Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Sommelier Larry Stone was the first American to win the title "International Best Sommelier in French Wines and Spirits" and remains the only American to have earned the title of Maitre Sommelier from the Union de la Sommelerie Française. He is also an English-certified Master Sommelier, one of a handful of people who passed the exam on the first attempt. Today he runs the award-winning Rubicon

Friday, September 26, 2008

Facts about Porcupines

Cape Porcupine

Latin Name: Hystrix africaeaustralis

Derivation of Name:
The name or word “Porcupine“ comes from the French word “porc- ѐpique” (thorny pig).

Weight: Both males and females weigh 20kg to 25kg.

Lifespan: 12 to 14 years.

Gestation Period: 3 Months.

Porcupines are found in woodland, savannah and forest biomes as well as rocky outcrops. They often take shelter in aardvark (Antbear) burrows which they modify to make more comfortable.

Porcupines are primarily nocturnal, moving alone or in small groups of 5 or 6 individuals.

The porcupine is Africa’s largest rodent. It is believed that they are capable of “shooting” their quills, but this is not the case. When the porcupine sees predators such as lion, leopard or hyena it will often “freeze”, in the hope that it won’t be noticed. If confronted, it turns its back towards the predator, often running backwards resulting in a face pierced and filled with quills.

If given the chance it will crawl into a burrow face first only to expose its sharp quills, making it rather difficult for predator to dislodge them. Their quills are hollow and exceptionally sharp and upon losing them, they re-grow. The porcupine shakes its tail quills to create a rattling sound as a threatening distraction to predators. They are also capable of erecting all their quills outwards to make themselves’ look larger and more intimidating.

Porcupines feed mainly on roots and tubers, which they dig out with relative ease using their strongly built claws. They also eat the bark from trees which chew and tear off with their sharp incisors. Other food sources include the fallen fruit from trees, carrion which is ideal for protein, as well as bones which they gnaw on for the extra calcium and phosphorous intake.
Bones are often taken back to the burrow to feed on at leisure.

The porcupine’s stomach is filled with symbiotic microorganisms which help break down the plants eaten into a usable form.

The female, at night, initiates courtship by presenting herself to the male. Mating takes place with the female’s quills flattened against her body and her tail raised to allow for safer copulation.

Before giving birth the female lines the chamber of the burrow with grass to create a comfortable nest.

After a 3 month gestation, she gives birth to between 1 and 3 youngsters. The youngsters suckle off the mother for approximately 3 weeks before they start eating solids, but are still dependant on the mother for at least another 3 months.

Unlike most mammals, the male also helps the female in taking care of the young.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Think of This Blog as a Bulletin Board

Bonjour! I'm hoping my new blog will be a great way to keep each other posted about things we experience and love here in our little corner of paradise.

I hope that when you discover a charming village, new restaurant, gorgeous hotel, unique shop, great-value wine or anything else worthwhile, you'll share the names with us. If you hear about an upcoming event that sounds like fun--an art show,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Elephant Culling

There are always huge debates as to whether the culling of elephant is ethical or not. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and in my opinion and many others, it MUST be done. If we don’t cull we will still lose many 1000’s of elephants as well as many other different species of game along with them in the future.
The Kruger National Park is a massive 20 000 square kilometres surrounded by a fence and because of this fence it is not a 100% natural environment which as a result requires grooming such as culling, stocking up of rare animal species from other reserves and controlled fires to keep it as natural as possible.

The Problem

150 years ago there were no fences dividing countries which prevent the natural movement of game forced by the change in seasons. Many animals migrating in search of food and or water died, especially old, weak and injured individuals, possibly as a result of not reaching their destinations on time. This would help control the numbers of many game species, leaving only the strong and healthy to survive.
With the development of conservation areas such as the Kruger National Park, with all its man-made dams and abundance of thick vegetation, there is very rarely a shortage of food or water for game resulting in the massive increase in the elephant population.

It’s hard to believe that the Kruger national Parks’ elephant population was almost totally wiped out just 100 years ago due to excessive hunting and poaching and today it sits on about 12 000, which is 4 500 above the natural carrying capacity with the population increasing close to 3% every year!
If populations get too high, the impact on vegetation will be devastating as elephants require huge amounts of food to sustain their large bodies along with their weak digestive systems. Large bulls will eat as much as 250 kg of vegetation and drink up to 180 litres of water every day!

