SCENES FROM NATIONAL PARKS

South Africa is blessed with several national parks. It takes time and travelling long distances to visit even some of them, yet none disappoint. Today I will feature scenes from a few of them. The Addo Elephant National Park is not very far from where we live and so, every now and then, we go there for a day visit. Given its name, visitors naturally expect to see elephants there:

It is also a good place for birding, where one might be fortunate to see raptors such as this Jackal Buzzard:

The Mountain Zebra National Park is also easily accessible to us and is the perfect place to spend a few days. Visitors here would obviously expect to see mountain zebras:

However, one might also be fortunate to spot a cheetah lying in the yellow grass:

There are red hartebeest in the Karoo National Park – which makes a good stopping point between where we live and Cape Town:

One can also enjoy seeing ostriches striding along the open veld:

The world famous Kruger National Park is several day’s journey from here and hosts an enormous variety of plants, birds, insects and animals. When we consider the alarming rate at which rhinos are killed in this country, we cannot help but feel privileged to see them from close quarters here:

The name on every visitor’s lips is ‘lion’. Mention the word and people speed up and jostle for space to see even the tip of the tail of one. Equally exciting to see though are leopards:

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the furthest away from us and – despite its remote location – is such a popular destination that one has to book accommodation about a year ahead. This is an incredible place for seeing lions:

It is also a marvellous place for seeing the very beautiful crimson-breasted shrike:

ANIMALS EATING

Warthogs are omnivores whose diet includes roots, berries, bark, bulbs, grass and a variety of plants. Their rounded cartilage snout is hardened on the upper side so that it can act as a kind of shovel to dig up bulbs from under the ground – as this one is doing:

Elephants on the other hand often break branches in order to gain access to the leaves, roots and nutrients in the tree:

Although kudu are well known as browsers, they also eat a variety of fruit, pods, forbs and creepers as well as succulents such as spekboom and aloes. This one is taking advantage of the many forbs that have grown after a long period without rain:

Red Hartebeest are predominantly grazers. While they usually prefer medium-height grass, they also tuck into the fresh re-growth of grass growing after rain:

Like the warthogs, bushpigs are omnivorous. Apart from insects and carrion, they also eat fruit, roots, bulbs and forbs:

We tend to think of zebras being predominantly grazers, yet they also include shrubs, bark, twigs, leaves and herbs in their diet:

WATER IS LIFE

South Africans are no strangers to drought and so we can empathise with the extremely dry conditions being experienced in parts of Europe. Some spring rains have arrived here – the hope is always for more! We all need water to survive and so I share some pictures of various creatures taking a much needed drink in the Addo Elephant National Park. The first are vervet monkeys enjoying a drink from puddles in the road:

This elephant was slaking its thirst at the Marion Baree water hole:

The Woodlands water hole is where these zebra gathered for their drink:

On a different occasion a single warthog visited the same water hole:

Ring-necked doves took deep draughts of water at Carol’s Rest water hole:

This was before they were ousted by a red hartebeest:

SOME ANIMALS IN THE KAROO NATIONAL PARK

Proclaimed in 1979, the Karoo National Park is situated on the southern slopes of the Nuweveld Mountains near Beaufort West and is home to approximately fifty-eight endemic species of animals, quite apart from birds and reptiles. Even though the vegetation is sparse, one cannot expect to see them all in only just over a day. Time, as well as the luck factor, determines what one can see during a drive. The animals we saw tended to be scattered over a wide area and did not occur in great herds.

Among the animals we saw was a kudu bull peering at us from behind a bush.

Later, we were delighted to come across more kudu in the company of Cape mountain zebras.

A lone springbok seemed unperturbed by our presence.

It is always wonderful to come across the majestic looking gemsbok.

The red hartebeest shone like burnished copper in the sun.

A small troop of baboons crossed the road ahead of us and proceeded to fan through the veld where they nibbled on grass seeds and overturned stones looking for insects to eat.

There were other animals too, some too far from the road for a good photograph. Sadly, we had only one full day in the park – we clearly need to spend a lot more time there!

SHINING RED HARTEBEEST

Although Red Hartebeest do not have to drink water every day as long as there is sufficient moisture in the grass they eat, these ones are having a rest at the Woodlands Waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. These striking animals are all facing in the same direction, looking relaxed and at peace. They are naturally social animals that occur in herds that look beautifully graceful when seen in motion on the open plains.

I think that they look particularly beautiful in the sunlight that picks out their coppery sheen. You can see their shiny reddish brown coats with a distinctive white rump more clearly in this closer view of them. It is thought that these white rumps may help to reflect heat or, act as a warning or when the darker tail is moved across it.

Both sexes have heavily ringed horns on a pedestal base and point backwards. These complex curving horns are used both for fighting with other males and defending themselves from predators.  A fellow blogger told me once that once they have been cleaned and buffed, these horns make excellent Biblical shofars. It is also interesting to note that the length and narrow width of the muzzle of the Red Hartebeest make it a selective feeder and that territorial bulls mark their territory with dung heaps.