To begin our return to Tamboti, we took a very nice road following a beautiful river, S145. If you never tried while in KNP, do it in the next trip. It was such a nice and bucolic road!
Here are our sightings in S145: 2 Swainson’s Spurfowls (Francolins) (Francolinus swainsonii
), Impalas (Aepyceros melampus
) as usual, 1 Cape Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens
) as often seen, 1 Red-Backed Shrike (Lanius collurio
) a first sighting for us, 1 Lilac-Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatu
s), 6 unidentified mongooses, 1 African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana
), 1 Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis
), 1 very nice troop of Chacma Baboons (Papio ursinos
), and a group of Dwarf Mongooses (Helogale parvula
) but this time we managed to photograph these very fast animals!
Swainson’s Francolins were common encounters, particularly as we moved towards the center of the park. But it was just like the Impalas, we never got tired of photographing them. Here is one picture of the animal we saw in S145.
This was the best picture among the only four we were able to take of the Red-Backed Shrike.
The range of distribution of this bird can be seen here: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=106005526
Its breeding territory is located in Eurasia and is very large, including most of Europe and western Asia. It is when they move south, in the non-breeding season, that we can see them in Africa. Most of the individuals of this species go in the winter to southern and east-central Africa but some stay further north in Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia. It departs from its breeding territories mainly during August-September, males leaving first, followed by the females and sub-adults. Most of them arrive synchronously in southern Africa in and around November and stay until the first half of April.
In southern Africa it is common in most areas, but not in the west coast of Namibia and South Africa and large areas of the Kalahari. However, it is gradually moving into Kalahari scrub, probably because overgrazing has increased the abundance of thorny bushes.
An interesting characteristic of this bird is that males and females differ in their preferences regarding habitat. While males favor open habitats with fewer and smaller trees, females prefer denser habitats, especially Acacia woodland.
This species is not threatened, being well represented in protected areas. The breeding population in Europe amounts to 6,300,000-13,000,000 breeding pairs, that is, 18,900,000-39,000,000 individuals. Since Europe forms 25-49% of the global range, a very preliminary estimate of the global population size reaches 38,600,000-156,000,000 individuals.
It is thus classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, despite the population trend is one of decreasing. The reasons for the classification lie in the extremely large range and, even though the population seems to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for vulnerability, particularly if we consider that the population size is extremely large.
In xenocanto, we can find some recordings of their calls: http://www.xeno-canto.org/browse.php?sp ... ked+shrike
This bird mainly eats arthropods during the non-breeding season, occasionally eating also with small birds. It often hunts from a perch, catching prey either on the ground or when flying.
We managed to get some nice pictures of the Lilac-Breasted Roller we saw in S145. Here is one of them.
This bird is found in the range of distribution shown here: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=106001035
It is a common bird in dry woodland. Indeed, we saw many of them in KNP, always beautiful encounters! It feeds on a wide variety of animals, including insects (the preferred food, sometimes seen by us in their beaks), reptiles, arachnids, other birds, and rodents. The hunting strategy usually involves sitting tight on a perch before pouncing on nearby prey.
Tree cavities are usual nest sites, but can also be found kicking other birds out of their nests. They can do this, for instance, with Green Wood-Hoopoes and Cape Glossy Starlings. Nasty guys! They are monogamous solitary nesters. Even outside the breeding season, they can be seen vigorously defending the nest against intruders.
Their nice calls can be found here:http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/bir ... udatus.htmhttp://www.xeno-canto.org/browse.php?sp ... ted+roller
This bird is not threatened, being on the contrary rather common. That’s great! They are beautiful birds! They are classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, with stable populations.
It was great to find an African Elephant quite close to the road in S145. In the first picture, you can see how we first saw it. Notice that the light was great, as it becomes clear in some of the pictures below. And this was a magnificent animal!
Close-ups such as the following ones were easy to take from the good vantage point we had.
His tusks were broken, even though it was not possible to guess how. Maybe fights with other males...
