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.

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ERYTHROS

Erythros is the Greek word for red. The genus Erythrina is derived from this word – an allusion to the colour of the flowers, such as this Erythrina lysistemon, photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

I have often mentioned the Erythrina caffra that towers over our back garden. Collectively, Erythrinas are known as coral trees these days, although some also refer to them as ‘lucky bean trees’. This is a reference to the bright red seeds that split from the black pods. These can be found scattered on the ground below the trees and are often collected simply to look pretty in jars, or to be made into necklaces or bracelets.

Combine erythros with phobia to form erythrophobia and you have the word to describe an extreme fear of blushing, or a hypersensitivity to the colour red. My dictionary also gives me erythrocyte, which is a blood cell of vertebrates that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide combined with haemoglobin.

Given all this information, could we then (just for fun) describe a particularly red sunset as an ‘erythrostic’ sunset? I present two examples, both taken in the Kruger National Park, for you to look at while you decide.

WILD FOXGLOVES

The Wild Foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba) reminds me of summer and early autumn in the Lowveld. Ceratotheca refers to the horned capsules and originates from the Greek kerato (horned) and theke (a case), while triloba refers to the plant having three leaves.

It might not be as ‘showy’ as the exotic ones favoured by gardeners, but it has a beauty of its own – especially when seen growing in clumps, as we did in the Kruger National Park.

The bottom flowers bloom first and form fruits while buds are developing higher up. Here a plant is being given a thorough going through by a Baboon.

This process left many of the tall spikes stripped of their blossoms and the stems bent and broken.

It is always pleasing to see them on our infrequent visits to KwaZulu-Natal too.

Here it is easier to get a closer look at the trumpet-shaped lilac flowers with their characteristic dark streaks at the throat. The latter are easier to see from close up as the flowers hang in clusters – hiding this beautiful aspect from the average passer-by.

They tend to grow in disturbed soil and so are commonly seen along the side of the road and in grasslands. Despite its name, this ‘foxglove’ actually belongs to the ‘sesame’ family!

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

PORCUPINES LEAVE THEIR MARK

It is always fun coming across the odd porcupine quill whilst walking in the veld. These nocturnal animals are seldom seen during the day as they mostly feed at night. Many campers in the Addo Elephant National Park can probably attest to the fact that a porcupine that used to be resident near the campsite would wander through the tents at night – woe betide any potato salad or apples one might inadvertently have left uncovered, for porcupines are largely vegetarian.

The natural diet of the porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) consists of tubers, bulbs, roots and even bark. Below is an example of the damage to a tree caused by porcupines in the Mountain Zebra National Park. The tree now has a fence around it for protection.

The white and black crest of spines and quills can be erected at will to increase the apparent size of the porcupine in a threatening manner. Some spines on the tail are hollow and make a rattling sound when shaken. These very sharp spines and quills of the porcupine come off when touched by a predator or can be shaken off, but grow back rapidly. Here are two examples of porcupine quills becoming embedded in animals that have come too close. The first is a leopard in the Kruger National Park.

The second example is a Cape buffalo in the Addo Elephant National Park.

THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

We do not go there nearly often enough, yet the Kruger National Park remains one of my favourite holiday destinations in South Africa. From where we live now, it requires a two or three day drive to get there, depending on the state of the roads at the time. Given the ever-increasing price of fuel, it is also an expensive trip to undertake. This means that when we do go, we try to spend close on three weeks there at a time.

I grew up within such easy reach of the Kruger National Park that we could go in for day trips. Sometimes we would visit as a family or I would accompany friends. The primary school I attended was good about taking us there too – usually to play softball or tennis matches against pupils from the primary school in Skukuza. Such trips would include an overnight stay in dormitories, when we would routinely be frightened by Spotted Hyenas knocking the lids off the metal dustbins outside.

Spotted Hyena

There is such a wide variety of game, interesting insects, and birds to see in the Kruger Park that visitors have no reason to be bored. Nonetheless, many visitors tend to feel dissatisfied unless they have seen at least one lion (preferably at a kill), cheetah and a leopard (particularly elusive creatures).

Lion

Leopard

Of course they are interesting to see, although I do not think it is worth sitting in a traffic jam for hours in the hope of glimpsing part of one through the tangle of vehicles. There is so much more to explore like the scenery of open veld, riverine trees, the rivers and rocky outcrops that are not only lovely to look at, but which might harbour all sorts of surprises – such as a Pearl-spotted Owlet!

Pearlspotted owlet

A sense of peace descends on me as I become attuned to the natural surroundings in which we can admire the simple beauty of an Impala:

Impala

The grace and elegance of Giraffe:

Giraffe

The majesty of Elephants:

Elephant

Or be taken aback by the Golden Orb Spiders along a path:

Goldenorbspider

One might even be fortunate enough to come across the endangered Ground Hornbills picking their way through the veld.

Ground Hornbill

I associate the Kruger National Park with diversity, contrasts and constant surprises. It is good to take a break from driving every now and then to spend the best part of a day parked at a waterhole, sitting in a bird hide, or exploring the rest camp. From the dawn chorus of birds to the roar of lions at night, there is always something interesting happening in the Kruger Park. It is a place I always leave with a heavy heart and a vow to return as soon as I can!

sunset