AT A WATER HOLE I

A young couple walk purposefully down the brick path toward a bench overlooking the water hole at the rest camp and sit down. He sports dark, closely-cropped hair and is wearing a baggy green top over tight jeans. The glistening white of his sports shoes strongly suggests they are new arrivals for he has clearly not walked far along the dirt roads and dusty paths that vein through the camp. He doesn’t notice the Cape Sparrow perched to the left of him on the Spekboom hedge.

She is wearing khaki cargo pants still stiff and showing factory creases. A blue hooded top covers her hair as she sits staring straight ahead, ignoring the cheerful calls of the Cape Weaver on her right, even though it flutters down now and then to search the brick paving around her feet.

He unfolds the coloured map they were given at reception and tries to hold it firm against the gentle tugging from an impish breeze. He turns the map this way and that before stabbing his finger on the water hole they are seated at. “We’re here,” he says with a degree of authority. He runs his finger along the patterns of roads radiating through the park. So absorbed is he in this task that he doesn’t notice the back of a lone buffalo disappearing among the Spekboom and other shrubs a little to the left of the water hole.

She picks up a pair of powerful binoculars and scans the area around the water hole. Neither the presence of a flock of Guineafowl nor the pair of Hadeda Ibises appear to hold her interest, for she quickly lowers the binoculars to rest on her lap. She leans towards her companion. “There’s nothing of interest to see here.” Her voice is flat. He is still studying the map but obligingly leaves off to raise the binoculars to his eyes. He sweeps across the landscape too quickly to pick up either the heron keeping watch over some ducks …

… or the Black-backed jackal that had come for a quick, furtive drink.

“I hope the rest of the park doesn’t look like this desert. All the pictures showed green grass and trees.” There is a whine in her voice as she strokes the binoculars on her lap with her index finger. He grunts and returns to perusing the map before looking up with an endearing smile.

“I overheard in the gents that this area has been denuded of vegetation because so many animals rely on this water for drinking.” He looks at her sulky face and pats her shoulder. “It’s early days though.” He folds the map and rises from the bench. “You hold the map,” he says, giving her a hug.

She shivers in the now icy wind. “Yes, we’ll be warmer in the car.” They walk away holding hands and so do not see the Kudu bulls emerging from the thorny scrub to quench their thirst.

WORLD WILDLIFE DAY 2021

It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of, and to celebrate, the diversity of species of flora and fauna that inhabit our world. Expanding human populations with the consequent need for land, homes, factories and warehouses are making large inroads into sensitive habitats that support our diverse wildlife – in whatever form. I offer these photographs in celebration of World Wildlife Day:

The Erythrina humeana or Dwarf Lucky Bean tree occurs along the coastal belt and the midlands of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga into Mozambique. There is one growing on a pavement in one of the suburbs where I live.

Blue Cranes are South Africa’s national bird and prefer open grasslands, where they forage for food while walking. Their numbers have been decreasing in the Eastern Cape and so I was delighted to come across these birds not far from town.

Cabbage trees occur in the bushveld, along forest margins, in mixed deciduous woodlands and among rocky outcrops. This one is growing in my garden.

While the Leopard Tortoise – the largest tortoise in South Africa – is not considered a threatened species, predators of the juveniles include rock monitors, storks, crows and small carnivores. Veld fires and passing traffic are also a danger to them.

Black-collared Barbets occur widely across Africa and are always welcome visitors to our garden.

It is difficult to choose between the many flowers, birds, butterflies, reptiles, trees, grasses and so on that occur here and so I will leave you with this magnificent pair of Kudu walking through the bushveld.

LOOKING AT KUDU

The majestic horns of the kudu bulls is what makes them attractive to both photographers and trophy hunters. Kudu generally prefer bushy areas and, being predominantly browsers, they tend to feed on leaves and seedpods, as well as the fresh shoots of grass. Note the vertical stripes on the torso of this kudu cow.

Here a kudu bull is reaching into a bush for leaves.

Adult bulls tend to be solitary or can be seen in bachelor groups, such as this one.

As you can see from the photograph below, the head of the kudu is noticeably darker than the rest of its body. The bulls have beards running along their throats. I am sure you will agree that their horns are truly magnificent.

Here two bulls are sizing up each other, probably in a fight over females during the mating season.

I think the cows can be equally interesting to look at. One cannot help noticing the large ears of this cow and her calf. The calf is still fuzzy and is following its mother as they move towards the shelter of the nearby bushes.

Kudu cows and their calves can be seen in groups. Here the dominant bull is on the right and you can see a young bull with very short horns by comparison on the left.

Kudu have a distinctive white chevron that runs between the eyes as well as narrow stripes that run down the flanks.

Despite their size, kudu are able to jump very high – seemingly without effort. I was driving along a dirt road late the other afternoon when a kudu crossed the road ahead of me and calmly jumped over a fence that must have been close to three meters high! Given all of the above, it is not surprising to find that the kudu is the emblem of the South African National Parks.

KUDU AND OSTEOPHAGIA

In a wildlife quiz you would be correct in saying that Kudu are predominantly browsers which feed on a variety of leaves, pods, vines, and even succulents such as Spekboom and Aloes.

They are also known to graze on occasion.

What one seldom sees is Kudu eating bones.

This is the first time I have witnessed them doing so, although I understand it is a fairly common activity – especially during the winter when calcium and phosphorous are not readily available in plant form.

Eating bones is known as osteophagia and, in the case of these Kudu, is a way they can supplement their diet – in the way that we might pluck extra calcium or vitamin tablets off the shelves of a pharmacy. Note the shaggy winter coat of this Kudu.

During the time I was observing these animals, some appeared to be licking the bones; others picked up bones and dropped them; while others definitely chewed the bones.