Photo: Wild Dog… deep in thought

Just look into those eyes… I wonder what it’s thinking? Deep, existential stuff, no doubt… Maybe it understands that it’s one of the very last of its kind. 


But whatever it’s thinking, it’s probably thinking about a heck of a lot more than its buddy below is. I think this one’s a bit special. I’ve always got love for the underdogs.


Hoofnote: Only a tiny fraction of wild dogs will ever be lucky enough to breed and pass on their genes. Only the alpha males and females are worthy of the privilege. Something I understand far too well. Love.

Crocodiles: The Hot Sex Edition

We saw a crocodile on game drive this morning! Isn’t that fun? We don’t see them often, so it’s a pretty big deal.

  
But did you know…

… That temperature determines a crocodile’s sex? Yep, the temperature that the crocodile’s eggs sit at in the nest will determine if those hatchlings are little boy crocodiles or little girl crocodiles.

It’s called ‘temperature dependent sex determination.’ Or TSD. It’s a reptile thing.

It’s been shown that boys (‘crocomales’) incubate within a really tiny temperature range; between 31.7 and 34.5 degrees C. Any colder than that, and you’ve got girls. Any hotter and you’ve also got girls.

It means that within a single nest you’ll have a cool female:male:female sex ratio.

Conclusion: girl crocodiles are hotter. But colder. But hotter.

I drew an exquisite diagram showing exactly how this process works.

 

artistic genius. i take all the credit for this.

 
Hoofnote: As is TSD wasn’t enough to make crocodiles interesting, you should also know that crocodiles are the only animal in South Africa that see humans as natural prey. When they eat us, it’s fair game.

This morning’s game drive sightings:

Crocodile

Zebra

Giraffe

White rhino

Elephant 

Nyala 

Buffalo 

Impala

Woolly necked stork

Gorgeous bush shrike

Black backed puffback

Safari Moments: the Lemon Breasted Dung Beetle

Here’s a safari classic from a far-too-recent game drive.

Me: “Ooooh look! There’s a dung beetle crossing the road!”

*pull up alongside dung beetle, hop out and pick him up, after all, he’s not busy doing any important dung beetly stuff*

Me: “Dung beetle!”

*hold dung beetle up proudly, a la Mufasa presenting the future king – guests take photos*

Me: “Isn’t this dung beetle just brilliant?”

Guest: “What is this?”

Me: “It’s a dung beetle. They spend their lives rolling poo around.”

Guest: “And what do you call it?”

Me: “It’s a dung beetle.”

*guests keep taking photos, I keep praising the dung beetle’s resilience and usefulness*

Guest: “What animal is this?”

Me: “A DUNG BEE TUL.”

Guest: “Ah, so it’s a small bird.Like a canary?”

Me: “Yes.”

Me: *puts dung beetle down on the nearest pile of poo. Drives away.*

you wonder why we need signs like this?

South Africa Needs an Easter Bunny

Happy Easter! Or at least I think it’s Easter. They don’t tell safari guides about things like this and we’re left to figure it out for ourselves.

I’ve always loved Easter the most. Who doesn’t live for the morning of Easter sunday, when you scour the house for tiny, metallic easter eggs tucked into weird corners and crevices? Oh right, South Africans. Because South Africa doesn’t do Easter. At least not properly. A few days ago, I was in town shopping specifically for Easter eggs, and I couldn’t find a single one. The closest I got was a bar of imported Thornton’s chocolate, which isn’t even remotely Easterish. Let down? For sure.

 

this was my easter chocolate this year. i feel sorry for me.

 
I just wanted a bunny.

But did you know that bunnies don’t go down well in other parts of the world? When I spent Easter 2010 in Australia, they were campaigning for the ‘Easter Bilby.’ Why? Bunnies are an invasive species who have largely displaced the indigenous bilby. I ended up not only with my very own Eater bilby, but a chocolate Koala as well. And you know what? I’ll take that. Because it’s so much better than what I ended up with this year.

 

easter bilby! love it.

 
South Africa doesn’t do bunnies either. Instead, they do individually wrapped, gooey inedible chocolate marshmallow blobs that they call ‘Easter eggs.’ I propose we need a bunny. And much like the Australians have done, I think our bunny should be something indigenous and kudutastic.