Of all the African herbivores the elephant has the most varied diet in terms of different plant species, eating almost every plant if finds and who knows, with too many elephant how many plant species may be lost forever. The elephants’ favourite food is grass. If an area is over-populated, in time the ground will be totally stripped of all grass which may result in serous erosion as the root systems of the grasses would normally hold the soil together. Areas that have been severely over-grazed and eroded may take many years to recover back to a suitable state and in some cases never recover. Grazing animals such as wildebeest, zebra, white rhino and hippopotamus will eventually die off if there is no grass to eat or nowhere else to find more.
When all the grass has been eaten, the elephant then concentrate more on feeding off trees and shrubs. It’s not just the leaves they eat but also the roots and bark of certain trees. They uproot trees, strip off bark and before we know it there are 1000’s of dead trees as far as the eye can see.
So what use to be lush thick vegetation with allsorts of beautiful trees and shrubs now looks like a desert with lots of sand, heavily eroded areas, tree stumps and the bones of all the animals that have now died of starvation, all of this as a result of nothing been done to properly solve the over-population of elephant.


Relocation of elephants to other game reserves:

Sounds good but it only helps temporarily as eventually space in these reserves runs out and the cost of moving them becomes more expensive as they have to be moved even further away to new areas. With over 300 elephant born into the Kruger National Park every year you can imagine the cost of moving 300 every year just to keep the population constant at 12 000.
Helicopters, pilots, vets, sedative drugs, transportation trucks, fuel, legal papers, all of this costs a lot when moving elephants to other game reserves or countries.

Female Contraception:

The female elephants are given a contraceptive injection that is highly effective but needs to be administered roughly every 6 months to keep working. Not all females are given the contraceptive that still allows the births of a few calves into the herds. This exercise is extremely expensive especially with large populations where 1000’s of females are given the injection every 6 months. The population growth slows down but still doesn’t solve the over-population problem.


Cropping is the process where small amounts of game are shot over a long period of time. An example of this would be taking out say 5 or 10 animals per week over a period of a couple months. Cropping works but has the down side that the visibility may be poor in the summer and early winter months, making it very difficult when shooting on the ground or from helicopters.


Culling is the process whereby a fairly large amount of animals are shot within a short period of time, for example; shooting say 200 elephants in the space of 3 weeks. This may come across a very cruel, but to date has been the only real long term effective method used. Culling operations are done in the shortest possible time to lessen the stress on the animals been shot.
Before culling was put to an end in 1997 the Kruger had a very healthy population of elephant. The tusks of culled animals were stored in safe warehouses or often burnt and much of the meat was processed for tin food which was given to poor communities and used by staff members of the park. Hyenas, jackals, vultures and many other scavenging animals made sure to clean up the rest of any carcasses left behind.

For now the game reserves that can afford it are using female contraception and relocating elephants. There are ongoing talks about bringing back culling but still no change. One day in the future ‘they’ will realise that culling is the answer but by that time it will be too late. If only ‘they’ would fully understand.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Facts about Hippos

Latin Name: Hippopotamus amphibius

Lifespan: Both the males and females live up to 40 years of age.

Sexual differentiation:
The males are much larger than the females, reaching 3000 kg and the females about 2000 kg. The male’s tusks (incisors) are longer than the females, up to 50 cm in length.

Social grouping:
The collective name for a group of hippo is a “raft of hippo”. A typical family unit consists of 1 dominant male, any number of females with their young. The dominant bull is extremely territorial and protective over the females. Males that are not dominant wonder on their own or in small groups of males, often avoiding any confrontations with any territorial bulls in the area.

Mating takes place in the water. After a gestation of about 8 months the female gives birth in shallow water. The female seems to somehow know the sex of her calf before giving birth as a pregnant cow that has a male calf in her will often leave her family group to give birth in a separate river or dam.
The dominant male reacts very aggressively to new males trying to join his family group even if they are newborn or his own, so for this reason the pregnant female leaves the group to give birth and stay on her own with the newborn male calf until he is strong enough to move quickly and hopefully avoid dangerous confrontations with the dominant bull when they rejoin the rest of the family.
When pregnant with a female calf, the mother will normally give birth in the same river or dam where the rest of the family are.

The cow’s milk has a very thick texture, almost like yogurt. The thick milk makes it possible for the calf to drink from its mother while under water without the milk dissolving too much.

The size of the male’s territory depends on a number of different factors. If there is a shortage of water in the rivers and dams, hippo start to congregate where ever they can find water, often resulting in a lot of fighting between the males’. With so many males in close proximity, the territories soon become a lot smaller with all the competition. An over-population of hippo can have the same effect. The amount of good grazing grass in an area can also affect the amount of competition between dominant bulls.

The male marks his territory by scattering his dung onto vegetation like trees and bushes. He does this by facing his behind towards the vegetation and as he drops his dung he starts to swing his tale continuously and rapidly from side to side, resulting in the dung being sprayed onto the vegetation. The male will often scatter dung in the same place on land as well as in the water, leaving his own scent throughout his territory.