Another car came and we moved a little further in order to give them the same opportunity. They got too close to the elephant, however. But we should understand. It is hard to avoid doing so, when facing such a fascinating animal. This picture is good to give some perspective on the size of this male bull.
Elephants are ecosystem engineers, changing the environment in such a way that the ecological niche of other species is transformed. In this way, they play key ecological and evolutionary roles. But when there are too many elephants in a limited space, where they cannot migrate for long distances, as it is the case now in KNP, they can be quite devastating, inflicting huge damage on vegetation. Just as ourselves, when they are too many, environmental crises follow. This is why culling has been used in KNP. This is why, also, a transfrontier park joining KNP with camps in Mozambique can be so important! I read this is planned and may become a reality in the future. In my opinion, this will be great! After all, limiting elephant populations causes huge debate and ethical concerns. Culling may be an economical option in many cases, but is unacceptable to many people as a solution. I am one of those that do not accept this solution, even though I can rationally understand why authorities appeal to it. In the long term, however, transfrontier parks all around Africa are the most reasonable solution.
Just as small testimony about what an elephant can do, see how much of this tree bark was eaten by an elephant. In the second picture, you can see the marks of the tusks in the tree.
Recent works have increasingly suggested that there may be at least two species of African elephants, namely the Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana
) and the Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis
). A third species, the West African Elephant, has also been postulated. The African Elephant Specialist Group believes, however, that more extensive research is required to support this revision of the classification. After all, premature allocation into more than one species may leave hybrids in an uncertain conservation status. That’s why IUCN decided to keep its assessment focused on a single species as currently described, encompassing all populations.
Unfortunately, Elephants are classified as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List. However, their populations are increasing, but in a manner that is highly dependent on protected areas. Outside protected areas, conflict between humans and elephants happens all the time and are difficult to handle. In some countries, they were already locally extinct: Burundi in the 1970s, Gambia in 1913, Mauritania in the 1980s, and in Swaziland in 1920. In the latter country, they were reintroduced in the 1980s and 1990s. Those countries where Elephants were extinct are simply losing ecotourism money, if we want to talk only in economical terms, unfortunately the only ones some people understand.
The most serious threats to the survival of Elephants are still poaching for ivory and increasingly the decrease of their traditional ranges and migration routes due to human land occupation for cities, agriculture, etc.
It is my view that we are obliged, if we are really to be honorable and rational beings, to protect the African Elephants. They are not only the largest living land mammals, but, above all, are highly intelligent, social animals, perhaps even self-conscious, given that recently Asian Elephants passed the mirror test, used to provide evidence for self-consciousness.
Elephants grow continuously throughout their lives. Thus, the oldest member of a herd is usually the largest animal. And Elephants have long lives, just like ours. In the wild, they can reach 60 years old, when they lose the functionality of their teeth and literally starve to death. In captivity, however, they can reach 80 years of age, due to handling.
African elephants are distributed south of the Sahara, preferring savanna grassland and forest. However, they can tolerate a wide range of habitats provided they have sufficient food, water and shade. Their distribution can be seen in this map: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=12392
It is easy to see that the distribution is too scattered for an animal that needs vast amounts of land. Indeed, Elephant distribution is becoming increasingly fragmented across the African continent. Moreover, if you click in “protected areas”, you will be able to see how dependent they are on protected areas for their survival.
They live in small matriarchal family groups, under the leadership of the older female, which accumulated a lot of knowledge throughout her long life, knowledge that is essential for the survival of the herd. When the old matriarch is about to die, she goes to places called Elephant cemeteries, where several Elephant skeletons can be found. In one experiment, the bones of an old matriarch of a herd were marked, and when the herd came to the cemetery afterwards – something the herds do quite often – they rolled bones, as they usually do, but it was shown that they rolled significantly more the bones of the old leader. This looks like a ritual of grieving and remembrance. How not to develop a deep respect for such an animal?! This is one of the animals that touch me most, since I was a young child. And the same feeling is here with me now, some decades later. It was, thus, quite an emotional experience to find Elephants in the wild.
