ANIMALS ARE WHAT THEY EAT

How often have you come across the saying ‘you are what you eat’? The context is usually a discussion (or lecture by a newly-converted-to-the-latest-fad-dieter) about the need to eat healthy food in order to maintain our sense of well-being. What we eat is frequently linked with every aspect of our health, ranging from the negative effects of certain foods on our health (the interpretation of these depends largely on the current perspective of the speaker) to the long-term impact on our mental health.  These days we are confronted with so many different choices of foods from all over the world as well as the temptation not to cook at all, but to rely on ready-cooked take-away foods. Obesity! Too much sugar! Empty nutrients! Meatless Mondays! We are bombarded with advice, scare tactics, recipes and suggestions … what are humans supposed to eat? Plenty of red meat, say some. No meat at all, others claim. Be a vegetarian – no, veganism is the answer. What are we to do? The trouble is that we have evolved to be omnivores – take a good look at your teeth.

What about wild animals that have no recourse to food imports, refrigeration, different cooking methods, gardens, supermarkets, delicatessens or restaurants?  How come they seem to keep fit and healthy with only grass, seeds, leaves – and meat – to eat? Their teeth provide a clue, for animals can be described by what they eat. Carnivores, such as Lions, eat meat.

Not all carnivores live on prey they catch but also eat carrion. Spotted hyenas are known as scavengers for this reason. They are quick to hover around the fringes while the Lions eat their fill after a kill.

As an aside: while you might not often see this in the wild, you may notice from time to time that your pet dog eats grass only to regurgitate it later. This is part of a natural process to clear parasites from their digestive system – no trip to the pharmacy for them.

English is a precise language and nowhere more so than in the sciences. There are specific names for everything: detrivores eat decomposing material, while folivores are animals that only eat leaves. Frugivores eat fruit. Generally speaking, plant-eating animals are known as herbivores. Included in these are South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck.

Herbivores that specifically eat grass, such as Zebra, are grazers.

Browsers, like Kudu, also eat off trees and bushes.

Animals that eat seeds are called granivores; if they eat insects they are known as insectivores; mucivores eat plant juices; mycovores eat fungi; and nectarivores eat nectar. Omnivores, such as the Black-backed jackal, eat both plants and meat.

Then we get piscivores that eat fish, sanguinivores eat blood; and saprovores eat dead matter.

These are all part of nature’s way of ensuring that nothing goes to waste. What a contrast this is to the average human beings who lay waste to the environment in order to process food and then leave so much non-biodegradable waste in their wake!

Note: This post was inspired by Trevor Carnaby’s fascinating book, Beat about the bush: exploring the wild.

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.

THE OLD AND THE YOUNG LION

It is every tourist’s dream to happen upon a lion when they visit one of our many national parks. There was a frisson of excitement when a passing motorist told us of a lion a few kilometers ahead of us. “You should hear it roaring”, he said with a smile. That is unusual, I thought as we continued along the narrow dirt road and eagerly scanned the tawny grass. Indeed, we could hear it roaring moments before we were able to spot it lying in the open grassland.

He is an old lion; the scars on his face and the teeth missing between his canines are evidence of this. Despite the heat of the day, this old lion was simply lying down in the grass and roaring – to the delight of the occupants of the two vehicles parked on the road, watching him. After some time he rose to his feet and began walking across the veld.

His body is covered in scars, some in the shape of slashes while others look as though the wounds had been much larger. His face is criss-crossed with scars. As he walked, we got the opportunity to see the size of his enormous front paws.

He was heading for the scanty shade cast by a scrubby thorn bush. Once there, he flopped down, looked around for a few minutes then lay flat – almost ‘disappearing’ into the grass.

The following day we came across a young lion resting just below the level of the road in the shade. Look at his smooth face and wind-blown mane.

He was content. He didn’t mind the excited whispers or the clicking of cameras. From his position on the side of the hill he was king of all he could survey … the youngster eyeing his future, while somewhere down in the valley below the older lion was waiting for the end of his.

