I go back and forth when trying to decide to whether to bring something other than my iPhone to Africa. Took a free class offered at Samy’s Camera to help me get familiar with some of the menus. I’m still undecided.
The Nile crocodile is the most common type of crocodile in Kenya. It is one of the largest reptiles in the world, growing up to 5 metres and weighing 900 pounds on average. This aggressive, vicious reptile is one of the most dangerous species of crocodile and has been the cause of numerous human deaths every year.
Nile crocodiles are relatively social crocodiles. They share basking spots and large food sources, such as schools of fish and big carcasses.
Their strict hierarchy is determined by size. Large, old males are at the top of this hierarchy and have primary access to food and the best basking spots.
Nile crocodiles are apex predators: predators at the top of afood chain, without natural predators themselves. They are ambush predators that can wait for hours, days, and even weeks for the suitable moment to attack.
Crocodiles are capable of taking almost any animal within their range. Their diet consists mostly of different species of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals.
From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Nile crocodile was hunted, primarily for high-quality leather, though also for meat and purported curative properties. The population was severely depleted, and the species faced extinction. But, they’re baaaaaaaack. The Nile Crocodile is listed as “least concern” under the IUCN Red List,
The following is taken from Lion Dog African Safaris Weekly Newsletter, #18 / 2020.
Archaeology Shows How Ancient African Societies Managed Pandemics
Every so often, a pandemic emerges that dramatically alters human society.
The Black Death (1347 – 1351) was one. The Spanish flu of 1918 was another. Now there’s COVID-19.
Archaeologists have long studied diseases in past populations. To do so, they study settlement layout, burials, funerary remains, and human skeletons. The insights from these studies expose some of the strategies that societies adopted to deal with pandemics. These included burning settlements as a disinfectant and shifting settlements to new locations. Social distancing was practised by dispersing settlements.
Findings unearthed in southern Zimbabwe show that it was taboo to touch or interfere with remains of the dead, lest diseases be transmitted in this way. Social distancing and isolation formed a critical part of managing pandemics in ancient African societies. In what is Zimbabwe today, the Shona people in the 17th and 18th centuries isolated those suffering from infectious diseases – such as leprosy – in temporary residential structures. In some cases, corpses were burnt to avoid spreading the contagion.
There were multiple long-term implications of pandemics in these communities. Perhaps the most important was that people organised themselves in ways that made it easier to live with diseases, managing them and at the same time sticking to the basics such as good hygiene, sanitation and environmental control. Life did not stop because of pandemics: populations made decisions and choices to live with them.
Some of these lessons may be applied to COVID-19, guiding decisions and choices to buffer the vulnerable from the pandemic while allowing economic activity and other aspects of life to continue. As evidence from the past shows, social behaviour is the first line of defence against pandemics: it’s essential this be considered when planning for the latest post-pandemic future.
Torrential rains have triggered devastating floods and landslides across East Africa in recent weeks, aggravating an already challenging situation as countries in the region battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Floods and landslides in Kenya have killed nearly 200 people, displaced 100,000 and strained critical infrastructure, after the River Nzola burst its banks.
Although May usually marks the end of the rainy season, the Kenya Meteorological Department has forecast that heavy rains, which accelerated in mid-April, are expected to continue in the coming weeks.
In western Kenya, residents have had to carry their belongings away from their submerged houses using boats and motorbikes. The government is providing food and water to the displaced people and has also requested the Ministry of Health to provide them with masks as a precautionary measure.
Floods have destroyed 8,000 acres of rice fields. Kenya was already facing a looming rice shortage due to shipping disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The heavy rains and landslides are threatening water shortages as well. The infrastructure used to deliver water has been washed away and pipelines have been clogged. Residents of several cities, including in the capital Nairobi, are being asked to use their water in a “rational” manner.
The Masai Ostrich, also known as the Pink-Necked Ostrich or the East African Ostrich, is one of the 4 species of ostriches. It’s found in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia. It is one of the largest birds in the world, second only to the Northern-African Ostrich. It has loose, soft, smooth feathers, which are black with white on the male, and grey brown with white on females.