At times of abundant food or water several family groups may congregate to form a large herd, because in those times a large herd can survive in the same territory. Different from females and young males, adult bulls are solitary or form part of smaller bachelor groups. They only join the family herds when females are breeding. Therefore, when you find an Elephant alone in KNP (or anywhere), just as we found this one, you can be sure it is a male.
This animal we saw in S145 was very actively eating. Elephants are usually doing so. After all, an adult may eat up to 300 kg of plant material per day. The diet of an Elephant consists of a variety of plants, including trees, fruits, shrubs, and grass.
In this tree in the middle of the road, which offered a nice landscape in the savannah, we found a very nice and active Baboon troop.
One female was sitting alone close to the end of a branch, allowing for nice pictures.
She moved after a while closer to the tree trunk to eat.
I like Baboon’s way of looking very much. It always remind me of the book Baboon Metaphysics
by Cheney and Seyfarth, two excellent researchers on primate behavior: http://www.amazon.com/Baboon-Metaphysic ... etaphysics
This is the same female looking contemplatively to the landscape.
This is another interesting look with brown reddish eyes.
This is a more austere look.
And this is more relaxed.
And finally a thinking juvenile.
I like the picture of this male standing up in a tree.
At one point a male, probably the alpha, emitted a call and the whole group started to move.
After the alpha male called, telling the troop to move, we could see Baboons going down the trees around.
Some with more difficulty.
And down the road they went.
Finally, the first picture we managed to take of the fast moving Dwarf Mongooses. They were in the same spot where we saw the Baboons, and, when they crossed the road, my friend Pedro managed to take this great picture. All the legs in the air!
Mongooses are included in the family Herpestidae within the order Carnivora. This is a typical mongoose, with large pointed head, small ears, long tail, short limbs, and long claws. It differs from the other mongooses in its size, as the name indicates. Indeed, this is the smallest carnivore in Africa, ranging from 18 to 28 cm, 210 to 350 g. The fur shows a varied palette of colors, ranging from yellowish red to very dark brown. The individual in the picture had a combination of reddish, brownish, even grayish color.
This species is primarily found in dry grassland, open forests, and bush land, up to 2,000 meters high. Where there are many termite mounds, their favorite sleeping place, they are more common. It is not found in dense forests and deserts. We can also find them in the surroundings of settlements, and it is an animal that can become quite tame.
They eat insects (mainly beetle larvae, termites, grasshoppers and crickets), spiders, scorpions, small lizards, snakes, small birds, and rodents.
Their distribution ranges from East to southern Central Africa, from Eritrea and Ethiopia to the Transvaal in South Africa.
This is a highly social species, living in extended family groups of two to thirty animals. That’s why all the time we saw them in KNP, they were in groups. A strict hierarchy is observed among same-sex animals within a group, with a dominant pair of alpha male and female, which are normally the oldest group members. All group members cooperate both in raising the pups and in guarding the group from predators.
Male mongooses usually emigrate when they are 2-3 years old, even though they become sexually mature with one year of age. They delay dispersal, therefore. When they disperse, they may join other established groups, either as subordinates or by expelling the resident males, or they may found new groups with unrelated dispersing females. Females, in turn, normally remain in their home group for life, in a queue for the dominant position. But when they lose their hierarchical place to a younger sister, they emigrate to found a new group.
This is a territorial animal, with a home range of approximately 30-60 hectares, depending on the nature of the habitat. They mark their territory with anal gland and cheek gland secretions and latrines. As the territories usually show some overlap, confrontation between different groups do happen.
A curiosity is that a mutualistic relationship has evolved between dwarf mongooses and hornbills. Hornbills seek out the mongooses to forage together. This increases predator vigilance, since both species warn each other of nearby raptors and other predators.