NOTE: Please click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.

 

REFLECTIONS 4

Look at these pools of reflection in a gold fob watch, creating worlds within worlds.

Reflections in nature provide endless fascination and, in this case, add to the peaceful atmosphere of the hippo pool in Ekutheleni early one morning.

The reflection of the lion drinking at Rooidam in the Addo Elephant National Park adds to the grandeur of the scene.

THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns is possibly among the most popular means of introducing young people to classical music and to the different instruments that make up an orchestra. The other is that wonderful symphonic fairy-tale for children, Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. At the end of May this year, the Grahamstown Music Society devoted the first half of their concert to a transcription by Werner Thomas-Mifune for cello and piano of The Carnival of the Animals. Parents were invited to bring their children and “nobody will take offence if they leave at interval!”

I cannot show you all of the animals, but will introduce you to a few – with a South African twist.

The Royal March of the Lion

Instead of hens and roosters you can see a Red-necked Spurfowl

Donkeys will stand in for the Wild Asses

Tortoises abound

I will have to skip the kangaroos and the aquarium, but a Zebra will step in for the Characters with Long Ears

Skip the cuckoo for now and come to an aviary

Of pianists I have no pictures, so perhaps some Bagpipers will do

The fossils will be represented by a skeleton

Alas, I have no swan so will show you a Yellow-billed Stork instead!

LURE OF LIONS

LURE OF LIONS

What is it about the anticipation of sighting a lion in the wild that excites visitors to game reserves? We spent ten days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park several years ago without coming across a lion, in spite of regularly following trails of clear pug marks along the dusty roads.

Almost every vehicle we passed in any direction halted us with the question “Lions?” on the lips of their drivers. The overseas visitors with us were also desperate to see a ‘King of the Beasts’ and, practically on the final day of our stay, had to make do with a glimpse of an ear or a shoulder – all that was visible through the thick scrub some distance from the road.

Even this tiny bit of a lion in the African scenery served to satisfy the cravings of many of the visitors, some of whom had travelled thousands of kilometres, who now craned their necks and strained their eyes while passing on excited messages about any movement sighted.

Don’t get me wrong: having kept a close watch out for lions while driving through the Mountain Zebra National Park in August, we too were pleased to come across a single paw print in the soft sand – at least this was tangible evidence of their presence in the Park.

lionprint

The introduction of lions into the Addo Elephant National Park brought some of that ‘wilderness magic’ within easier reach of the thousands of local and foreign visitors who flock to this Park every year.

At first they were very elusive – one can still count oneself fortunate to see them. They appear to be more widely dispersed now though, so the chances of spotting a lion appears to be ‘fairer’ as visitors explore the different roads that wind through the Park.

Driving a high clearance vehicle helps – as does a sharp eye. We drove right past a lion once while driving our car and would have missed it altogether had not a fellow visitor, almost looking down at us from his large 4 x 4, alerted us to it.

The rising cost of fuel notwithstanding, we realised there is no point in visiting game areas without the height advantage of our 4 x 4. This was especially valuable during last year’s trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. During that visit we were fortunate enough to see lions every day throughout our two-week visit: sleeping off a meal on a sandy river bank; striding across the dry river bed in front of us; roaring fiercely next to the perimeter fence of our camp site; or bringing down a wildebeest in clouds of dust. These lions were all active and very interesting to observe.

   lionkill

Does one ever become sated with seeing lions? Probably not, but when we came across lions in the Addo Elephant National Park some weeks after our return, we enjoyed seeing them and moved on with the feeling we ought to let others have a turn as we had already been so privileged.