The Masai Ostrich has a pink neck and thighs, that become brighter in males during the mating season.
It’s a flightless bird, as its wings are too small to lift its heavy body into the air. But it’s fast, reaching speeds up to 45 miles an hour.
Like other ostrich species, the top hen lays her eggs first, then other females put their eggs in her nest. After that, she discards the extra eggs from the nest and gives hers the priority. In most cases the nest doesn’t contain more than 20 eggs although every hen can lay 7 – 10 eggs.
The male Masai ostrich usually incubates eggs during the night shift and the female does the incubation during the day shift.
Masai ostriches are almost entirely herbivorous. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, bushes, herbs, succulents, and leaves. Occasionally they will consume flowers, fruits, seeds and small lizards.
Today the Masai Ostrich is hunted and farmed for eggs, meat, and feathers. Interestingly, a 2009 study found that illegal hunting of ostrich meat did not significantly affect the Masai Ostrich population density within the Serengeti National Park.
The Masai Ostrich is listed as a species of “least concern” under the IUCN Red List, although the wild ostrich populations are acknowledged to be in decline.
* Why feature the Masai Ostrich?
A couple of posts this week centered on Maasi handiwork, so I picked a bird with the word “Masai” in its name. Simple as that.
Linda and I are scheduled to take three morning and three evening safari rides in the area around Laikipia Wilderness Camp. In the last 18 months, special cameras have managed to photograph the elusive African black leopard in the area. Perviously believed to be completely absent in Kenya, a team of biologists have managed to shot rare footage of the sleek big cat after spending months watching and waiting.
About 11 percent of leopards globally are black. These beautiful leopards, with their sleek black coats, are more commonly found in tropical and humid Southeast Asia. Black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. We now know that melanism, the cause of the leopard’s dark coloring, can also be found in leopards who live in semiarid climates, like that of Laikipia.
Despite being called black leopards, they are usually very dark brown and have the same pattern of spots as other leopards.
The total extent to which the leopard population has declined is unknown. Three subspecies of the leopard are classified as “critically endangered,” and two others as “endangered.”
When one thinks of Maasai decorative beading, it’s probably safe to assume that colorful jewelry is the first thing that comes to mind. Alas, jewelry is not my thing. I’m more inclined to find a souvenir or two where the famous Maasai beading is meant to decorate an item rather than decorate me. Here are examples of just such decorated items.
Although chokers and string bead necklaces are common in Kenya markets, the truly classic Maasai necklace is the very elaborate wedding necklace.
The beautiful wedding necklace shown here is offered at The Maasai Shop on Etsy as of the date of this posting.
A beaded necklace, even a more conservative one, is nothing I’d ever wear. But there is no denying, it’s a work of art. The moment I saw this framed necklace, I reconsidered my souvenir list. Maybe I’ll be tempted when I visit the open markets in Nairobi.
The Maasai people have been using beadwork to tell the story of their collective history and culture as well as their individual social positions in their day lives. The wearer might use it to represent wealth, beauty, strength, warriorhood, marital status, children-born and/or social status. Beaded jewelry is used as everyday adornment on both men and women.
The jewelry pieces are made up of the traditional Maasai colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, white and black. Each color is symbolic of important cultural elements.
Blue represents the sky and the nourishing waters of the sea, lakes and rivers. White represents purity and peace. Black represents the people and the hardships they must endure. Orange represents warmth, generosity, and frendship, as it is the color of the gourds in which milk is offered to guests. Green represents the land, production and health. Red represent bravery, unity and the blood lost in pursuit of freedom. Yellow also represents sun, fertility, growth and hospitality because it is the color of the animal skins on guests’ beds.
In recognition of Mother’s Day, National Geographic posted twenty-one photos of Beautiful Moments Between Animal Mothers and Their Babies in their Photo Gallery. Included with each photo was a short explanation of some of the more unique and varying mothering methods found in the animal kingdom.
“Every animal can thank a mom for making life possible,” writes the author. “Some mothers lay eggs, in treetops or on the seafloor, while others labor through long pregnancies and live births. Many moms are on their own, but a fortunate few get help from babysitters or nursemaids. Mother-child bonding runs the gamut of relationship styles.”