So here are the contenders:

Scrub Hare

An iconic South African. We see a lot of them on on our safaris. But we see so many because they’re really common. And they eat their own poo. Do we really need a chocolate version? Probably not.

bunny rating: 2/10

 

image by Bernard Dupont and used under creative commons. because i’ve never got a good scrub hare photo…

 
Aardvark

How about an Easter aardvark? An aardvark weighs up to 65 kgs, which is so much chocolate. Its thick tail and chunky body would work really well. They eat termites, so there’s the option to fill the hollow chocolate shell with something like little honeycomb pieces that look like termites. They also go by the name ‘ant bear,’ and I would definitely eat an ‘Easter ant bear.’

bunny rating: 9/10

 

i’ve only ever seen one aardvark and I didnt photograph it. so this is taken from ‘Smithers Land Mammals of Southern Africa’ 1986.

 
Elephant Shrew

Why not? It’s in the ‘Little Five,’ which is way cooler than the ‘Big 5.’ ‘Easter Elephant Shrew’ also rolls off the tongue quite nicely. Their noses are super cute. But… those spindly four toed feet and their long, thin tails won’t translate well into chocolate. I want my Easter bunnies hollow, yet robust. It’s a no go for the elephant shrew.

bunny rating: 4/10

 

taxidermy elephant shrew? heck yes! image by Miguel Mendez and used under creative commons

 
Riverine Rabbit

You only find this critically endangered lagomorph in the Karoo desert of South Africa. It’s so rare because we’ve destroyed much of their former habitat with our agricultural practices. Surely, this is the South African bilby counterpart. Raise awareness for one of our most endangered species by eating a representation of it once a year? I love it! Also, it’s fairly big and would work nicely in hollow chocolate form.

bunny rating: 9/10

 

i doubt i’ll ever get to see a riverine rabbit. this image is also from Smithers 1986

 
Spring Hare

Spring hares are simply fabulous. And the name is also fitting. Spring. Except it’s not. Easter in South Africa comes in Autumn. These kangaroos of the Kalahari would make a great easter bunny. And yet, they suffer the same downfall as the elephant shrew; the spring hare’s long tail that allows it to balance while it hops about, is likely to break during the shipping process if it was made from hollow milk chocolate. But still, it’s tempting…

bunny rating: 6/10

 

i have tons of springhare photos from my kalahari days, but they just arent good! image by Revolutionrock1976 and used under creative commons

 
In conclusion? I think South Africa definitely needs an Easter Riverine Rabbit. The opportunities for conservation through chocolate are endless. But let’s also go for the Easter aardvark, and make it our own truly South African Easter bunny.

Much love and Easter ant bears, Safariosophy.

I’m Feeling Really ‘Ticked On’

I love that every living thing on our planet is here for a reason. From the massive to the microscopic, everything has evolved into their own fabulous little niches where they’ve adapted to thrive and pass on those genes of theirs. Even if we might think those genes and their carriers are somewhat annoying…

Some people might argue that there’s no place for the irritating little mosquito buzzing around our ears. But there is! Without mosquitos, the animals that eat them and their larvae would suffer, as would the things that eat the things that eat them, and the things that eat those. And it’s not the nicest thing to think about, but mosquitos and the diseases they transmit play a huge role in ‘thinning out’ weak populations of animals, preventing over crowding and making sure that only the traits of the very fittest animals get to carry over to the next generation. They’re an integral part of the ‘web of life’ and the exact same thing can be said of, well, everything.

 

isn’t she pretty?

 
A couple of weeks ago, I was on a walking safari and this little sweetheart caught my attention. She’s a bont tick, and isn’t she darling? I nearly couldn’t pull myself away. I was mesmerized, and quite rightly so. For her to make it to that bush where I photographed her, she’s had a heck of a life.