We have since come across lions in this Park and continue to enjoy their presence. They tend to become a highlight of a visit without meaning to! Possibly the most exciting view was when we saw two lions walking towards Rooidam early one morning. We followed them slowly as they changed direction ahead of us: one continued down a track and out of sight while the other headed for the dam, affording us a wonderful view of him lapping up the water before he too disappeared over the dam wall.

lionwalking  lionrooidam

That the lure of the lion is strong was clearly illustrated this weekend when we sighted a lion sitting with his back to the road in the pouring rain.

wetlion

It didn’t move; there wasn’t much to see of it either and yet vehicles waited in long queues, parked at various angles, jostled for space, inched forward or waited stationary for hours as their occupants feasted their eyes on and pointed their cameras towards this ‘mighty’ beast.

The heavy concentration of vehicles at that spot was evident throughout the day, suggesting that the lion had not strayed much.

Seeing lions brings smiles to the faces of tourists. This was the opinion expressed by the security guard when we left the Park at the end of the day. “Everybody is smiling today”, he observed cheerfully as he checked our day pass. “When there are lions the people are happy”. He flashed a broad smile as if that made him happy too.

WIDE-EYED IN ADDO

WIDE-EYED IN ADDO

Last weekend the family gathered at the Addo Elephant National Park for a combination of celebrations. With two vehicles and plenty of drivers available, there were ample opportunities for game drives. Three of our party also went horse-riding, an experience they all recommend is worth repeating.

Instead of our usual style of camping, we ensconced ourselves in the Forest Cabins this time. These are very comfortable wooden structures discreetly hidden from their neighbours by thick hedges of Spekboom and other indigenous bush.

Driving out as soon as the gates open at half past six in the morning was the order of the day. While it is still too dark then to take photographs, there is a sense of wonder in seeing a herd of dawn-coloured Eland walk across the road to disappear into the veld despite their size.

As the sky lightens, it becomes easier to see the herds of Zebra, Kudu and Hartebeest dotted all over the Park. In our quest to see somethign ‘different’ we found that Warthogs have an uncanny ability to ‘disguise’ themselves as all sorts of creatures from a distance – even in broad daylight!

We enjoyed seeing Buffalo breathing out clouds of steam as the sun rose; Black-backed Jackals walking purposefully across the veld; Yellow Mongooses scurrying across the road; and – of course – the majestic Elephants this Park was created to protect.

Everyone returned from their drives with tales and pictures of what they had seen. Two of our party photographed a Caracal right next to the road. The rest of us were briefly envious until, on our last morning, we saw an enormous Lion making its way down a slope, crossing the road in front of us and striding along the valley below. We watched until it disappeared from sight then drove on towards Rooidam in the hope it would emerge there.

It didn’t, but another did (we later learned these two are brothers): walking with a slight limp, this Lion walked intently towards the edge of the dam and then dipped out of sight. By reversing slightly, we were able to watch it lap the water thirstily and then disappear over the dam wall. There was great excitement all round and a shared feeling that this was a satisfying ending to what had been a wonderful weekend.

The aloes are in bloom at this time of the year and brighten up the wintery landscape. Other blooms include the vygies and pelargoniums. I noticed that the canary creepers there are still creating splashes of yellow, whereas the flowers in our garden have been reduced to puff balls that scatter in the wind.

Aloe

An outing such as this is not necessarily ideal for bird watching, although I was able to spot a surprising number of birds while the attention of others was focused on something else.A highlight was seeing a Secretary Bird preening itself on top of a low bush. Even the animal watchers enjoyed this. It was good to spot a Southern Black Korhaan in the grass and several Pied Avocets on the edges of the waterholes we stopped at.

secretary bird

I opted out of some drives to observe birds from the comfort of the Forest Cabin balcony. My patience was rewarded with close-up views of Cape Robin, Sombre Bulbul, Boubou Shrike, Cape Weaver and even a Bar-throated Apalis that made its way through the hedge at eye-level.

Birds I noted over the weekend were:

Anteating Chat
Barthroated Apalis
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Cape Robin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Karoo Scrub Robin
Laughing Dove
Little Grebe
Moorhen
Olive Thrush
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Avocet
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rock Kestrel
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Southern Black Korhaan
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Threebanded Plover
Village Weaver