After a long time, I am back. A lot of work and a flu in between...
In January 7th we woke up very early, 3AM, to go out for the morning walk at 4AM. Pedro and me found it to be worth. My wife, Carol, was not a big fun and already told me that she will not go again in a morning walk. Too early, too cold, too long (3 hours) for her. I think she was also afraid… Well, I loved it! To go into the savannah and feel the incredible smell of it… It was really surprising. I thought it would smell like animal dung or something like that, given the amount of dung in the roads. But No! It smelled like an astonishing kitchen, with the smell of a thousand herbs in our noses, dominated by anise…
I’ve read that the armed guards would be one in front of the group, another in the back. Well, they stayed all the time in the front of the line, so, we decided to avoid the last positions in the line. It was not really possible to see much in the savannah, it is far from being as open as we would expect. Pedro told me, “this is dangerous”, but we were having an incredible amount of fun! We avoided the rocks, so as not to find snakes, and walked in mud terrain all the time, except for the stopping point, for resting over some rocks besides a small waterhole.
And what about animals? We did not see many, in fact. We even thought that the guards were avoiding the places where animals had been seen the night before. We are not sure about that, and would not be a secure strategy, since animals move a lot. Anyway, we did not see as many animals as we thought. But the experience of being on foot inside the savannah was more than enough, believe me!
Here is the list of sightings, most of them with no chance of getting a picture. The animals would move away from us when they saw us from afar. It is really different when you are in the car. It seems that they immediately recognize a human silhouette as a threat, while in the car they may conflate us with another big animal in a mixed herd… perhaps, just pondering about.
1 African Buffalo, 3 Black-Backed Jackals (Canis mesomelas
), 2 groups of Impalas, Blue Wildebeests, 2 Egyptian Geese, Burchell’s Zebras, 1 Southern Carmine Bee-Eater (Merops nubicoides
), 1 Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri
), 1 Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus
), 1 Bateleur, 2 Lappet-Faced Vultures (Torgos tracheliotus
), 1 Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus
), and 1 Shongologo, frog eggs in a pan, and a lot of tracks (from Spotted Hyenas, White Rhinos, Chacma Baboons, African Elephants, Ostriches, Giraffes, and Impalas). We also saw a spine of a Cape Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis
Let’s begin with some general views of the walk. This is the group walking while the sun is still rising.
I am almost the last one here, completely in blue. My wife, Carol, walks in front of me.
Here we are going down to the Timbavati River Bed, almost entirely dry. Carol is the last and Pedro is in front of her.
Arriving at the resting place: the guides, Pedro and Carol.
This is the group in the Timbavati river bed.
You can see here how the day was gorgeous.
This is all the water the Timbavati River had.
But, interestingly enough, there was a lot of water inside the savannah. That’s why the waterholes are not so agitated in summer in KNP. The amount of water in the Timbavati is probably controlled by dams.
This is how it feels like within the savannah. You really don’t see far.
Here are the amazing anises. So smelly!
There were also a lot of sour plums. As the guide ate them, we followed him… It was nice, although a little harsh. Here is one of them in Carol’s hands.
Such a beautiful fruit!
This is me in the resting place.
We also found a tree where Elephants had been excavating tubercles from which they derive both food and water.
Look how the Impalas are fleeing away from us
And the Zebras too.
This is a cropped image of a Bateleur flying.
This is the spine of the Cape Porcupine, also in Carol’s hands.
A pity we did not see the animal itself during the trip. Cape Porcupines are not threatened, with stable populations and, thus, classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List. They are found in a number of protected areas and have significant tolerance of a degree of habitat modification, so, they are unlikely to be declining fast enough to be threatened. There is some limited hunting by humans in some parts of the range, but not enough to put them into risk. Be that as it may, hunting pressure may be responsible for their absence in some areas. Moreover, porcupine quills have recently become components of ornamental jewellery and décor items, and there is concern that the populations will not be able to sustain the pressure of hunting to supply this demand. Local conservation agencies are beginning to assess the impact of this new pressure on them.
They prefer woodlands, savannas, grassland and semi-deserts. Here is the distribution of this species, mostly in Southern Africa: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=10748
They are the largest rodents in southern Africa (75-100cm). They live 12-15 years. A nice touch is the characteristic rattling they exhibit when they shake the tail, which serves as a warning. A warning you may better pay heed to. On contact the quills easily detach, and may penetrate the skin. Although people believe that porcupines can “shoot” quills backwards, this is not true.
Porcupines live in extended family groups including both parents and young from several years. Each group protects a distinct territory. They are active at night, what explains why we did not see them (despite the night drives). During the day they stay in shelters, such as a burrow system, but also crevices in rocks, caves and abandoned aardvark holes which they modify by further digging.
They eat bulbs, tubers, roots and the bark from trees, as well as some cultivated crops, such as maize, potatoes and pumpkins. They can also eat from animal carcasses, gnawing on bones. An additional source of threat for them is conflict with farmers and gardeners.
This is a cropped image of the Lappet-Faced Vulture flying.