Let’s start from the very beginning where she would have been one of thousands of siblings from the same mom. She would have been born a rather tiny little nymph and would have had to wait patiently somewhere near the ground for her first host animal to come along. She was very small and there’s a good chance her first host was too. Maybe she attached herself to something like a hare or a rat. I’ve even seen ticks latched onto insects. After a tasty blood meal on that first animal, she would have fallen off and waiting for the next, bigger animal to pass by. After hitching a ride and stealing plenty of blood from that one, she would have fallen off again and moulted into an adult on the ground. And here’s where I found her; an adult tick waiting for a nice big host to walk by. Big like a buffalo. She’d attach herself to that buffalo, eat some more blood, find a hot boyfriend somewhere on that buffalo and then fall off to lay a few thousand eggs. Lifecycle complete. I wished her well. But I didn’t want her on me.

I think that ticks are still kind of misunderstood. They’re actually eight legged arachnids like spiders and scorpions. Their abdomens tend to be soft, so they can expand when they’re full of our blood. Or a buffalo’s blood. Or a tortoise’s blood. Or a lion’s blood. They’re not too picky. Any blood will do. And A LOT of ticks will attach themselves to one animal. Something really big like a giraffe or a buffalo might have as many as 20,000 ticks; more if it’s not feeling very well. Even the little guys like impalas are likely to have a good few thousand ticks crammed into every crevice. You’ll have seen oxpecker birds picking at ticks on animals, and they do help somewhat, but they’re just no match for such numbers.

The best thing about ticks is the fact that their mouthparts are called a ‘gnathosoma.‘ How can you even begin to dislike a creature that has something called a gnathosoma? You can’t. Although this week, I certainly tried.

I’ve spent nearly the last two weeks with tick bite fever. Tick bite fever is a nasty bacterial infection that happens when you’re bitten by an infected tick. And it sucks. Because of where my bite was, the infection went straight to the glands at the top of my right leg and rendered me completely useless. I usually go about my day at the pace of an ADHD-afflicted honey bee, but with my tick bite, I was forced to slow. Right. Down. In some ways, it was a real blessing to experience life at a gentler pace.

I could have lived with my tick bite, if walking slow with an achy leg was all that happened. But by about day four, the fever started to kick in. The worst headaches I’ve ever had were accompanied by whimpers of ‘I hate everything’ over and over again any time I was forced to crawl or limp anywhere. It’s the sickest I’ve been in a long time. Around this time, the middle of my tick bite started to go black. Ew.

Please don’t let your safari or your trip to Africa get screwed up by tick bite fever. Take precautions if you know you’ll be walking. Tick bite fever can be prevented by using a good bug repellent when you’re out in the bush, but I haven’t seen a bug repellent that actually works on sale in South Africa since 2008, so it’s best to bring your own. The big symptoms show up 5-7 days after being bitten and most people don’t know they have it until then. The real tell-tale symptom is the black mark in the middle of the bite. If you’ve got that, you’ve probably got tick bite fever. Luckily, it’s easily treated with antibiotics (although I maintain mine did nothing) and can even be left alone to run its course. It should be over in less than two weeks. I’m going to hold it to that, because I still feel terrible!

Despite all this, I think I love ticks even more. This little episode has given me a deeper appreciation of their resilience, their diversity, their beauty and above all, their gnathosomas.  Love.

this is my tick bite. i know. pretty gross…

E is for ‘Enthusiasm.’ Or rather, ‘Enthusiasm!!’

  

  
The sightings we had on tonight’s safari were some of the best I’ve had in a long time. They were downright kudutastic! It began with the giant bull elephant standing next to the road dismantling a sickle bush as only an elephant can. He was followed by the HAPPIEST RHINO I’VE EVER SEEN, rolling about in a fresh mud wallow (it was raining – a lot). Just twenty minutes into the drive, I never expected it could get even better. But wait! Further down the road, a flash of red streaked through the rain from the tamboti thicket on our right. Narina Trogon! It posed next to the road, making for the best sighting of this elusive bird that I’ve ever had. Not done yet, we also had a herd of damp elephants crossing the road just a few feet away and soon after, two stunning male lions who broke my weeks long ‘lion drought.’ End it all with a pale Walhberg’s Eagle scaring the socks off a group of Senegal lapwings. Pretty amazing, huh?

But here’s the kicker. It’s not great sightings that make a great game drive. What makes a great game drive is the magic happening inside the car. The vibe. How everyone reacts to the natural miracles happening all around them . The enthusiasm. Enthusiasm!

