Feeling Kinda Growly

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We found ourselves driving through the midst of the Mara’s Marsh Pride at high noon, its members surprisingly active given the usual lion habit of spending the day lying around. They had made a kill, an antelope of some kind, and the ‘under-lions’ were still eating: one very elderly male and three females – while the dominant male prowled the perimeter, exchanging grunt-like roars with another male who was lying in the grass. They seemed quite unconcerned as we stopped to watch, no interruption to the grunt exchange caught here in the photo. Rather puts one in one’s place in the animal scheme of things.

 

KindaSquare #24

Exemplars Of The Stripy Kind

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The light was almost gone when we came upon this gathering of Grevy’s zebras. They are the largest and most northerly members of the zebra family, distinguished by their large round ears, close-set stripes, and plain white undercarriages. They inhabit the dry savannah and bush of northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.

When we spotted them again there was too much light – full on midday sun. But you can see the tip of Mount Kenya in the background. Astonishing to know it is 17,000 feet tall and that this is all you see of it from Lewa Downs.

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KindaSquare #23

Kindness To Rhinos

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Read any huntin’ shootin’ travellers’ accounts from Kenya’s colonial days and you’ll have rhinos charging from every bush. A single day’s trek through the wilderness could yield half a dozen such hair-raising encounters. Rhinos can be very dangerous, and exceedingly unpredictable, but it makes me think. In times before British aristocrats turned the plains of Tsavo into their private hunting grounds, or game control officers decreed rhino clearance a matter of  necessity, rhino numbers must have amounted to tens of thousands. Big Game Hunter, John Hunter, claimed he’d dispatched over one thousand in the course of his shooting career, this mostly to free up settlement land. A single man and one who loved wildlife!

In the 1970s there were said to be 20,000 rhinos in Kenya. Then came poaching. Numbers plummeted to three hundred. Finally enlightened conservation initiatives were begun in the 1980s and numbers are now above 700, with protected populations in several of the national parks. One thriving private initiative is Lewa Downs in Northern Kenya – a former colonial ranch transformed into a wildlife conservancy. It’s an enterprise of breath-taking scale – not only securing vast rangelands for animals (including 169 black rhinos), but also working with local communities to improve livelihoods, health care and education.

Watch the video and be amazed.

https://youtu.be/b8YGoV5obhk

 

KindaSquare #22

So Hard To Like Hyena-Kind, But…

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…they are interesting animals, though you certainly would not want to meet one at close quarters. That they are purely scavengers is a myth. They are powerful killers too, and don’t mind the odd human. The spotted hyenas in the photo (taken early one Mara morning) are the largest of the three hyena species, and come with the strongest bone-grinding jaws of any land predator. They live in clans of 5 – 30 individuals and recognise one another by scent.

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Further interesting features include the facts that females are larger than males. They remain in their natal clan for life, are dominant over the males while the largest, most aggressive of them rules over all hunting and territorial defence tactics. The dominant female’s sons outrank all other clan members, and remain in the clan longer than their male age-mates. In the end, though, all the males born from clan females eventually leave to live in nomadic male groups until they can join a new unrelated clan, though this only happens after a trial period wherein they must demonstrate appropriate submissiveness to the new female boss.

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They look ungainly creatures, so low-slung-short-legged in the rear, but this shambling appearance is deceptive too. They can break into a gallop, and sustain speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (48 kph) over distances of  a mile and more. They will chase down adult wildebeest and zebra until the prey is exhausted, and then duly disembowel them. Many pounds and kilos of meat will be gobbled at one go, and every bone crushed and consumed to extract the marrow. I remember once in Zambia, on a pre-dawn drive seeing a hyena so well fed, it could barely drag its stomach home to its den. I’ve read too, that these contents will be turned around within 24 hours, giant meat-grinder style, and the end product droppings quite white from all the processed bone.

Hm. I’m not winning over friends for hyenas, am I?  Still, they do clear up the place when in scavenging mode, as they are in these photos, though the lions were not keen to share their leftovers. But then hyenas, along with other predators, doubtless also help to keep herd animals healthy by recycling the weakest members, and the pursuit itself, predators on the hooves of herbivores, may have a key role to play in the maintaining  the Serengeti-Mara eco-systems.

These grasslands of 10,000 square miles support a million and a half wildebeest, which every year, along with large herds of zebra, migrate between wet- and dry-season pastures. Zimbabwean ecologist, Alan Savory, contends that a key role of predators is to keep herbivores bunched and moving, and that this in turn ensures the continuous sustenance and recovery of the grasslands that in turn support the herds. A virtuous circle then.

So: hyenas do have their place in the natural order of things. All the same, I think I’ll end this post with a photo of the lions who were most determined not to share even though they had  clearly had a very good breakfast:

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KindaSquare #21

Kinda Chilling Cheetah Style

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They look like tears, the mascara-esque markings running from a cheetah’s eyes. It’s one of the ways you know that you are not looking a leopard in the face, which is usually a good thing if lack of distance is an issue. Cheetahs are anyway more agreeable, at least to human kind, with attacks in the wild apparently unknown. Their paws are more like dog than cat paws, though they do have a vicious dew claw which they use to snag and trip their prey, mostly small antelope of the Thomson’s gazelle variety.

