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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
There are roughly 11,000 species of birds in the world. During this week in which we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it is especially alarming to hear that nearly 40 percent of the world’s birds are facing significant decline. Among the threats to these creatures are habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and severe weather, plastic and pesticide pollution and illegal trafficking.
Despite Covid-19’s grip all around the world, professor, author and ornithologist Dr. Drew Lanham finds that birds give us one of the best tools we have for coping in today’s oppressive environment: hope. When speaking of his bird/hope connection, Lanham will sometimes cite a first line of Emily Dickinson. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”
In 2018, Lanham was the recipient of the National Audubon’s Lufkin Prize for his tireless advocacy to protect birds, his lifelong dedication to environmental health and his efforts in building a new generation of conservation leaders.
Some might view an Earth Day celebration amid a worldwide pandemic as a nonsensical, pointless exercise, but Dr. Lanham sees an optimistic future from back of his binoculars. He observes his beautiful birds, knowing that the things they need to survive (clean air, pure water and healthy, balanced ecosystems) are the same things upon which people rely. So he continues the work of protecting our planet, believing that it is a solid, smart investment that will pay off for generations.
“Conservation really means feeling deeply enough for something that you’re willing to save some for others. I think the word for that is ‘love’. And I think conservation is ultimately an act of love.” – J. Drew Lanham, PhD
Birds symbolize wisdom. Just ask an owl. Birds define grace and strength. Watch as they lock their outstretched wings and soar effortlessly overhead. Birds epitomize freedom, migrating to where they please, when they please. Birds are our first musicians, and they all play a different tune. They’re our link between heaven and earth.
We should be doing a better job maintaining that link.
“Stop and listen for the birds,” instructs Lanham. “If you can’t hear the birds, something is amiss.”
* Why feature all birds?
It’s Earth Day Week. That’s why.
BirdLive International is on a campaign to make a healthy natural environment a human right.
In an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Birdlife International marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by calling for the UN to take a bold and unprecedented step: declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right. The letter calls on the UN, as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to add an ‘Article 31’ to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – enshrining a universal right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies, governed by sustainability and by scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.
Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020 By Annie Roth
Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.
In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.
These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife. South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.
This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.
Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.
Besides empty parks, no tourists means no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.
Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled. Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.
If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.
In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.
In 2008, Africa’s Northern White Rhinos were considered extinct in the wild. In the years that followed, the situation got worse. But scientists had a plan.
PHASE 1: GATHER UP THOSE THAT REMAIN
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, at the base of Mt. Kenya, houses the only 2 remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world: Fatu, 30, and her daughter Najin, 19.
They live there under 24-hour armed guard.
In 2009, they were moved to Ol Pejeta, along with two males, Suni and Sudan, from a zoo in the Czech Republic. Of the eight Northern Whites left in the world, these four rhinos were thought to be the most fertile.
The rhinos were packed in special wooden crates built to support their weight for the flight to Kenya.
But first they had to be crate trained so that they’d enter the crates on their own. Those of us with dogs know how easy that must have been!
The rhinos were moved to the conservancy in hopes that a natural environment would encourage them to mate and reproduce. They did mate. They did not reproduce.
It was discovered that neither of the females were able to carry a calf. Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she became pregnant.
A final blow was delivered in 2018 when Sudan, the last remaining male, had to be euthanized.
While Sudan’s death was devastating, scientists were prepared. An international consortium of scientists and conservationists had been collecting and freezing semen from Northern White Rhino bulls for years.
At the same time, the team was devising an in vitro fertilization process for the endangered whites (where an egg and sperm are fertilized outside the body).
This was an amazing undertaking. Artificial insemination had successfully produced white rhino calves, but in vitro fertilization had never been completed with rhinos before.
PHASE TWO: HARVESTING THE EGGS
In August of last year, the team was able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes (immature eggs), five from Najin and five from Fatu. Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch. The cost in time and research was in the millions of euros.
The eggs, which cannot be frozen, were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to eventually be fertilized with the frozen sperm from four deceased males.
PHASE THREE: FERTILIZING EGGS
From the ten eggs, two embryos were created in September 2019, and the third was created in December. The embryos are being stored in liquid nitrogen, with conservationists planning to implant them in a southern white rhino surrogate mother in the future.
PHASE FOUR: SET THE STAGE FOR A ROMANTIC ENCOUNTER
One of the things the scientists are struggling to work out is the timing to implant the embryo. They need to know exactly when the female’s body is best ready for the embryo to attach to the uterus lining.
Scientists are hoping that the chances of the surrogate carrying the pregnancy through to birth may be increased if they implant the embryo right after she has mated.
This hunch has led them to set the scene for the next stage in their elaborate plan. Four wild female southern white rhinos have been enclosed with their offspring in their natural habitat.
