Sunday, October 30

The Astonishing Giraffe

Are we going to see a giraffe?? One of the more common "first"questions I get when going to Kruger with international guests.

This quirky African herbivore catches the imagination like few other large mammals.

Yet according to a published scientific paper (in the journal Current Biology) of 8th September 2016, one reason no-one has identified previously that there are actually 4 different species (and 5 sub-species) of giraffe, is that they haven't been studied enough!

(Note:- all these pictures are of the Southern Giraffe (Giraffa giraffa), South African sub-species, with one exception - the last Etosha photo shows giraffe of the Angola sub-species).

So, moving on from the science of giraffe, I thought it high time I shared with you, on this blog, a bit more about this striking animal and my experiences with it.
A bachelor herd, ranging in age
One of the coolest collective names in the animal kingdom is for the giraffe. A "tower" describes the giraffe in these photos rather well doesn't it? Less used collective names are also "corps" and "journey".

Grouping closely together to cross an open area/river bed
Strangely enough, although we commonly see giraffe in towers, their social organisation, as described by Estes, is gregarious but loose, open, casual and non-lasting. Sorry, I'm taking big liberties with his original text, but you get my drift?

Giraffe only feed close together when all on the same tree
 The longest, and best established bonds are between females and their calves (until they grow up that is.....)

As a guide I really shouldn't use the term "cute"but is there any better term for a giraffe calf??



The amazing thing about giraffe calves, is that they are already 2 metres (6 feet) tall when they are born, and the 25 - 50% of calves lucky enough to survive the lions and hyena in their first vulnerable month, grow another metre by 6 months, and almost double in height by the time they are 12 months old!

A survival necessity!


Talking of predators, across Africa adult giraffe are largely invulnerable to most, due to their size, excellent eye-sight and dangerous hooves. 

With the exception of lion. In Kruger, it is not uncommon to find lion on a giraffe kill.

Of course, a giraffe's great size, extra long legs and neck does make them awkward and vulnerable when they need to drink. As a result they are extra cautious when approaching water holes and drink as quickly as they can. Fortunately for them they can survive for many days without water, as they can get enough from the green leaves they eat, and/or dew on those leaves (during the wet season).

During winter (our dry season) you can see they are very challenged to find sufficient leaf to eat!

Just look at that tongue!! It's one of the longest in the animal kingdom - up to 45cm long!!


Giraffe are browsers (I have been asked before what animals they hunt!!!!) and their favourite leaves/browse are from acacia trees. But they will feed, when times are hard from almost any tree that's got leaf - or flowers as you can see.

A mature male giraffe can reach up to 5.8 metres, and so tend to browse from the taller trees.


Female giraffe tend to more commonly browse lower trees and bushes.....

So what do you think this particular giraffe is doing??!   There's no water to be seen!?

Well, it's licking at mineral-rich soil. I've even seen giraffe suck on old bones. This is to get extra minerals, especially calcium, into their diet to help keep their bones strong.


A much more common sight with giraffe are the ubiquitous oxpeckers. I'm actually astounded that the pictures above show hardly any sign of an oxpecker (see if you can spot the one exception!)

So here are a couple of pics with red-billed oxpeckers, one perched in a typical position and the other "grazing"on the giraffe's skin.

Despite their long necks and short bodies, giraffe find it very difficult to groom the parasites off their skin, so the ox-peckers play a vital role here.

As persistent as the oxpeckers can be, even they cannot hold on when male giraffe decide to spar for dominance.

I haven't often witnessed a serious, high-intensity contest between 2 males, but it is an impressive, graceful though brutal, slow-motion affair..... (I've blogged about this before.... to see more pictures click on Battling Giraffe)


These 2 males are lined up ready to resume a contest.

Low-intensity contests can just be a matter of leaning and shoving each other, but occasionally they escalate to the neck-swinging, head-thudding stage.....


No known deaths have occurred during these challenges as it makes much more sense for the loser to concede the battle and live to try again.

Well, it's time to wind up this extra long, and informative posting.

Worth it considering the striking subject?

Here's a last picture, a favourite landscape from the wide-open spaces of Etosha, Namibia.

Estes - The Behavior Guide to African Mammals
Carnaby - Beat About the Bush - Mammals

Thursday, September 29

The Dazzling Zebra of Etosha

 Five years ago, some friends & I spent an unforgettable week in Etosha National Park, Namibia.

Beneath wide, open, endlessly blue skies, across white, dusty flats and in thick green mopani shrub we found zebra at every possible waterhole...........
 They stood stoically out under the blazing sun...........

nervously drank from predator-haunted pools.........

enjoyed a moment of time standing hock-deep in the cool water.......

or just rested from their endless quest for grass.................

For other postings on Etosha and zebra, try these links........

Wednesday, September 7

On safari - Kruger National Park, August 2016

Klipspringer, near the Olifants River
Three great safaris in 3 weeks - what more could a safari guide wish for?

Spring's hot, scorching days arriving a month early, combined with the gusty winds of August made the first week or two a little more unpredictable than usual.

Lion and leopard active on a mid-day game drive; thick fog early one morning; a couple of hours spent south of Skukuza, with absolutely ZERO other vehicles, on leopard, wild dog, rhino and hyena sightings....... and the list goes on.

Each safari produced totally different experiences - this is nothing especially out of the ordinary for Kruger safaris perhaps, but maybe I just appreciated it more since it's been six long months since I was last here.

On some of the best sightings I couldn't get the camera up as I needed to concentrate on positioning the vehicle in the best possible place.....

But despite that, this posting is going to be chock full of photos, so I hope you have the patience to scroll through them right to the end. (some I've already posted on Facebook, but there's also a lot more!)

As always, with late winter/spring, the focus, in this driest part of the dry season is the waterholes and rivers.

There were about 10 lion scattered around this waterhole, and although they weren't in "hunt mode"this lioness wasn't going to pass up a tasty warthog snack, if they had got close enough (the hogs look a lot closer than they actually were).

The "prey"animals are totally aware of this of course and are particularly wary and nervous when coming down to drink.

We couldn't see any predators around at this small waterhole, but that didn't stop the zebra scattering in panic a couple of times in between quick sips...

Croc at Lake Panic
We spent a lot of time along the Sabie River and weren't disappointed by the lion, leopard, hippo, buffalo and assorted antelope sightings..... 

Kudu in the tamboti

Buffalo crossing the Sabie River
Malachite Kingfisher
 The smaller, more colourful birds were also close to water.

Red-breasted swallow
Lesser-striped swallow

Elephant at Mohlabetsi Lodge

But when we ventured away from the rivers and larger waterholes we also had some great experiences........

Elephant, backdropped by the spring colours of the mopani veld

Including this very special encounter with two cheetah, early one morning, north of Satara.

As mentioned earlier in this posting we had an amazing morning drive south of Skukuza. The main target for the drive was to find rhino, which we did, but also leopard, wild dog and hyaena (and lot's more) - all on roads empty of other vehicles.

This hyena mother and cub were very alert, and heard the rhino well before we saw them. Needless to say the rhino could obviously scent the hyena and were also very alert as they crossed through the open area.

relaxing again......

We had strong gusty winds for much of the month but the weather's defining feature were the hot, parched days.

Whether the mornings started with thick fog, or gloriously clear blue skies, by 11 am every visible animal was huddled under the limited shade......

But, that's spring in Kruger.

Extremes of everything!