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!

YELLOW GRASS

The bleached yellow or straw-coloured grass is a striking feature of the Mountain Zebra National Park during the winter – along with icy temperatures. The Springbok in the foreground is lying down to seek respite from the latter.

So are these Red Hartebeest, with a single Springbok to keep them company.

This almost colourless grass covers the valleys and spreads up the hillsides onto the plateau. A Mountain Zebra appears to be standing guard over a small herd of Red Hartebeest.

Despite its desiccated appearance, the grass is still nutritious for grazers, as this zebra demonstrates.

As do these herds of mixed antelope on the plateau.

The early morning and late afternoon light turns the grass into spun gold.

DIURNAL

What does the word diurnal conjure up for you? For some it may relate to things which occur on a daily basis, such as reading the newspaper (or news online), writing in a diary or keeping a journal of some sort. Its roots are deeply embedded in Latin: dies (day) and diurnus (daily) became diurnalis in Late Latin, from where it moved into Middle English.

I tend to think of ‘diurnal’ in terms of creatures that are active during the day. Among these are:

Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) colloquially known as a Dassie – they can be seen basking in the sun on large rocks, particularly during mornings and late afternoons.

Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), South Africa’s national animal, are most active in the early mornings and late afternoons.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) tend to hunt early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Impala (Aepyceros melampus) are mainly active during the day, except during the hot midday hours, and ruminate at night.

Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) forage during the day from sunrise until shortly before sunset.

Given my recent interest in butterflies, this quotation from Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man is pertinent:

During the night colours are not visible, and there can be no doubt that the nocturnal moths, taken as a body, are much less gaily decorated than butterflies, all of which are diurnal in their habits.

GO BOKKE!

South Africans were overjoyed to watch the Springbok rugby team beat Japan in the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup on Sunday – should we have to say thank you to Eskom for keeping the electricity flowing so that South Africans could watch the game? Look up Springbok on Google today and you will be bombarded with articles relating to the national rugby team – understandably so. It seems appropriate then to cast the spotlight on our national animal, the Springbok (Antidorca marsupialis).

Although the Springbok is still the most plentiful antelope in the country, records indicate that they occurred here in their hundreds of thousands before the land was occupied by settlers. Widespread hunting, as well as the establishment of farms and towns that disrupted migratory patterns have decimated their numbers over time.

They still occur naturally in large numbers in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and are popular animals to have on game farms and private reserves – the latter mean that Springbok can now be seen in areas where they have not occurred historically. Shown below is a youngster.

These antelope tend to browse during the dry season and graze when grasses are available once the rains have fallen. These hardy creatures are known to eat tubers and roots as a source of moisture when open water is unavailable open water is scarce, water requirements are met by eating moisture-rich tubers and roots.

BABY SPRINGBOK

The appearance of this youngster startled us as much as the noisy presence of our vehicle must have given it a start: we had stopped along the road to have a closer look at something else, when this gangly creature emerged from the measly shadow of a scrubby bush and wobbled away from the road through the short yellow grass. A single Springbok lamb is born after a gestation period of about 25 weeks and is usually hidden for the first two days after birth as they make easy prey for eagles and jackals as well as small cat species. This one couldn’t have been many days older than that.

It turned to look at us curiously.

The following day we came across a young Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) a little older than the first. This one was confidently grazing a little distance from its mother and looked both curious and alert. Lambs start grazing by two weeks of age are weaned after about four weeks.

In due course the lambs join a ‘nursery’ of others of a similar age that graze in fairly close proximity to the adults.