to get whatever they can of the feast – all the while keeping a wary eye on the lions and hyenas! The kill featured below – in the Kruger National Park – was already a day old and the main feeders had already left it. Only an old and sickly lion was there to ineffectually defend it, with vultures, spotted hyenas and Black-backed Jackals ready to pick the carcass clean.

NO ORDINARY CAT

At first these photographs may strike you as being of an ordinary tabby cat.

Not so. The African Wild Cat, (Felis Silvestris lybica) is an indigenous species which is larger and has longer legs than domestic cats. Their legs are banded, with darker markings being more distinct on the lower limbs. As you can see in this photograph, the relatively long tail is dark-ringed with black tip.

Said to be the ancestors of domestic cats, these animals are widespread throughout Africa. They primarily eat mice, rats, and other small mammals, although have been recorded eating birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. I find it exciting to come across one of these solitary, elusive creatures that inhabit wooded grassland and savanna.

These photographs were taken in both the Kruger National Park and in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park.

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

It was the poet John Donne who first told us that no man is an island, implying that we cannot live entirely without contact with other people i.e. we do not thrive in isolation. Simon & Garfunkel sing the refrain, I am a rock / I am an island, claiming to be self-sufficient – for the time being anyway. To isolate ourselves is neither possible nor a good idea claims the philosopher, Karl Popper (1902-1994). According to him, we are social creatures to the inmost of our being.

True: so are many other animals in their own way, which is possibly why we enjoy scenes such as the ones below as they reflect the empathy we have for others and connect with our desire to be regarded as being ‘special’ to someone.

Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park

 

Zebra in Addo Elephant National Park

 

Yellow-billed Storks in Kruger National Park

 

Giraffe in Kruger National Park

 

Springbuck in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK

The yearning is swelling within to make another long trek to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: to experience the space, the silence, the starlit skies you can almost touch, and the complete lack of connectivity with cell phones and the internet.

It can be hot and dry; the wind can whip up clouds of desert sand; it can also be icy cold. It is a remote place that has crept into my heart and tugs at me every so often. Here are some examples of why this is one of the places I love to visit:

Gemsbok are endemic to this arid region – they are such regal animals.

Springbuck appear in large herds, reminiscent of what it must have been like before senseless European hunters bagged as many as they could in the name of fun.

Spotted hyenas help clean the veld of bones and so help prevent the spread of diseases.

Blue wildebeest gather around the small, concrete-lined waterholes and seek the shade of scrawny trees during the hottest part of the day.

What a privilege it is to see a ratel / honey badger out in the open like this.

Then, of course, everyone keeps a sharp eye out for lions!

EARL GREY TEA

In April last year I mentioned that I had been introduced to Earl Grey tea whilst on a visit to England (see THE TEN VIRTUES OF TEA) and in January this year that it has since become a staple offering in my home (see TIME FOR TEA).

It was my English aunt who introduced me to Earl Grey. On my first visit to her lovely cottage tucked away in the then small village of Bradford Peverell, she brought a silver teapot, fine china cups and slices of fruit cake to her pretty garden. The aroma was arresting. The look of the pale milky fare was not enticing at first. The taste with its Bergamot flavouring, however, had me hooked for life – even more so when I was able to make a slightly stronger brew, which brought out a bolder flavour.

At first, Twinings was the only variety of Earl Grey tea I could lay my hands on. Eyebrows would rise when I would put six or more boxes into my trolley when shopping in Johannesburg (it has always been more expensive than other teas). I had to. We were living in Mmabatho at a time when it was still a city-in-the-making. Purchasing anything but basic foodstuffs there was but a dream then.

Whenever I brew a pot of Twinings Earl Grey – more especially when I can use loose leaves – I think of my English aunt, her pretty English garden where a robin would regularly perch on the edge of the plate on the tea tray to peck at the crumbs, and of her tiny doll-like house. She will turn 90 next year.

With the Rand in a dizzying downward spiral, we have to look to local products if we want our ‘fix’. Liptons Earl Grey is firmly associated with camping in the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, for my dear sisters-in-law make sure to bring some along. They know me well.

At home I mostly use Five Roses Earl Grey tea for it is readily available at our local supermarket. Earl Grey is traditionally served black as an after lunch tea. I still enjoy it with a splash of milk at any time of the day as it is always refreshing and is a real pick-me-up, soothing variety of tea.

As a point of interest, this tea blend is named after Earl Charles Grey, who was the English prime minister from 1830-1834. He was also known as Viscount Howick from the Northumbrian seat of Howick Hall – I wonder if the town of Howick (and the waterfall of the same name) in KwaZulu-Natal is also named after that family?