LION’S TAIL

It will be a while before we can venture out to find lions in a national park.

Meanwhile, this the time of year when we can see their tails at least. I used to have two shrubs of Lion’s Tail growing in my garden. Their beautiful orange flowers would attract a variety of nectar feeding sunbirds as well as ants, butterflies and bees. Their woody stems are surprisingly brittle and can break in strong winds – mine eventually succumbed to the prolonged drought – and so it is pleasing to see them growing in grasslands nearby.

Known officially as Leonotis leonurus, it is widespread throughout South Africa. Leonotis comes from the Greek words leon (lion) and -otis (ear), while leonurus means lion-coloured, a reference to the flower colour. This plant has a number of common names such as Lion’s Ear and Wild Dagga.

http://pza.sanbi.org/leonotis-leonurus

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.