Feeding habits and sun protection:
Hippos’ are classified as herbivores but have been known to feed off the carcasses of animals, this being very rare of course.
They have a very thin epidermis that very sensitive to too much sun. For most of the day they stay submerged under the water to protect their skins from the sun. If a hippo stays out of the water too long on a hot day, its skin starts to dry out and over extended periods out of the water its skin starts to crack open into wounds.

The perspiration of hippo gives limited protection from the sun acting as a form of sun-block and an anti-bacterial agent. Their perspiration is pink in colour which often looks like blood with excessive sweating.

Hippos’ leave the water after sunset and spend most of the night out grazing. Early in the morning before the sun rises is the time when they return back to the water, where they stay for the rest of the day until night falls again.

During the summer months there is normally a lot of grass, so the hippos’ might only walk 5 or 10km in a night to feed. In the dryer winter months or drought there is less grass, forcing the hippos’ to walk as much as 15 to 20km or more in a night to find food.

Most dangerous mammal in Africa:
Statistically hippos’ kill more people than any other mammal in Africa. The people that get killed are normally living in rural areas where there is no tap water. These people need to fetch water and bath in rivers and dams and often get caught between the hippos’ and the water when the hippos’ are making their way back to the water in the early morning. Hippo often react very aggressively by attacking when their pathways are blocked, resulting in many deaths every year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why do Zebras have stripes?

There are many different theories as to why zebra have stripes; here are the three most common theories.

1) Zebras' stripes are like fingerprints with each and every zebra having a different set of stripes. When a female zebra gives birth she will try as much as possible to prevent the newborn foal from seeing other zebras' strips for a few days. By standing between the foal and other zebras in the herd the youngster then can only see its' mothers' stripes and in doing so learns them. The foal is then able to find its' mother just by sight.

2) The second theory has to do with a type of camouflage against predators like lion.
The lion apparently does not have a very detailed and full-colour vision. When Zebra are being chased by predators they will often run close together, making it difficult for the predator to spot the youngsters, as all they would see is a confusing arrangement of black and white stripes all blending in together.

3) The third theory in an interesting one, which is difficult to believe.
The black stripes on a zebra will absorb a lot of heat from the sunlight, whereas the white stripes will reflect a lot of heat. The result of this is the downward movement of air from the black stripes and an upward movement of air from the white stripes, which then creates many small whirling winds on the zebra body. This movement of air is said to cool the zebra down.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Black Mamba Facts

Latin Name: Dendroaspis polylepis

Lifespan: Up to 12 years in captivity has been recorded.

The body of the black mamba is grey to brown in colour. The only true black colour is the inside mouth lining.

The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa averaging 2 – 2.5 m (6.5 ft – 8.2 ft), with really large specimens reaching lengths of 4.2 m (13.8 ft). The black mamba is a very nervous and fast moving snake capable of moving at speeds of up to 20km/hour (12.4 miles/hour). While moving they are capable of lifting their bodies 2 thirds of the ground, giving them a good all-round view of their surroundings.

If cornered and threatened they can be extremely dangerous and won’t hesitate to strike. Like most snakes mambas are very shy and would rather avoid confrontations and move out of sight before being seen.

The black mamba is much feared and considered by many to be the most dangerous snake in Africa. The reason for this is their aggressive behaviour and potent venom which is predominantly neuro-toxic. A single bite can kill the average man in an hour. A person that is allergic to bees can die within 20 minutes if bitten by a black mamba! The neuro-toxic venom consists mainly of proteins that enter the blood-stream and bond on to the ends of the nerves where the nerves join onto the different muscles. These proteins block off the nerve impulses from the brain which then stops the heart from pumping as well as the muscles which expand and contract the lungs, followed soon by death.

Polyvalent anti-venom is available but many doctors prefer not to use it as there are numerous cases of people reacting allergic to the anti-venom which often consists of the white-blood cells from horses. The alternative treatment that hospitals often use is to put the patient on a life-support machine to keep the heart pumping as well as artificial respirators to keep the lungs going. They keep the machines on until the body is strong enough once again to sustain its self.

The mamba’s venom is very effective for immobilising its prey. Within just a few seconds of biting it prey, it dies from respiratory failure. Their diet consists of mainly small mammals such as; rats, mice, squirrels, dassies (hyraxes) as well as birds.

The black mamba will often have a permanent lair if not disturbed too often. A typical mamba lair would be a hollow in a tree or in the cavities of old termite mounds. They are not considered an arboreal species but can often be seen warming up on cold days high in trees. Black mambas are not territorial as they don’t scent-mark the areas they live in and they defend areas against other mambas.

