Thanks for the comments, friends.
Ready to move on....
Gardenia bird hide, in James Road (S119), was a nice stop to rest and look for sigthings at the waterhole.
It is exciting to leave the car in the middle of the African savannah, even if only to cross the short way up to the entrance of the hide. In the first picture, we see Carol (my wife) and Pedro (my dear friend who wll go to KTP with me) walking along the palisade in order to enter the hide. The second picture shows myself taking photographs within the hide.
We spent around 25 minutes in the hide, observing and photographing the following animals:
Impalas, 1 Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca
), 2 Blacksmith Lapwings (Plovers) (Vanellus armatus
), 1 Crested Francolin (Peliperdix sephaena
), 3 Marsh or Helmeted Terrapins (Pelomedusa subrufa
), 2 Water Thick-Knees (Dikkops) (Burhinus vermiculatus
) and 1 Cape Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus capensis
As we visited the Kruger in the rainy season, the savannah was full of small pools and the animals did not visit the waterholes so often to drink. Thus, we actively moved during the whole day looking for animals, with relatively short stops in hides like this one. We could understand, then, why most of the animals we saw in Gardenia were aquatic birds.
In Gardenia Hide, we saw at a close range the Crested Francolin shown in the pictures above, which was foraging nearby the hide. This species is not, according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, in danger of extinction. This classification follows from its large distribution and the inference that its population sizes tend to be stable, although they have not been quantified. This inference is based, in turn, on the observation that the species is common and abundant along the range of its distribution. Moreover, there is no evidence of population decline or substantial threats.
When we left Gardenia Hide, we went down the small remaining stretch of James Road to find Crocodile River Road (S25), a very scenic gravel road. We went across the final part of this road only, going in the direction of Berg-En-Dal until finding Rhenosterkoppies Road (S114). But it was worthy! Crocodile River Road is known as being fantastic for giraffes and, indeed, we saw giraffes for the first time in the trip soon after entering this road. It was a moment of pure emotion to see these animals in the wild, moving along in their majestic ways, as if they were floating over the world. There, in our second day in Kruger (only! 12 more to go), we were absolutely fascinated, living in a suspended time, while they walked around us.
This was our list of sightings in the small part of the Crocodile River Road we crossed:
5 Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis
2 Red-Billed Oxpeckers
1 Cape Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens
First, the beautiful landscape as afternoon was closing on us.
The first time we saw giraffes in the Kruger was indeed a magical moment, it took our breath away. We stayed all three astonished when we saw the five animals together, very close to the road, crossing it, walking nearby the cars, making it very clear what a remarkable, majestic animal a giraffe is. Nonetheless, these are animals that also convey an undeniable atmosphere of serenity. In the first picture below, the proximity between the giraffe crossing the road and the car highlights its great height.
In the first picture, we also witness the relationship between savannah animals and red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus), which eat ticks in the skin of great mammals, mostly zebras, rhinos, giraffes, antelopes, buffalos. This seems to be, at first, a mutualistic relationship, but there is controversy about it, since the oxpeckes can also collect blood and mucus from the animals, often drinking blood from open wounds. But what does this mean? The relationship can be still mutualistic, to the extent that the area is cleaned and infestation by fly larvae becomes less likely. However, as the wound remains open and show more difficulty to get healed, the situation can be also disadvantageous to the mammals, what would mean that the relationship is parasitic. It is clearly the case that we should not lose from sight that ecological relationships do not necessarily adjust in a fixed manner to our classifications. The relationship between oxpeckers and mammals can have a dynamic nature, being parasitic or mutualistic depending on other intervening factors.
As the tallest of all extant animals living in terrestrial environments, and also the biggest ruminant, it is not difficult to understand why the giraffe look so majestic in the movement, floating over the savannah vegetation. However, the perception that they float in their movement is also related to the fact that, when they walk, they do not move alternating front and hind legs, what leads to the typical swinging of the large terrestrial mammals, but with the two legs at the same side at the same time, what makes them look like sliding. The apparent inflexibility of the legs also contributes to this impression.
The most likely hypothesis to explain the origins of giraffes' long necks is to combine several factors, considering several advantages conferred by its height, such as protection from predation, increased vigilance, and in males sexual dominance and access to nutrients (Mitchell, G. & Skinner, J. D. 2003. On the origin, evolution and phylogeny of giraffes Giraffa camelopardalis. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 58: 51-73).
Males use their necks to hit each other during fights, a behavior called necking, which we saw sometimes in our trip through the Kruger. Don't remember now if we photographed it. I filmed it, this I am sure.
Currently nine subspecies of giraffes are recognized, differing in size, color, coat pattern, and range. The subspecies found in South Africa is Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa
, exhibiting relatively rounded spots, some with star-like extensions, on a light tan background, running down to the hooves. It is estimated that there are less than 12,000 individuals of this species in wild environments (of which more than 5,000 found in the Kruger!) and about 45 in Zoos (see https://app.isis.org/abstracts/Abs77545.asp
Each giraffe has a unique coat pattern, as specific as our fingerprints. This is a noticeable characteristic when they are seen in group, as we saw in Crocodile River Road (S25). Looking at each individual, it was possible to differentiate them by examining the coat pattern. The giraffe below, for instance, showed among the five the darker spots, being probably a male, since they are usually darker than the females.
Adults are almost invulnerable to predation, showing more vulnerability when they are drinking water. Calves are predated by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs. They are protected by their mothers, which kick the predators that get close to them. These powerful kicks are the usual defense of giraffes against predators, being even capable of killing them. Lions are capable of killing adult giraffes if they manage to make them fall over and then bite their throats or noses. In Kruger, giraffes of any age are an important food source for lions. Nile crocodiles also capture giraffes when they bend down to drink.
A quarter to a half of giraffes calves reach adulthood. The maximum lifespan observed in the wild was 25 years and in captivity, 28 years.
In the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, the species is classified in the category Least Concern. It has been eliminated, however, from more than 50% of its original distribution, due to overhunting and habitat loss, combined with periodic outbursts of cattle-borne diseases. This also resulted in the fragmentation of its distribution. Some subspecies are in danger of extinction. Although their numbers are declining, they are still found in many reserves. The giraffe is a protected species in most of its current distribution. Its survival is dependent, thus, on conservation efforts. In southern Africa, for instance, its populations are stable or expanding due to reserves. Generally speaking, however, a remarkable drop has been observed in the total population of giraffes in Africa, from 140,000 in 1999 to less than 80,000 in 2010.
Finally, a detail of giraffes' anatomy.