Let’s go back to the start. That first elephant. He was huge. We were practically in his shadow. You can imagine how excited I was.

“Guys!” I whispered as loudly as I dared, “Isn’t he fantastic! This is the elephant that likes to come up to the lodge and cause a little chaos every now and then. You can see how happy he is just by looking at his swishy tail and…”

That’s when I noticed that no one was listening. At all. Everyone was talking amongst themselves and not about the elephant. Indeed, no one was even looking at the elephant! Rather they were looking down at cameras, phones or out the other side of the car. And I was thankful for them, because what they were doing was better than the one guest who was simply giving me a death stare. Awkward.

I tried to continue. “…and just watch the way he’s using his trunk to…”

I looked up again. No change. No vibe. No nothing. I spoke louder.

… He’s using his trunk to strip the bark from…”

*Phone* *Camera* *Conversation about airconditioning units* *Vacant death stare*

“He strips the bark to get down to the sunglasses popcorn typewriter. Shall we move on?” And we did.

The rhino down the road wasn’t much different.

“Oh my goodness you guys! That’s the happiest rhino I’ve ever seen! He’s been waiting for the mud bath for months! It’s just so dry here and…”

And I couldn’t hear myself speak. Because everyone else was speaking louder. And again, no one was looking at the rhino. Death stare? You betcha.

“… and, and well, now he’s having a mudbath. Ginger pancake. Shall we move on?

My absolute glee at the Narina Trogon was met with silence. My original death starer was joined by five new ones. I still couldn’t help myself and had launched into a speech about the trogon’s beauty and rarity, but trailed off mid-way. “Um…shall we moved on?”

But it didn’t get me down. I was on fire. The elephants, the trogon, the rain. I was loving every minute of this safari, and I was determined to spread that love around. Fix the vibe. Each new interpretation was delivered with increasing enthusiasm. But even the lions couldn’t muster any enthusiasm in these guests. With the exception of one, who’d never seen a lion before, the rest simply acted disinterested. I don’t know if they even glanced in the lion’s direction in the ten minutes we were parked. More death stares. Ouch.

It wasn’t all silence though. While we were watching a kudu, one of my guests announced that it wasn’t a kudu. It was.

A guide’s job isn’t always easy and tonight proved that. Enthusiasm on safari is borne of a number of factors and not all of them come together nicely when we need them do. Expectations certainly play a big part (I told you to leave them behind!). And as much as I like to think that guests always feed off our passion and excitement, it’s just not how it works all the time.

But it’s how I’ll work all the time.

When my guests are a little difficult, the best I can do is be me. And me is enthusiastic. Naturally. Yep, I get excited about senegal lapwings and the weird noises they make; go a little crazy for that cloud that looks like a tube of toothpaste; look that kudu right in the eye and have a private giggle about how big its ears are; marvel at the elephant next to me.

Why all the enthusiasm? Because. Because I’m all too aware that there will be a time when that elephant ten feet away is the last one I’ll ever see. And I don’t know when that’ll be. If that isn’t enough on its own, then just consider that every single moment of a safari no matter what’s happening, is finite, unique, brilliant, special and certainly never to be repeated. The wild is an endlessly amazing place and that’s something to be enthusiastic about!

  
Tonight’s safari sightings:

Elephant

White Rhino

Giraffe

Wildegnu

Lion

Narina Trogon

Nyala

Buffalo

Kudu

Grey Duiker

Impala

Senegal Lapwing

Wattled Lapwing

Walhberg’s Eagle (the pale, pretty morph)

 

A Sad Safari Fact: The single-use water bottle

 

big scary monsters are not cool. say ‘no’ to plastic bottle monsters…

 
Yesterday afternoon, we were watching a herd of elephants cross the road. Big elephants, little elephants, playful elephants, serious elephants; all kinds of elephants. And there were a lot of them. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of waiting at an elephant ‘road block’ knows the joy these giants send hurtling through your heart. But one of these elephants wasn’t just going to cross the road. She was going to prove a point and stir something in me that’s been simmering for a while now.