Breeding takes place in the early spring. After a successful copulation the eggs develop in the female’s body for about 60 days. Mature females lay between 15 and 25 eggs which are often hidden within termite mounds. The eggs incubate for about 60 days before hatching. The hatchlings are about 50 cm (20 inches) in length and totally independent after leaving the eggs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Giraffes Facts

Latin Name: Giraffa camelopardalis

The males reach about 1400kg and the females about 1200kg.

Gestation: 15 Months.

Diet & Feeding:
A giraffe will eat between 30 and 40kg of food in one day. They are browsers taking preference to the Acacia trees. They have very long tongues (46cm), which they use to strip leaves off between all the thorns on the Acacias. If a thorn is taken in they simply spit it out.
An amazing adaptation that giraffe have is that they don't have any blood vessels in their gums, so they won't bleed when pierced by a thorn. Their tongues get very rough and damaged by thorns over a period of time, so they are capable of shedding the outer layers of the tongue, leaving it soft and smooth once again.

The collective name for giraffe is a “journey of giraffe." The reason for this name is, that they will not stay in the same area for too long feeding off the same trees. If a giraffe feeds on the same Acacia tree for too long a period, the tree then starts to defend itself by increasing the levels of tannin in its leaves. The increase of tannin makes the leaves taste very bitter and dry, forcing the giraffe to move on. The acacia at the same time releases chemicals into the air, which is carried by the wind to other Acacias as a signal to raise their tannin levels.
With the whole area being tannin infested the giraffe then moves off to a totally different area, often feeding upwind to feed off trees that have lower tannin levels.

Blood Circulation:
Giraffe being such tall animals makes it very difficult for them to drink. They are very wary of predators when approaching water, often stopping every few steps to scan their surroundings for any sign of danger. Once at the waters’ edge, they move their front legs apart and bend them to lower their bodies, then start drinking. In this position they are very vulnerable to lions as it is difficult for them to start running quickly when their legs are so far apart.

When the giraffe lowers its head to drink, it gets no circulation of blood to the brain. Circulation is stopped by closing valves at the point where the main arteries’ enter the skull. These valves re-open when the animals head is lifted up again. This helps the giraffe by preventing a rush of blood into the brain when it lowers its head and a rush of blood out of its brain when the head is lifted, thus preventing it from passing out.

Giraffe very seldom sleep, and when they do they lie down on the belly, with the head resting against a large tree or termite mound. Sometimes they will rest their head on the lower part of the back when sleeping. The head is kept above ground level to ensure the circulation of blood to the brain is not cut off.

Quick Facts:
· Giraffe have 7 neck vertebras, the same as all other mammals. For an adult each vertebra can be as long a 1 foot in length.
·When running they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 55km/hour.
·Just like humans, giraffe have 32 teeth in total. Their dental formula is as follows: I 0/3, C 0/1, P3/3, M 3/3.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Facts about Lions

Latin name: Panthera leo

On average, the females live for 17 years, the males 15 years.
The oldest lion possibly recorded was a male living in a Zoo in Sri Lanka that reached a ripe old age of 26.

Lions living in Zoo's don't have the stress of defending territories against other prides and don't have to hunt for themselves, which could possibly be the reason for a longer lifespan.

Weight and weight records:
On average, adult lionesses weigh 150 kg, with larger adults reaching up to 180 kg. Females reach their prime maturity at about 5 years of age.
The average adult male weighs around 220 kg, with really large males reaching 280kg. Males reach their prime maturity at about 7 years.

The heaviest recorded wild lion in South Africa was a man-eating lion that was shot, just south of the Kruger National Park. He weighed in at 313kg.
The heaviest living lion today, if he is still alive, is a male that lives in a Canadian zoo weighing at 366kg.
The World Record is 375kg!

Zoo and circus lions in general are overweight from overfeeding and the lack of exercise.

Feeding and Diet:
Prey species vary from small to large mammals such as hares, monkeys, baboons, impala, gazelles, kudu, steenbok, duiker, zebra and wildebeest. Larger prides may specialize in hunting large game such as giraffe, hippo, rhino and elephant.

The lionesses do most of the hunting, they are also more successful when stalking prey as they have a better camouflage and are far more patient at hunting than the males are.

Mature males with dark manes have the disadvantage that they may be seen from a long distance by their prey, making stalking rather difficult, especially in the dry season.
The males are very capable of hunting and will often join the hunt when it involves large prey such as buffalo, rhino and elephant where the extra weight and power is needed to pull down these animals.

Once a kill is made the males will often take over as they are stronger and larger and therefore take priority in feeding, leaving the females to feed off the scraps or nothing at all.

