Still in Mexico, but eager to go on with the TR, I will make a smaller posting considering what we saw at the last section of Napi Road, before arriving at Skukuza. It was not much: one group of male Impalas, probably young dudes, more 6 giraffes, what is in itself great, and 1 juvenile Brown-Snake Eagle (Circaetus cinereus
). Our initial plan was to stop at Matekenyane Koppies, but we decided to do this the next day, going directly to Skukuza, to check-in and take our time to make the Sabie loop.
Among the impala pictures, I like these that show one of them eating.
Our second encounter with giraffes in KNP was still magical. We couldn’t cease getting astonished about these animals, 5-6 meters in height, an average weight of 1,200 kg in the case of the larger males, while the females weight around 830 kg. It was great to see a couple with a cute young giraffe.
Evidently the necks are most amazing, over 2 m in length, nearly half of the animals’ height.
It is interesting that the length of the neck is due to the size of the cervical vertebrae, not to the addition of more vertebrae. The giraffe pays physiological costs for its long neck, which is associated with several adaptations that evolved in these animals, for instance, in their circulatory system. The role of these adaptations becomes clear when we consider that their hearts are 2 m above their hooves and 3 m below their brains. The size of the brain is relatively small – it has only just 680 g of weight –, probably due to the length of the neck, since too much energy would be needed to furnish oxygen for a larger brain at the end of that long neck.
When feeding on twigs, leaves, fruits and, rarely, grasses, the giraffes use their tongues, lips and palates, which are tough enough to deal with the thorns of trees like the acacias. Their highly mobile muscular lips help in efficiently stripping the leaves from the spiny branches. Their blue gray tongues are about 45 cm long and are prehensile and powerful, facilitating that they aptly grasp the leaves and pull them into the mouth. In the picture below, we can see a giraffe using the tongue for other purposes, probably to clean its fur. It is a funny thing to see as the picture may translate.
Although they are commonly found together, they do not stay together for more than a few hours, with the group composition being more fluid than in other social ungulates. In Napi Road that day we saw 6 giraffes together, one of them the juvenile mentioned above. In this picture we see three of them.
The animals tend to move freely from one group to another, and the only more stable associations are between females and their calves. Adult males tend to be solitary and nomadic, moving between female groups in order to verify the reproductive receptivity of females in the different groups. This happens all the time, since there is no fixed breeding season. Subadult males can be found along with the females, or can form groups of males, which can be seen engaged in non-combative necking behavior, as a way of learning for future combats for the females.
Finally, here is the contribution of a giraffe to the butt calendar, with the extra charm of the tail swinging to shoo flies or mosquitoes away.
Finally, one picture, not so good, of the Brown Snake Eagle we saw in the last portion of Napi Road before arriving at Skukuza. It was the first time we photographed this animal we would see other times in KNP. This was a juvenile and this is the reason why we put the picture here, despite its quality. How can we know it is a juvenile? Although the bird is similar to an adult, it is slightly paler, showing a faint scaled effect.
This is a widely distributed eagle, being found across much of the sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the lowland forest of West Africa. As the name indicates, it mainly eats snakes. It stay perched, as this one we saw, and dropping onto prey from above, smashing its spine with its feet. If the prey is a snake, the eagle tries to crush the head to discharge any venom. Its legs are thickly scaled as an adaptation to protect it from snake bites. The eagle is not immune, however, to the snake venom, and is in fact sometimes blinded by spitting cobras.
The Brown Snake Eagle is not threatened, being classified in the IUCN Red List as Least Concern, with a stable population trend.