Among the twenty-one animals featured in the photo gallery, five live on African soil.
And despite the heart-warming topic, not all the photos conjure up warm and cuddly thoughts.
Emperor scorpion mothers give birth to an average of nine to 32 fully formed young. Here, an emperor scorpion, one of the world’s largest scorpions, carries her immature offspring on her back.
Lion moms may live with their daughters for life. The African lions live in prides dominated by related females, like this cub-wrangling mom in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
During the early weeks of her cubs’ lives, the mother must move them every few days to avoid predators. If all goes well, cheetah siblings stay with their mom for about a year and a half, learning to hunt. Some cheetahs are supermoms, not only raising their own young but fostering the cubs of others.
Hippo calves are often born underwater. It’s up to Mom to push her calf to the surface to take its first breath.
Mothers are fiercely protective of their young, but they also have a softer side, cleaning and doting on their calves. If its baby dies, mothers even display what some scientists interpret as grief.
Giraffe calves stand within 30 minutes of birth. It’s critical that they do so, as newborn calves are a favorite meal of many African predators. Before they are born, mom has to endure a 15-month pregnancy, which allows for the development of a six-foot-tall baby with strong muscles and nervous system.
These big birdies are straight out of Jurassic Park. Check out the bill.
Shoebills use their massive, powerful bills to kill and eat their prey, which is usually fish and sometimes small rodents. Shoebills clatter their bills to communicate with one another, but may also make mooing sounds as a form of communication.
Previously they were associated with the same order as storks and herons, but they have most recently been moved into the pelican grouping.
The shoebill usually gets to a height of 40 to 50 inches. Male shoebill birds weigh around 12 pounds. All shoebill have massive spoon-like bills and feature grey plumage that is brown when they’re younger. They have short necks and a large wingspan meant for soaring.
* Why feature the Shoebill?
There’s no particular reason why I decided to pick on the Shoebill this week. Perhaps it’s because I was feeling a little cross concerning the coronavirus confinement and the shoebill exemplified my frustration.
Earth Suds is an eco-friendly startup whose goal is to eliminate all single-use plastic amenity bottles (containing shampoo, conditioner and bodywash) and replace them with sustainable tablets that dissolve and lather like traditional soaps.
Although EarthSuds tablets started as a solution for hotels, the tablets are now being offered to the general public.
I first tried their Starter Pack, containing 5 tablets each of their shampoo, conditioner and body soap. More than satisfied, I went back for more of their shampoo and conditioner. I also ordered their larger (and reusable) travel case.
The tablets are not inexpensive, which stops me from using them on a regular basis. Still, they will be a forever item while traveling.
It’s a simple product with huge ramifications. The simple part: Crush the tablet, then along with a small bit of water, work up a nice lather in your hands, then wash like any other liquid soap. The huge ramifications: Earth Suds have the potential to eliminate the 5.7 billion amenity bottles sent to landfills every year in North America alone.
Earth Suds was named a top 10 global finalist in the National Geographic Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge.
The product achieves all three dimensions of sustainability: economically it generates and re-invests profits, socially it employs adults with developmental disabilitie, and environmentally it eliminates single-use plastics.
RUNNING LIST OF ITEMS purchased in preparation for the Kenya/Uganda trip (some I may use again, some probably not)
Lions live in grasslands and plains. They do not live in the jungle.
The lion is the only member of the cat family that displays obvious markings (its mane) that distinguish the male from the female. A male’s mane grows darker as it ages. Female lions prefer males with fuller, thicker, darker manes.
The roar of a lion can be heard from 5 miles away. Lions use their roar as a form of communication. It identifies individuals, strengthens the pride’s bond, and lets other animals know of the pride’s domain.
A new-born lion has dark spots, which fade as the cub reaches adulthood.
Daughters stay with their mothers for life and may eventually have their own cubs. Sons will leave the pride at maturity in search of a pride of their own.