A mature lion is capable of consuming amounts of meat that are equivalent to 10% of its own body mass, tucking in as much as 25kg on one feeding! Once a lion has eaten as much as it can, it starts to breathe very rapidly, this is as a result of the stomach being so full and putting pressure on the ribcage which makes breathing more difficult. The heavy breathing cools down the lion and slows its metabolism down as well. On a full stomach a lion can go 4 days quite comfortably without having to hunt again.

The under-part of the lions’ belly is very light in colour, almost white and when their bellies are full they will often lay down on their backs exposing the lighter colour to the sun. The light colour absorbs less heat from the sun, thus keeping them cooler, especially in areas with limited shade. Lying on their backs also helps with the uncomfortable pressure off their full stomachs.

On a hot day lions will often lick the pads of their feet, especially the front feet and then turn them upwards to cool them down in the breeze.

Running Speed:

From standstill too sprinting, a lion can reach a speed of close on 80km/h in just 3 seconds! It can run at this speed for 300 - 400 meters.

Interesting Lion Theory:
In many game reserves in Africa there are over-populations of lion and what is often noticeable is how many of the pregnant females are giving birth to more male cubs than females. On average a mother will give birth to three cubs, normally 2 females and 1 male, but in over-populated areas this is often the reverse with the mother giving birth to 2 males and 1 female cub.

Over a period of time as the population increases, there will be far too many males. At the age of about 3 and a half years these males will be forced out of their prides by their parents and then start living a nomadic life until they are old enough to fight for their own territories.

Competition between the males is very tough with there being so many of them in the same area and not enough space, resulting in more fighting and thus an increase in the male mortality rate. Gradually the male lion population will drop, leaving only the strong and healthy ones behind. At the same time, with there being so few female cubs, this will also slow the population growth as there are now fewer females to give birth to their own young in the future.

So nature seems to control its own animal numbers is some way or another.

Facts on Zebra

Burchell’s Zebra

Latin name: Equus burchellii

Lifespan: Both the males and the females live up to 35 years of age.

Weight: 300 to 320 kg for both sexes.

Sexual differentiation:
The male and female are similar in size. The male’s genitals are not always visible, making it very difficult to see the difference. One clear difference is the black vertical stripe between the buttocks. The male has a very narrow stripe about 1 inch wide and the female has a stripe about 2 or 3 inches wide.

Social grouping:
The collective name used for a group of zebras is called a “dazzle”. There are two different groupings that zebra live in. The first is the harem. A harem consists of 1dominant male, 5 or 10, sometimes more females and their young.
The second social grouping is the bachelor herd which varies in size from 3 individuals and up. The bachelor herd consists of only males which often follow the different harems around at a safe distance. Males will occasionally leave their bachelor herds to join up with the harem to challenge the dominant male for his females.

Fighting between the males involves a lot of kicking and biting until the one or the other gives up. Once the previous male is forced out the new dominant male will often kill all young foals that are still dependant on their mother’s milk by kicking and biting them too death.
The reason for the male doing this is that the females that are still suckling young will not be on “heat”, but soon after losing its youngster will be ready to mate with.

After a successful mating the female is pregnant for 12 months. After giving birth the newborn foal will be dependent on its mother’s milk for almost 1 year before totally weaning.
The females can give birth at any time of the year.

Diet & Feeding:
Zebras are grazers, often feedings along with wildebeest. Wildebeest prefer to feed of the shorter grasses whereas zebra prefer the longer grasses. After the zebra has chewed off the long grass tufts, the wildebeest will often follow after the zebra to chew off the shorter tufts left behind.

Many other herbivores such as giraffe, impala and even warthog can be seen feeding close to zebra. Besides also feeding off grass, this may be a form of safety as zebra have a very keen sense of smell, hearing, sight and are extremely alert of their surroundings which makes it rather difficult for predators to get close to them without been seen.
The more other animals there are, the safer it is for zebra as there is a lesser chance of a predator picking them out in a hunt.

The zebra’s closest relative:
Besides horses being direct relatives of zebra, the next close relative strange enough is the rhino. They have the same dentitional formula, a similar bone structure and at one stage in their lives had similar shaped feet, the rhino having more horse-like shaped feet.

It is rather difficult to see if a zebra is in a good condition or not as they always have round bellies as a result of all the gasses bloating their stomachs. When there is a shortage of grass or even a drought, zebra still look well fed with their large gas-filled bellies.
A clear sign of bad health is to look at the mane-hair on the zebra’s neck. If the mane-hair is stiff and upright, then the zebra is generally in good condition. If the mane-hair flops, then there might be something wrong with the animal. When a zebra falls ill it starts to lose the fat around its neck first. The fat in the neck holds the mane-hair up and if it burns away the mane starts to flop.

