… and very hot! The sun sucks the moisture from the ground and desiccates the grass. It beats down on the rocks, creating shimmers of heat waves above them. The bees and flies seek whatever water they can find.
Bees and flies seeking water.
There have been recent newspaper reports on the plight of vultures in South Africa suffering from dehydration in this drought – everything needs water to survive. A tiny leak in a pipe becomes a welcome source of hydration for Pied Starlings.
Even though we are at the height of summer, there is little in the way of green grass to be seen.
In places one can only wonder how the animals find enough food to sustain them.
Beautiful vistas of the Karoo show how yellow the grass is – what will be left for winter grazing if the rains do not come?
Mountain Zebra National Park
We have spent a few glorious days camping in the Mountain Zebra National Park. It is a peaceful wonderland with an abundance of interesting birds, animals and insects to see.
Cape Mountain Zebra
The swimming pool at the rest camp is a ‘life-saver’ though after a game drive during which the temperature has soared to 38°C.
NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.
Naturally enough, we expect to see Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) in the Mountain Zebra National Park situated on the northern slopes of the Bankberg near Cradock.
While we saw a lot of them, a variety of antelope populate the area too. Among these are Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus caama):
This is a predominantly grazing species that prefers medium-height grass and so are plentiful in the plateau area of Rooiplaat and Juriesdam.
It is wonderful to see large herds of South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck (Antidorcas marsupialis), grazing in the veld all over the Park.
We did not see as many Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) as we have on previous visits. This one was bounding across the grassland with considerable haste.
It was very interesting to happen upon a small herd of Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula) and to watch how quickly and nimbly they could run up the steep, rocky, mountain slope!
The Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) were scattered here and there. They are mainly browsers rather than grazers.
Sizeable herds of Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) as well as individuals abound in the Park.
It was the poet John Donne who first told us that no man is an island, implying that we cannot live entirely without contact with other people i.e. we do not thrive in isolation. Simon & Garfunkel sing the refrain, I am a rock / I am an island, claiming to be self-sufficient – for the time being anyway. To isolate ourselves is neither possible nor a good idea claims the philosopher, Karl Popper (1902-1994). According to him, we are social creatures to the inmost of our being.
True: so are many other animals in their own way, which is possibly why we enjoy scenes such as the ones below as they reflect the empathy we have for others and connect with our desire to be regarded as being ‘special’ to someone.
Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park
Zebra in Addo Elephant National Park
Yellow-billed Storks in Kruger National Park
Giraffe in Kruger National Park
Springbuck in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Hunters in South Africa seem to have become imbued with a desire to bag ‘something different’ – what else but demand (and the monetary rewards from satisfying such demands) would drive the selective breeding of wild animals for different colour mutations? While it is true that natural colour variants occur from time to time in free-living wildlife populations, these are rare occurrences. Are these ‘novelty’ animals now being bred to encourage more hunters? Do people breed them simply because they like seeing white Blesbuck
or coffee-coloured Springbuck?
As the natural colouration of animals suit their natural environments, I wonder what benefit breeding animals specifically for unnatural colour mutations can have for the individual animal, the species, biodiversity or conservation as a whole. Apart from the initial ‘look at that’ factor when seeing the results of such breeding, I cannot help thinking that the originals still look better!
Having said this … perhaps there is an advantage tucked away somewhere … are we not better off with the carrots, beans and potatoes we have today instead of the ‘originals’, not to mention cows and all we get from them.
The yearning is swelling within to make another long trek to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: to experience the space, the silence, the starlit skies you can almost touch, and the complete lack of connectivity with cell phones and the internet.
It can be hot and dry; the wind can whip up clouds of desert sand; it can also be icy cold. It is a remote place that has crept into my heart and tugs at me every so often. Here are some examples of why this is one of the places I love to visit:
Gemsbok are endemic to this arid region – they are such regal animals.
Springbuck appear in large herds, reminiscent of what it must have been like before senseless European hunters bagged as many as they could in the name of fun.
Spotted hyenas help clean the veld of bones and so help prevent the spread of diseases.
Blue wildebeest gather around the small, concrete-lined waterholes and seek the shade of scrawny trees during the hottest part of the day.
What a privilege it is to see a ratel / honey badger out in the open like this.
Then, of course, everyone keeps a sharp eye out for lions!
Shortly after entering the dry looking winter veld in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock, we came across two of South Africa’s iconic creatures: Ostriches and Springbuck – the latter being a national emblem. We were to see many more of both during our three-day stay in the Park.
Game viewing was good during the 12 Km stretch of road leading from the entrance gate to the reception and the camping area. Black wildebeest snorted and waved their characteristic white tufted tails; a Yellow mongoose watched us curiously from the safety of the straw-coloured grass; and we were thrilled to see a sizeable herd of the Cape mountain zebra this park was established to protect.
A lone Red hartebeest eyed us dolefully from its sitting position in a bare patch of veld – we would see herds of them during our game drive later that afternoon – and it was surely the same one guarding its patch when we drove past that spot on our way out of the park! A rather woolly-looking Gemsbuck moved slowly away from the road as we approached, giving the impression that time was not an issue in this part of the world.
It is not.
Perhaps it was because we had chosen a mid-week stay that we had a completely free choice of campsites on our arrival. The only restriction was that some of the sites were being soaked by sprinklers to encourage the growth of patches of lawn. A caravan arrived later on and parked some distance away.
Having enjoyed a leisurely late afternoon game drive on the high plains, where we had seen large mixed herds of antelope, we appreciated the peace mantling the camping area as the sun set.
The silence was broken now and then by the piercing calls of Black-backed jackals in the distance and the gentle cooing of Cape turtle doves in the trees. Some Red winged starlings called briefly as they swooped past to their evening perches, followed by a duet of Boubou shrikes and the characteristic chirping of the Bar throated apalis emanating from the tangle of acacia trees bordering the campsite.
A gibbous moon rose much later, bathing the camping area in a soft, silvery glow that rendered the use of torches unnecessary when moving about in the evening.
Bird watching while driving wasn’t easy. Many of the birds recorded are familiar enough from my garden and the surrounding area. I was most pleased to see a Hamerkop though, as it is a familiar bird from my childhood years. I got to know it well for it frequented our farm dams. Even though this species has an extensive range throughout the country, I seldom see Hamerkops anymore and I miss its presence where I live now.