Tussling Zebras

As the season dries up and the dust becomes a constant feature in the air, the advantage of this is that the sunsets become even more beautiful – if that is possible!?  And then when you have animal subjects providing you with some interest in the sunset, it lends itself to a great photo opportunity.

One such evening, after our usual gin and tonic sundowners in a quiet spot, we were winding our way slowly back to camp in Hwange National Park, when we happened across two young Zebras tussling not too far off the road.  They were positioned perfectly with the sunset almost behind them and were kicking up enough dust to create a beautiful background.

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The young geldings were testing each others strength, practicing for when they would be old enough to try and defend their own herd.  This play fighting enables them to develop their fighting skills, although at this stage it is only a fun competition, not the life and death situation when they have their own herds.

The Burchell’s or Plains Zebra is one of the most numerous and successful herbivores and is found from southeast Sudan to South Africa.  These black on white striped horse lookalikes all have their own set of stripes, each individual is as unique as a fingerprint. The Zebras are highly sociable with a dominant stallion with anywhere between 2 to 6 mares.  So tight is the family bond, that if a member gets lost, the stallion will go looking and calling for the straggler.  He will also defend his ladies and their offspring from all threats and when an individual becomes injured or sick the rest of the herd will slow its pace to accommodate this.  With a life span of 20 years, stallions can stay fighting fit for some 15 years, so losing his family in a fight is unlikely, so the up and coming stallions usually acquire their own ladies by stealing fillies from other herds.

The squealing and snorting that the play fighting youngsters were uttering carried far in the slowly dying evening, but they soon tired of their game and joined the rest of their herd to ready themselves for the night ahead.  We took that as our signal to leave and carried onto camp with some beautiful photos to remind us of their game.

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The Little Things….

While guiding guests around the bush when the “big game” is plentiful is relatively easy, as let’s face it that is what the majority of people travelling half way across the world come to see, our glorious African Elephants and Cape Buffalo, the awe inspiring predators and tall and elegant Giraffe, to name some.  But sometimes no matter how hard us guides try to find these magnificent beasts, they are not always compliant, grazing or browsing within easy access just for us to see.   The lion calling during breakfast  urging us all to scrambled into vehicles and dashed out in search of it, has now stopped!!  And we are now left driving around hoping to catch a glimpse of it.

In these situations, we have to find something else to interest the now disgruntled guests who left half their breakfast going cold on their plates back in camp as they dashed out in search of the creature calling so seductively earlier.  We point out the huge Marshall Eagle wheeling about in the sky overhead as it searches for its own breakfast, or the gracefully grazing herds of Zebra and Impala, with their little ones prancing and dashing in amoungst theirs mums legs as they enjoy being alive.  But these don’t do the job of placating them.  And then we hit gold!!!

Driving past a huge fallen tree I spot a little brown head pop up and disappear again, then another and another.  We switch off the engine and sit as still and quiet as possible, the guests not terribly sure what we have stopped for yet.  Then as the silence stretches out the curiosity of the residents of the fallen log gets the best of them and one, two, three, six, ten little brown pointy faces pop out of various holes in the log.   The braver of the family stick their shoulders out and finally emerge completely revealing the Dwarf Mongoose!!  I have come to appreciate these little creatures, they delight even the most grumpy guests.   As we sit still and as quiet as possible for a bunch of excited humans being entertained by the little brown mongooses in front of us, more and more appear until we count about 20.  This is Africa’s smallest carnivore which lives in social groups in old termite mounds, fallen trees and thickets.  They are strictly diurnal and start and end their day by sunbathing and socializing.

They relax slightly in our presence, although there is always the look out who keeps an eye on their surroundings, ready to issue a call of warning should danger approach.  They begin grooming each other and scratching the dust and mites from their coats, rubbing their long bodies along the log for a good rub.  Little jaws full of sharp teeth yawn wide, while a little ‘peep peep’ is heard constantly from different members of the group.  Little ones tumble around play fighting each other, and generally disturbing the adults early morning routine.  Suddenly we are aware that the peeping as turned to a ‘churring’ sound and as if as one they leap of the log and move off into the grass to start the foraging for the day.  They scratch around in the dirt like chickens, looking for bugs, lizards, scorpions, baby mice and anything else they might fancy.  Although they search in a group, each mongoose forages for itself and will defend its tasty treasure fiercely, but all keep in contact with constant vocalization.

The pack is led by a dominant pair, they are the only members that breed, and the offspring are cooperatively looked after by the pack. The dominant female leads the pack while the dominant male is in charge of pack security.  Some mongoose families have formed symbiotic relationships with birds, such as the Fork Tailed Drongo, who will act as look outs for the creatures and who are rewarded with the insects that the pack dislodge while foraging.

We sit enthralled by these little creatures, while they kick up dust, interacting with each other, the youngsters easily spotted in the pack as they seem to cause the most havoc!  Slowly they disappear in to the grass and just their little peep peeps are heard until those also disappear from hearing.