Somewhere around the ‘third wave’ of elephants crossing the road, a young mother emerged from the guarri bushes to our right carrying a plastic bottle in her trunk. Ceremoniously, she dropped it right in the middle of the tar road, watching it as it bounced about and settled to a stop before she carried on. It’s like she was saying, ‘this crap is yours — have it back.

She was right. Good girl.

For a few weeks now, I’ve wanted to write about one of my big safari hates – the dreaded single use plastic bottle. Ugh.

It’s still the standard at safari lodges across the country to issue each and every guest with a crisp, unopened 500ml plastic bottle of water at the start of each game drive, in addition to the backup bottles we carry in hot boxes and cooler boxes. Average that out at two bottles allocated per guest, per game drive. If I have roughly six guests on each drive, that’s twelve bottles of water per drive, twenty-four a day and a hundred and sixty-eight every week. And that’s just me! I’m one guide in a team of many. One lodge among hundreds of others doing the same thing. How many bottles is that? A lot. And that’s a problem. A huge, blue, plastic problem.

 

enough of this…

 
I came across a blog article posted by the excellent team at Jenman Safari’s earlier this week. It’s brilliant and can be found here at Jenman Safaris.  Some of what I’m going to share here is taken from there, because they’ve beaten me to some of the points I wanted to make. Great minds think alike…

So take these following considerations to heart before you accept a plastic bottle on safari:

Africa’s recycling programs… They’re not what you’re used to in Europe and the Americas. They come with limitations and remember that plastic is non-biodegradable and isn’t just going to disappear.

Plastic is forever… Kind of. Mostly. It breaks down into little pieces that damage the soil and gets eaten by animals. It might even ensnare them. It’s a horrible way to die, with plastic wrapped around your neck or clogging up your stomach… In short, plastic is going to last for hundreds of years.

Most of the water is wasted anyway…. My guests usually just take a sip or two of their water, before discarding the bottle. Most of the bottles I remove from my car after game drives are almost full, but with the seal broken. It’s really hard to take when we’re going through such a horrible drought. I can’t bear to let the water waste, and often use the leftovers to clean my car or water my plants.

Isn’t a safari FOR the environment… And yet we’re happy to drink from silly water bottles? I don’t think so.

Honestly, just say NO. These bottles really suck.

Now what can you do?

Carry a reusable bottle… Nearly every lodge will be more than happy to keep your personal water bottle topped up with lovely, fresh, clean drinking water.

 

my personal hydration team: plastic, metal and glass… aren’t they fabulous?

 
Put a little pressure on your safari lodge… Ask them about their recycling program and what they really do with all the plastic bottles they’re using. Ask them for big containers of drinkable water that you can fill your own bottles with. Ask them if they sell snazzy reusable water bottles. Ask, ask, ask. If enough people do, maybe they’ll get the picture. Don’t be afraid to mention these single-use bottles in feedback forms. Feedback forms are gold. Lodges take notice of them.

What am I going to do as a safari guide?

Commit… I’ve made a cool ‘Earth Day’ commitment here at WWF South Africa to stop using these bottles. The only bottles I’ll make use of are the waste bottles I find in my game viewer. You can do it here: WWF South Africa: Earth Hour

Set an example… In my pre-game drive brief, I’m going to encourage my guests to use reusable bottles if they can, rather than taking a single use bottle.

 

change has to start with me… this morning’s sugar packet told me so. or at least I think it did…

 
Re-use… This is what my bathroom floor looks like. I can’t bear to throw out the bottles I find in my safari vehicle. So I fill them with tap water and store them for the day the water or electricity is turned off. No matter the circumstances, this girl can always wash her hair!

 

the bottles that guests leave behind in my car… most with just a sip or two missing. they’ve got a second life, making sure i’ll have water on the day we don’t have water…

 
It CAN be done. I read a research paper recently, profiling a safari lodge in Amakhala Game Reserve that put a stop to plastic bottles a few years ago. Instead, they began issuing guests with reusable bottles on arrival and encouraging them to fill up at a cool fountain whenever they needed to. What happened? Well, guests love their fun, branded lodge bottles that they take home with them. The lodge saved almost 60% of their water costs. Guests love that the lodge is doing something environmentally awesome and basically everyone has won.

Let’s see what we can do…