Domestication of zebra:
It is possible to domesticate zebra and through the years zebra have been used by farmers for pulling carts and farm machinery as well as for pulling coaches and carriages. It is also possible to ride zebra like one would ride a horse. It is not possible to race on a zebra as there would be a risk of breaking its back. The backs of most horses have a very deep arch making a comfortable fit for the saddle where as the zebra’s back is more level. The horse’s back bones are loser fitting into one another, makings its back more flexible to allow for more impact on the back while running fast. The zebra’s back bones are tighter fitting thus less flexible making it risky to ride hard without breaking its back.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cheetah Facts

Latin name: Acinonyx jubatus

The cheetah is the fastest running mammal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 100 km/hour. From standstill to a sprint they can reach 70 km/hour in 2 seconds, then 100 km/hour in just 3 seconds! The cheetah can only run at these high speeds for 300 / 400 meters before having to stop, if not it could cause possible overheating of its body. The body of a cheetah is built for speed. They have small heads for less air resistance, very large nostrils to allow maximum oxygen intake to fuel their muscles, a slender build with long legs and a tail that flattens towards the end to act as a rudder to help keep its balance while running at high speed.
The cheetah is not very powerful compared to most other large predators, so it needs its prey to run in order to use the prey’s momentum to pull it down to the ground. When chasing after its prey, the cheetah uses its dew claw to hook onto the animal’s lower leg to try trip it. If successful, it then uses its jaws to suffocate the prey by a bite to the neck or by using is mouth to cover the prey’s whole muzzle, which prevents the animal from making too much noise while being suffocated. Too much noise from its prey in distress may attract the attention of unwanted visitors such as hyenas and lions that will inevitably steal the cheetahs kill, as the cheetah would rather flee than defend it.
The cheetah being a rather weak predator loses up to 90% of its kills to lion, hyena, leopard and even packs of jackals, so when a kill is made it quickly eats as much of the soft meat as possible before it is stolen.

The larger predators are more active at night and sleep during the warmer daylight hours making it a lot safer for cheetah hunt during the day. A possible adaptation that the cheetah has is the black tear lines that start around the edges of the eyes, running down to the outer edges of the mouth. The dark colour aids its vision by absorbing excess light, thus preventing too much glare into the eyes.

The female, after a gestation of 90 – 95 days gives birth to 3, sometimes 4 cubs. The colouration of the cubs seems to resemble that of the honey badger. The upper part of the body is white to grey in colour with the lower parts almost black. The manner, in which the youngsters walk, is very similar to that of the honey badger.
Many animals including large predators are very wary of honey badgers, as they have earned a reputation for being rather aggressive and tough to kill. For the cheetah’s cubs to mimic such a fierce animal is a great advantage, as this may increase their chances of survival against other predators for the first few weeks after birth. By 12 – 15 months of age the cub’s colouration is much the same as the adults.

Unfortunately the survival rate of cheetah cubs is very low with a possible 1 in every three cubs living to 2 years of age. Many cubs are killed by the larger predators, especially in the first few weeks after birth, so to keep the cubs as safe as possible the female moves the cubs from hiding place to another every 3 or 4 days.

A female with cubs needs to hunt on a regular basis and as they grow older she may need to hunt every day, especially if she has 3 or 4 cubs. From the age of 6 months the female starts teaching the cubs to hunt and by 14 months the cubs regularly join the female on hunts. By 16 – 18 months the cubs are ready to hunt by themselves which is also the time when they are chased away by their mother, to be independent of her for the first time.

Due to the excessive trophy hunting of the past, the cheetah population in many game reserves is seriously low. The Kruger National park’s cheetah numbers are currently dwindling on about 300 individuals, resulting in a very weak gene-pool. Namibia has the highest population of between 6000 and 9000.
Fortunately there are a number of breeding programs which have had relative success in breeding and introducing cheetah into the wild and by introducing specimens from Namibia into these breeding projects it helps to strengthen the gene-pool and give hope for the future survival of the cheetah.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cape Buffalo Facts

Latin name: Syncerus caffer

Weight: Females up to 700 kg. Males up to 1000 kg.

Lifespan: 17 years

Gestation Period: 11 months

Habitat: Grassland and open woodlands

The Cape buffalo is considered by many to be the most dangerous of the big 5. Large herds of buffalo are generally relaxed when compared to single buffalo or small groups, which are extremely unpredictable. Lone bulls are very nervous as they don’t have the safety and security of numbers and are therefore very quick to charge at any sign of danger. A charging buffalo is difficult to stop and many hunters have fallen victim to them, even after shooting warning shots.