The Night Critters

Catching on camera, the shy creatures of the night is extremely difficult, not only in the technical sense, all the low lighting and camera shake that makes the task a tricky one.  But also the fact that you need to be dedicated and forfeit some shut eye in order to catch them out and about.  A way round this is a camera trap set up on a frequented water hole or path.  The national parks don’t allow you out after dark so this is the perfect way to catch those critters that appear after the sun has gone down.

We came across a lion kill that had been left for whatever reason, and decided to put up the camera trap for the night and see what came down to feed on the buffalo.  The night time visitors included Spotted Hyenas, Side Striped Jackels, African Civets and surprisingly a Ground Hornbill early in the morning.

Whereas the Hyena and Jackels are often see during the day, the African Civet is a very rare sight before dark.  These creatures are similar to the raccoon although are slightly larger, with a black robbers mask on a pale head.  The body colours vary from buff to grey, with black stripes and spots.  These creatures are omnivorous, scavenging around for anything they consider delicious, and are loners, males keeping a well marked out territory.

Another common nocturnal creature is the Large Spotted Genet pictured at the top of the page.  These beautifully marked creatures bring to mind the stoat, but being a bit larger.  They, too are omnivorous, but are a lot more agile that the Africa Civet and can be seen pouncing on mice in the long grass and chasing potential dinner up into the boughs of trees.

Chameleons

Zimbabwe is home to the Flapnecked Chameleon (pictured above) which has the queer ability to change colour before your eyes.  Research shows that this is due, in part, to two layers of skin containing nanocrystals which can be tensed or relaxed and thus reflect/absorb different wavelengths of light.  So when the chameleon is relaxed the cells are close together reflecting short wavelengths which are blue, together with the yellow pigment of its skin, it appears green.  When stressed the layer of skin contracts moving the crystals further apart and reflecting the longer wavelengths which are the reds and oranges, making it seem darker.  Generally research has found that males tend to be able to change colour more dramatically than females to enable them to seem more dangerous when fighting other males.  The females and juveniles tend to be more mellow colours allowing them to stay camouflaged better.

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Their other incredible feature is their really long tongue, which shoots out of their mouth accelerating from 0 to 6m per second!!  They use it to grab unsuspecting insects in the little sucker cup on the end, retracting the muscle back into the mouth along with dinner.  From slow mo video footage it has been estimated that the chameleon’s tongue is almost twice the length of its body!

In fact this whole creature is queer, from its zygodactylous feet (meaning two toes facing forward and two toes facing backwards), its seemingly uncoordinated eye balls, its horned brows and snout and the wavering, juddering gait it employs as it makes it slow and painful way along the branch.

Chameleons are surrounded by superstition in the African culture and are not best liked, being associated with the devil and being able to deceive mankind with its changing colours and its ever rolling eyes!

Travel Africa Magazine – Self driving through Zimbabwe

A great article appearing in the latest Travel Africa Magazine this month – have a read and see if this is the kind of holiday you might like to take?  Zimbabwe offers so much to see and do that if it is not on your bucket list, you are missing out!  Click on the link below to see the article.

https://travelafricamag.com/the-wheels-deal/utm_content=buffer1a484&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer 

 

 

Grey Crowned Crane

The Crowed Crane (Balearica regulorum) are a special sight on the open grasslands of Hwange standing about 104cm (3 ft) and weighing in at about 3.5kgs.  These majestic birds with their stiff golden feathers that sick up all over its head are one of the bigger birds that strut their stuff in the gently waving grass.  Being omnivores, they can be seen hunting for frogs and snails amoung marshy areas in the rainy season, or they are also keen on snakes and mice if they can catch them.   They stamp their feet while walking to flush out anything that may be hiding in the vegetation, they are also opportunists and can be seen in amongst the grazers in the hope of catching anything that is disturbed by these hooved creatures.   Wetland conservation is very important for these birds as they nest in large reed/grass constructed nests in the wetter areas, with the overgrazing or drainage of these types of areas, their habitat is diminishing at an alarming rate.

The crane can have between 2 to 3 eggs per clutch, and chicks are precocial meaning that they are up and running as soon as they hatch, no hanging about for these little guys.  Though they are not migratory, they do move with the food and as one area dries out they will move off to a more suitable area.

The Graceful Giraffe of Hwange

What a glorious sight that these awkward and seemly disproportioned creatures make as they saunter across the swaying grasslands, covering huge distances with their long legs.   Their strange rocking gait creating an almost hypnotic scene on the open plains of Hwange National Park, as herds of these mottled Southern African Giraffes (Giraffa giraffe) make their way across the horizon.

Their strangely patterned coats creating the perfect camouflage under the dappled shade of the Acacia trees, their long tongues seemingly like an arm reaching out to the upper most branches of the acacia to pluck the tender leaves from between the thorns!  And who wouldn’t be jealous of their stunning eyelashes!!