Unlike most other cat species, lions live in large groups called prides. A pride consists of multiple related females, their dependent offspring and two or three unrelated males. In the wild, lions rest for around 20 hours a day.
Female lions are the pride’s primary hunters. The males are first to eat when the female lions return with their kill. The kill is not shared equally within a pride, and at times of prey scarcity, cubs might experience higher mortality rates as hungry females may not even share with their offspring. A pride isn’t formed primarily for catching dinner or sharing parenting chores. They also need each other to ward off the dangerous advances of other lions.
A tuft at the end of the tail is a distinct characteristic of the lion.
African Lions May Be Extinct by 2050.
African lions may be facing extinction by the year 2050. The reason for the decline of the king of beasts can be summed up in one word: people. As more East Africans take up farming and ranching, they push farther into lion country. In just two decades, populations decreased by 43 percent. It’s estimated that as few as 23,000 remain today.
Some years ago, conservationists recognized what an important marketing draw the term “Big Five” had for safari agencies and camps. Wanting to bring attention to East Africa’s wonderfully diverse wildlife (little as well as big, feathery as well as furry, ignoble as well as dominate), they compiled a list of animals they called The Little Five. They chose animals whose names aligned with the names of the already famous Big Five.
Antlions live most of their lives underground (Good luck spotting one!) and are actually the larvae stage of a winged insect that, in adulthood, resembles a dragonfly.
The antlion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy or loose soil. When potential prey approach, the antlion will pretend to fall down the funnel so as to lure the prey in, thinking it has found an easy meal. Once its prey falls in, the ferocious little devil literally sucks its prey dry and discards the empty husk outside the hole.
Some species are considered endangered.
2. Buffalo Weaver
There are three species of buffalo weaver. All three are found in Kenya.
Like most weavers, the white-headed buffalo weaver is a social bird who forages on the ground for insects, fruits and seeds. It’s noisy, with a wide range of cackles and squeaks.
The white-headed buffalo weaver is listed as threatened.
The white-billed buffalo weaver is a dark little bird with a light-colored beak. The red-billed buffalo weaver has, not surprisingly, a red beak. Buffalo weavers are known for their rather messy communal nests that appear to be nothing more than a mishmash of grasses and twigs.
The buffalo weaver is the easiest among The Little Five to find and observe.
3. Elephant Shrew
This tiny insect eating mammal gets its name from its elongated snout. It sniffs out ants, termites, crickets, beetles and caterpillars, and uses its tongue to catch its dinner. With its long legs, it hops in search of small bites to eat.
The elephant shrew is food for snakes and birds of prey, so this little rodent has learned to be extremely cautious. It’s very shy and very speedy! It’s been seen running up to 17 miles/hr.
They are listed as vulnerable.
4. Leopard Tortoise
The leopard tortoise has beautiful leopard-like markings on their shells with perfect symmetrical black and yellow patterns. As they mature, their tortoise shell color changes from dark brown to yellow.
The largest ones can grow up to 18 inches in length and weigh up to 40 lbs. They can easily live for 80 – 100 years. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. Leopard tortoises graze extensively on mixed grasses, succulents and thistles.
Although most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive breeding programs, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease that could impact the livestock industry.
5. Rhinoceros Beetle
Entomologists estimate there are over 300 species of beetles worldwide that are considered rhinoceros beetles.
Rhino beetles are one of eastern Africa’s largest beetles. The male beetle sports a large horn atop its head. This horn is used to dig and burrow for food. and to fight during mating season. They don’t kill their rivals, but lift them up with their horn and toss them off the branch instead. Pound for pound they are said to be the strongest creatures on earth, with the ability to lift 850 times their own weight.
Female rhinoceros beetles don’t have the prominent horns that the males do.
These insects are nocturnal, which makes them difficult to spot. As fierce as they look, they are safe to pick up and examine, as they do not bite or sting.
For years, shukas has been a part of the ancient tradition of the Maasai people.
Traditional Maasai blankets are made from soft cotton (shuka) or wool. It’s known to be durable, strong, and thick — protecting the Maasai from the harsh weather and terrain of the savannah. While red is the most common color, the Maasai also use blue, striped, and checkered cloth to wrap around their bodies.