Large breeding herds can reach up 1500 individuals, rarely more. With so many buffalo, the herd has to keep on the move in search of good grazing and water. The old, sick and weak individuals often fall behind until eventually losing their herd. Old bulls that were previously with the herd will often form small groups known as bachelor herds. The bachelors normally settle down into smaller areas of 5 or 10 km² that has sufficient water and food to survive on. When the breeding herds pass through their area, they will sometimes rejoin for a short period before remaining behind once again.

Another name for an old buffalo bull is “dagga boy”. Dagga is the mixture sand, water and cement, used in building, a dagga boy is the person that mixes the dagga. Old buffalo bulls love wallowing in mud and after sitting in the sun for a while, the dried mud on their bodies looks like the dried cement on a dagga boy’s arms and legs, hence the nick name.

Mud wallowing is very good for the buffalo’s skin as it helps remove unwanted parasites such as ticks and mites. When an animal submerges into water, a small air-bubble develops around the tick’s mouth, where the mouth enters the host’s skin. This air-bubble supplies the tick with extra oxygen, allowing it to stay under water without drowning. Mud on the other hand is too thick to allow for these small air-bubbles, resulting in the suffocation of ticks. After good wallowing session, the buffalo then rubs its body against, large rocks, trees or termite mounds to remove the mud along with the ticks.

The horns of buffalo give a good indication of the sex. The male’s horns are slightly thicker than the females and the male has a very prominent boss. The bull in particular makes a regular habit of rubbing and polishing his horns and boss on trees. The purpose of this may be to prevent flies from laying eggs in the cracks of its horns. Eggs laid in the horns eventually hatch into larva and start boring through the keratin layers causing significant damage to the buffalo’s horns.

The buffalo is a herbivore, feeding mostly on grass but in the drier seasons they will also eat more leaves.

Within a breeding herd there are a number of dominant males. Only these males are able to mate with the females. At the age of 5 years the female gives birth to her first calf after a gestation of 11 months. The newborn calf has a light brown to auburn colouration which helps camouflaging it while being hidden away and suckled for the first few weeks, until it is strong enough to keep up with the herd. The calf will often stay with its mother until the time when she gives birth to a new calf, which is around every 2 years.

Lions are capable of hunting mature buffalo which may take just a few minutes to pull down or even a couple hours with less experienced lion. Spotted hyena and leopard normally hunt the young calves which are less of a risk as buffalo often team together and put up a good fight and are very capable of killing lions and the other predators.

Cape buffalo have a very low white blood cell count when compared to other animals which results in a weak immune system and makes them susceptible to diseases such as foot and mouth disease and bovine tuberculoses.
The tuberculosis is extremely contagious and by sharing the same drinking water it spreads very quickly through the herd. Buffalo that have T.B. can live for many years as long as they aren’t malnutritioned. During dry seasons or drought the effects of the T.B. may kill many buffalo.

Predators such as lion that hunt T.B. infected buffalo are also at risk after eating the meat of these animals.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

White Rhino Facts

South Africa has two species of rhino, the Black rhino (Hook-lipped rhino) and the White rhino (Square-mouthed rhino). Of the two species, the white rhino has the highest population, numbering +- 4000 in the Kruger National Park and only 400 black rhino. It's hard to believe that less than 100 years ago there were fewer white rhino's than black rhino's. The reason for such a low population of rhino in the park was as a result of excessive hunting and poaching. In the mid-70s’ a huge effort was made to boost their numbers by introducing rhino from Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve into the southern part of the Kruger National Park. Another possible reason for the black rhino being so low in numbers could be the fact that they are very anti-social compared to the white rhino which are often seen in large herds of 10 - 15 and even more. Black rhino breed less frequently as a result of being so anti-social.

White Rhino:

Latin name: Ceratotherium simum

Adult males 2 000 - 2 500 kg, adult females 1 600 - 1800 kg.

Lifespan: +- 45 years.

Gestation: 16 months.

Feeding and territoriality:
White Rhino are grazers. They have very broad, flat mouths which makes it possible to chew off large tufts of grass while feeding. They spend a lot of their time grazing in the early morning and late afternoon as well as during the night. On warm days they move into the shade to sleep or cool down in mud wallows or dams.

White Rhino bulls are very territorial and on a daily basis they patrol their territories, chasing out intruding territorial bulls, as well as scent-marking the area to show its' presence. The male scent-marks by spray-urinating on trees and on the ground. After urinating on the ground the bull often drags his feet over the urine covered sand to spread it over a larger area. The urine under the feet also helps to spread the males' scent even further as he walks through his territory. The bull also has a number of middens within his area. A midden is a large collection of dung left by the rhino in the same spot. Every day the bull will try re-mark as many of these as possible. After dropping fresh dung into the midden, the bull drags his feet over the dung to break it up into smaller pieces, often spreading it out to increase the size of the midden. Just as he does with spay-urinating, he spreads the scent of the dung under his feet when walking through his territory.