Female cheetahs, like leopards, lead solitary lives except for mating or cub rearing. There can be six cubs in a litter, which places high demands on a mother’s hunting skills. The cubs are weaned at three months, but at around six months she starts teaching them hunting techniques, catching and releasing young gazelles for them to practice on. Even so they remain dependent on her for another year, the family’s hunting range extending as much as 400 square miles.

The species is of course famed for its astonishing speed – up to 70 mph (112 kph) at full tilt and with a stride of 23 feet (7 m). Though it’s hard to imagine this particular cheetah has any thoughts of imminent ‘lift off’. She simply lay there, quite ignoring me, while I leaned out of a truck took her picture. Though after a bit she did get up and demonstrate the ‘cat stretch’. Oooh ye-ees. Feel that spinal column flex and lengthen.

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KindaSquare #20

Mother Kind

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After a couple of weeks’ safari-ing down the ancestral line, it’s back to the old Africa album today.

Lions are the only truly social members of the cat family. Even so, pride living can be fraught with dangers. Mothers may be very protective of their cubs and charge any human who walks into their territory, but humans are not the main threat. Whenever a band of young males ousts a pride’s more elderly males, they usually kill any young cubs. The selfish gene is in action here, to say nothing of the biological imperative to reproduce. Without their cubs, the females quickly come into oestrus so the newcomers may sire cubs of their own, offspring in whom they are prepared to invest their protective and hunting capacities.

Unlike male lions, female lions tend to live out their lives in the pride they were born into, along with several female relatives. As soon as their male cubs reach two or three years old they are expelled from the pride to pursue a nomadic existence until they can take over another pride of unrelated lions.

The pride thus comprises kindred males unrelated to kindred females and they are highly territorial. Males scent mark, rubbing their manes on bushes and spraying them with urine and anal gland secretions. All pride members scratch trees depositing scent from glands between their toes. Male lions also choose locations where their roars may be amplified, against riverbanks for instance, making them sound larger and fiercer. There is nothing quite like a night-time roar for chilling the blood.

Hunting usually takes place at night, but also at dusk and dawn. The rest of the day, for up to 20 hours, they simply rest. Marshy areas with plenty of shade are popular lion resorts. They have astonishing capacities to ‘disappear’ themselves .

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KindaSquare #19

Kinda Hiding

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A topi in the grass and apparently on its own too. Usually they go about in large herds and the males like to stand on top of ant hills or any earthy hummock to show themselves off. Similar to Coke’s hartebeest, they can be distinguished by their deep chestnut coats with plum-coloured flashes. They are a subspecies of tiang antelope found in Ethiopia and southern Sudan, which in turn represent northerly versions of the Central and South African tsessbe. All part of the natural world’s endlessly rich and subtle diversity.

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KindaSquare #9

Kinda Tall ~ More Vintage Shots From The Old Africa Album

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Being the world’s tallest mammal and with the longest neck means giraffes have no problem nibbling parts of trees that others cannot reach. But when it comes to taking a drink, things can be more than a little tricky.

To reach the water a giraffe must spread its  front legs wide and lower its head between them – not only a vulnerable position at a watering hole where there may be many lurking predators, but also a manoeuvre that involves some serious biological mechanics. For one thing, a giraffe’s head is between 2 and 3 metres (7-10ft) above its heart. To prevent it from fainting when it raises its head from drinking, its arteries and veins come equipped with valves to stop the blood rushing to its head.

And in order not to challenge this system more than is necessary, giraffes can go for extended periods without drinking so long as there is plenty of succulent foliage to consume. The moisture gained from the leaves is then conserved through limited defecation. They excrete only hard small droppings.

The giraffe in the first photo is of the Masai variety, distinguished by the irregular ‘butterfly’ markings. Their main habitat range is Southern Kenya and Tanzania. To the north you find the Reticulated giraffe, slightly smaller, and darker in colour, and with those lovely blocky markings. They inhabit dry bush country and are even less dependent on water than their Masai cousins. This one was spotted on the Lewa Downs Conservancy in northern Kenya.

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KindaSquare #8

Two Of A Kind #2

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I might be on a bit of roll with this ‘two by two’ from the old Africa album, though as yet I haven’t come up with an ark to house the featured pairs.  Actually it’s now raining so hard in Shropshire (and for days to come if the forecast is anything to go by), it may well be prudent to come up with one.

Anyway, here we have a pair of Maasai giraffes in a dreamy, somewhere-in-Tsavo setting. Please imagine the subtle spicy-sweet scents of dry bush country. There will be a soundscape too – high-whining crickets and the kroo-kroo-ing of ring necked doves.

KindaSquare #3