A shuka (or two) has found its way onto my Souvenir List, as it has a number of possible uses after I return home. Besides using it as a blanket, it can serve as a tablecloth, a scarf or a throw pillowcase.
Linda and I have plans to join Jacob Rothschild and his son for breakfast in late August. Lord Jacob, 4th Barron and member of the prominent Rothschild banking family, lives here in his palatial manor, 35 minutes outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
No, wait! This is not his home, and he and his son are not the Rothschilds we’ll be joining for breakfast. We’ll be eating breakfast with the Rothschild’s giraffes at Giraffe Manor.
The manor house was built in 1932 as a hunting lodge. In 1974, the lodge and surrounding grounds were turned into a giraffe sanctuary when the new owners learned that Rothschild’s giraffes were in danger of extinction. (The apostrophe is in the right place, by the way.) Since then, Rothschild’s giraffes have thrived, with 140 acres of indigenous forest to make their home, alongside warthogs, dik diks, waterbucks and over 180 species of bird.
There are more than ten giraffes on the property these days. They’re very used to the manor’s guests. In the morning, they put their heads through the open windows in order to eat the pellets that are served alongside each guest’s breakfast order.
Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered populations of giraffe, with 1,669 individuals estimated in the wild in 2016. They display no markings on the lower leg.
They are the only giraffes to be born with 5 ossicones. Two of these are the larger and more obvious ones at the top of the head, which are common to all giraffes. The third ossicone can often be seen in the center of the giraffe’s forehead, and the other two are behind each ear.
The Rothschild’s giraffe was named after Walter Rothschild, the above mentioned Jacob Rothschild’s great uncle. Walter Rothschild, 2nd Barron was a London banker, politician and zoologist. One hundred fifty-three insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede and one worm also carry his name.
A Marabou Stork is about as unattractive as a bird can be, with its head covered in scabby black spots, inflatable air sacks, and poop covered hollow legs. Yes, that’s right – poop covered hollow legs. You see, coating their legs with their own feces regulates their body temperature. Their legs aren’t actually white at all – it’s just poop.
They can reach a height of nearly 5 feet. To put that in perspective, imagine a toddler standing next to one.
The Marabou Stork’s coloring (It appears to be dressed in a black tailcoat and white collared shirt.) and its creepy looking head have earned it the nickname Undertaker Bird. But bless its spooky carnivore heart, it does mate for life.
Marabou Storks are carnivore carrion (dead animal) eaters, consuming termites, snakes, flamingo chicks, baby crocodiles and other reptiles in the wild. They’re often seen feeding with vultures, which they dominate.
In cities and villages, they hang around garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, and fish processing establishments, acting as the city’s unofficial garbage collectors. As annoying as this may seem, Marabous actually help to keep diseases from spreading.
Tourists used to visit the Masai Mara/Serengeti in order to see Marabou Storks in very large flocks. Nowadays, the birds have become a big city, town and village attraction.
In Nairobi, one can easily spot flocks of Marabou Storks on Mombasa Road, a busy thoroughfare near a place known as Nyayo Stadium, as they stand or perch motionless on trees and buildings.
They are seen all over Kampala, Uganda as well.
The president of Uganda tried to have them relocated once, but all efforts failed.
In Uganda, corruption is considered to be a way of life. Like Marabou Storks, corrupt officials feed on anything that comes their way. That’s why Ugandans have honored the Marabou with the dubious title of Unofficial National Bird of Uganda.
Some believe the Marabou’s numbers are rising due to the increasing human population which is accompanied by the increasing number of garbage dumps. They’re classified as “Least Concern” in terms of endangerment.
* Why feature the Marabou Stork?
There’s a bit (very small bit) of an urban theme going on this week, what with the city restaurant write-up and the matatu posts, so it seemed appropriate to feature one of Nairobi’s town birds – the Marabou Stork.
**The Ugly Five, by Julia Donaldson, is a children’s book that celebrates inner beauty and accepting who you are, while also informing kids about African animals. Our friend the Marabou Stork is one of The Ugly Five.