During the dry winter season or drought the more dominant male will often allow neighbouring territorial bulls that have no water in their territories to enter his territory for a drink of water, as long as they leave right after drinking.

The females and young sub-ordinate males that are not territorial wonder quite freely through the different male territories.

The female White rhino gives birth to a single calf after a gestation of about 16 months. They are often seen accompanied by two or three generations of their own young. The female often chases her older calves away before giving birth to another calf. After 3 or 4 months when the newborn is strong on its legs, the mother will allow the older calves to re-join her once again. The female calves will often spend most of their lives with their mother. Male calves tend to wonder off a bit more the older they get, eventually leaving their mother to try establish their own territories.

White Rhino have extremely poor eyesight but are very capable seeing moving objects. They have an excellent sense of smell and hearing. A rhino's ears are always moving to pick up any sound made around it. Even while sleeping their ears still move to pick up any sound.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Leopard Facts

Latin Name: Panthera pardus

Weight: Females up to 60 kg. Males up to 90 kg

Lifespan: 20 years

Gestation: 110 days

The leopard is one of the most adaptable predators in Africa. They are able to survive in many different types of habitats, taking preference to savannah, woodland, riverine vegetation and mountainous regions. They can also be found living close to human settlements where domestic animals become a source of prey. Of all predators, the leopard is the most likely to become a man-eater as many of them have established territories close to human settlements, resulting in regular encounters with people.

Unlike lions which are usually found in family groups, the leopard lives a more solitary life. Individuals seen together are most likely to be a mother with cubs, a male and female mating or encounters on the boundaries of their different territories. The collective name for a group of leopard is a “LEAP”.

Both males and females are territorial. The sizes of the different territories vary quite considerably. The males tend to have larger areas up to 100 km² and sometimes more, with several female territories overlapping within.
Leopard mark their territories by spraying urine onto trees and bushes that they periodically return to, to remark.
The leopard also advertises its presence within its territory vocally, by making a series of grunts described as the sound of a saw cutting through wood.

Their beautiful colouration consists of dark-brown to black spots, which form the shape of rosettes. The edges of their eyes are lined with a white colour which may aid their nocturnal vision by amplifying light that is reflected off its surroundings.

Along with its superb camouflage, it is a very silent and stealthy predator with a very high success rate in kills made on hunts. Pound for pound the leopard is the strongest cat in the world, capable of climbing a tree whilst carrying prey that is more than twice its own body weight. If the prey is too large to climb up with, it will often feed on the ground until carcass is light enough to hang to a tree.

They are very opportunistic hunters, sometimes having 2 or more kills at the same time. The leopard is not fond of eating fur, so before opening a carcass to feed on the softer meat, it plucks out the animal’s hair.

Many young and inexperienced leopards don’t drag their kills up into trees often resulting in lions or hyenas stealing it from them. A carcass strung high up in a tree is a lot safer, allowing the leopard to can come and go as it pleases and feed at leisure. In areas with few scavengers, they will sometimes leave the kill on the ground and cover it grass and leaves or drag it out of sight into thick vegetation.

Of all the large predators in Africa it is the second fastest sprinter after the cheetah, reaching speeds of up to 85 km/hour in just 3 seconds!

Their diet consists of mainly small to medium sized antelope such as impala, bush buck, steenbok and duiker. They will also prey on kudu, warthog, baboons, vervet monkeys, hares, guinea fowl and francolins. A leopard will even eat insects if it is struggling to hunt for some reason.

Mating takes place at any time of the year. The male locates a female on “heat” by taste testing the urine she leaves behind on the vegetation, after scent-marking her territory. A female that is ready to mate is very vocal, often calling throughout the night to find a possible mating partner.
Once a suitable male is located, the pair may remain together for a week while mating.

The female gives birth to 2 or 3 cubs which she hides in thick vegetation, rocky outcrops or even in caves. Every 3 or 4 days the female moves the cubs as the smell of their urine and faeces becomes very prominent, often attracting unwanted visitors such as lion and hyena that would almost certainly kill the cubs.

Cubs start eating meat at around 6 to 8 weeks of age but still suckle off the female for up 3 or 4 months until weaning. At 12 months of age the cubs keen hunters and by 16 to 18 months they are too large for the mother to feed so she chases them off to be on their own. Cubs of the same litter that are independent of their mother will often keep together for a few months before parting ways.