Unfortunately, this is also a species vulnerable to extinction, according to the IUCN Red List, with decreasing populations. This is its assessment since 2000, as a consequence of small, declining populations, owing primarily to poisoning and persecution, as well as ecosystem alterations. Accidental poisoning is largely due to strychnine, used by many farmers for predator control, and more recently carbofuran, and has contributed significantly to declines. It is also often mistakenly persecuted as a livestock predator, showing how lack of knowledge is indeed part of the causes of the current environmental crisis. There are also incidences of deliberate poisoning to kill vultures by poachers, in order to avoid that the arriving birds show the locations of poached animals. Other major threats include nest predation by humans, reduced food availability and electrocution. Finally, these vultures may be hunted for medicine and cultural reasons in West Africa, and some ethnic groups in the sub-region hunt vultures for food. However, the impact on this species is unknown.
Local extinctions already happened in significant parts of its range: It has been extinct in Algeria and Tunisia since the 1930s; only small populations remain in southern Egypt and Mauritania; the last records from Morocco were two birds in 1972; it is likely to be extinct in Western Sahara, as it has not been recorded there since 1955. And these are only some examples of local extinction. The population collapse in West Africa may be a result of higher nest disturbance, local extinctions of wild ungulates through habitat modification and over-hunting, intensified cattle farming in which sick or dying animals are rarely abandoned, and an increase in accidental poisoning.
The distribution of this animal can be seen here: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=106003381
It is clear from the very map that one problem faced by the species is the fragmentation of its distribution.
The species inhabits dry savannah, arid plains, deserts and open mountain slopes, reaching 3,500 m. It is mainly a scavenger, feeding on any large carcasses or their remains. However, it is also known to hunt a variety of small reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, and has been observed apparently group-hunting flamingo chicks.
The nests are solitary and usually contain just one egg, being often located in Acacia, to the extent that its distribution is sometimes limited by the distribution of these trees. It can also use, however, Balanites (http://www.theplantlist.org/browse/A/Zy ... Balanites/
) and Terminalia (http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/search?q=Terminalia
The day was still beginning, so the light was not great, but here are our first two pictures of a BBJ.
Anyone who reads the Sanparks forums certainly realizes that they are beloved animals here.
Fortunately, Black-Backed Jackals are classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, with stable populations. However, regional estimates of abundance are not available. The classification as Least Concern result from the fact that they are generally widespread and, in Namibia and South Africa, are common in protected areas where suitable habitat occurs.
One threat they face is persecution for its role as livestock killers and as rabies vectors. However (and luckily for those that love them), population control efforts appear largely ineffective, probably only succeeding in producing temporary reduction in local numbers.
This species is found in two separate subpopulations: one in East Africa; and another in southern Africa. This disjunct distribution is similar to that of other endemic African species adapted to dry conditions, such as the Aardwolf and the Bat-eared Fox. This discontinuous distribution is evidence that regions of dry Acacia bush and savanna once connected south-west Africa and the Horn of Africa.
They are relatively unspecialized canids, well suited for an opportunistic lifestyle in a wide variety of habitats.
The three jackal species found in East Africa differ mainly in color and choice of habitat. BBJs are seen more frequently than the other two species (Golden Jackal and Side-Striped Jackal) because it is more diurnal. This species is found in open savannas, deserts, and arid grasslands. They live singly or in pairs, although are sometimes found in loose packs of related individuals. The male and female jackals mate for life. Mated pairs are territorial, with both animals marking and defending the boundaries of their territory. Sometimes pups will stay with the parents and help raise their younger siblings, resulting in the packs mentioned above. This is evolutionarily explained by the fact that most pup deaths occur during the first 14 weeks of life. The presence of helpers increases the fitness of the related individuals, thus favoring the spread in the population of the genes they share. Family or pack members communicate with each other by a screaming yell and yapping, or a siren-like howl, when a kill is located.
Now two pics of the Hooded Vulture, amazing animal!
Unfortunately, endangered, with decreasing population. This became very common for vultures all around the world. And the consequences are haunting! After all, they play a key role in the recycling of matter in ecosystems. In India, it was discovered that many events in which children were killed by leopards had to with the local extinction of vultures, due to poisoning by agricultural chemicals. Without them, carcasses accumulated in the cities and surrounding areas, and the leopards began to enter the cities looking for carcasses, and then would find eventual children. Ecological interconnections…
The reason why these vultures are classified as endangered has to do with the evidence that they areprobably experiencing a very rapid decline owing to hunting, persecution and indiscriminate poisoning, as well as habitat loss and degradation. Hunting is related to traditional medicine and bushmeat. Their meat is even sold as chicken in some places! Poisoning is both unintentional and intentional, by poachers who believe that the vultures will allow the localization of their kills.
In this map, we can see the distribution of the Hooded Vultures: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=106003372
This species is often associated with human settlements, although also found in open grassland, forest edge, wooded savanna, desert and along coasts.
They spend, as it is typical of vultures, most of their time scavenging, soaring high in the air until spotting a carcass. They then descend to the ground to feed. They eat meat, eyes, offal and bones, and, if it is an old carcass, they may take maggots and insects from the body. Interestingly, they also eat the dung of lions and humans. Sometimes they hawk termite alates and even take Tawny Eagle and Red-billed Quelea nestlings from their nests.
A great thing at that point is that we have seen all the vultures we could see in KNP. A rare event in the life of a birder to complete a checklist… It was only 4 species, but as vultures are endangered, it gains a special significance.