The next step is to put a sterilized southern white rhino in with the females (would-be surrogates). As soon as they see the sterilized bull mounting, they dart the female, put the embryo in and hope for the best.
In the best case scenario, only a handful of calves may be born from Najin and Fatu’s eggs, and the lack of genetic diversity between the half-siblings could make it impossible to create a viable breeding population. To tackle that problem, stem cell research will have to be done, and that brings up the question of medical ethics. Nothing is easy about this entire operation.
If all this work miraculously produces babies, the first northern white rhino to be born should be named Lazarus.
Rhinoceroses are large herbivorous animals identified by their characteristic horned snouts.
They have been living on Earth for nearly 12 million years. Although they were probably a lot woollier back then.
There are five species of rhino. Two species, the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are native to Africa.
There is actually very little color difference between black rhinos and white rhinos. They are both dark grey in color. The color of both species can vary greatly depending on local soil conditions, as all rhinos tend to roll about in the dust and mud.
Rhinos like to wallow in mud in order to create a protective layer on their sensitive skin. This prevents sunburn and insect bites, and helps to keep them cool.
The white rhino is the larger of the two African species. They can grow to 6 feet in height and weigh more than 5,000 lbs. Appropriately, a group of rhinos is called a crash.
Typically, rhinos live in crashes of 3 – 10, relying on each other for protection. Black rhinos are solitary animals and must take responsibility for their own well-being. They tend to be the more aggressive of the two species.
African rhinos only have hair on their ears, tail tips and eyelashes.
Rhinos have three toes, making their closest relatives tapirs, zebras and horses. They have poor eyesight, but a heightened sense of smell and an excellent sense of hearing.
While out on safari, one of the ways to distinguish between the black rhino and the white rhino is by looking at the animal’s top lip.
A black rhino has a specialized (prehensile) upper lip that is capable of grasping and browsing.
A browser is a herbivore that specializes in eating leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs. A browser doesnot feed on grass or other low growing vegetation.)
The white rhino has a wide, flat upper lip that’s perfect for grazing. (A grazer is a herbivore that feeds on plants such as grass and other low-lying vegetation. You know, they graze just like cows and sheep.)
Both species have two horns which are made of tightly woven filaments of keratin, not bone. Keratin is a protein found in human hair, fingernails and animal hooves. The horns are not attached to its skull.
The longest horn on record belonged to a white rhino and measured just under five feet.
Rhinos need to drink once a day, so they stay within 5 km of water. In very dry conditions, they can dig for water using their forefeet.
Rhinos have been hunted nearly to extinction. Their horns are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Remarkable recoveries have been seen over the past ten years for several species, including the black rhino in Africa but poaching remains the largest threat. Until just months ago, only two Northern White Rhino remained in the world.
I can answer that question. The White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird gets its name from the distinctive call it uses when it feels threatened — g’way, g’way!
Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous. Didn’t know that, did you?
Let me explain. Zygodactyly is an arrangement of digits in birds with two toes facing forward and two back. Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous, meaning their fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth.
The bill is black in the male, pea-green in the female. They often have prominent crests and long tails.
The White-Bellied Go-Away Bird feeds on fruits, flowers, nectar, leaves and seed pods. It’s considered a pest in some regions, raiding orchards and plantations of fruiting trees and vegetable crops.
* Why feature the White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird?
Now, who wouldn’t be at least a little bit curious about a bird whose official name is Go-Away?
You’re probably wondering what they eat. . . . . . . . OK, maybe not.
There are about 20 species of brightly-colored bee-eaters in Africa.
Cinnamon-Chested Bee-eaters have bright green heads, upper parts, and tails. Their chins are outlined in black. Their diet consists mainly of honeybees. Little Bee-eaters have green upper parts, yellow throats and brown upper breasts fading to ocre on the belly. Their beaks are black. They’re the smallest of the African bee-eaters. White-Fronted Bee-eaters have white foreheads, square taisl and a red patch on their throats. They nest in small colonies, digging holes in cliffs or earthen banks.
The Northern Carmine Bee-eater has bright red feathers and gathers in large colonies of hundreds or thousands of individuals. It makes quite a dazzling spectacle. In quite a few of their regional homes in Africa where the birds are known to nest in large numbers year after year, they are a major tourist attraction.
Besides eating bees, bee-eaters chow down on lots of different insects, especially wasps and hornets. Before eating their meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. Bee-eaters don’t just fly around catching insects willy-nilly. They target a particular insect, follow the movements it makes, and hunt it down by following its twists and turns. Despite its slight appearance, its bill is quite strong and chomps down on prey insects’ hard shells with a loud snap.
Bee Eaters are a competitive bunch. To find and woo a mate, they need balance and skill.
* Why feature bee-eaters?
As it turns out, there is a tiny connection to this week’s Zebra Theme. Bee-eaters have a habit of using large, moving animals as temporary perches. This can be any number of local animals, such as storks, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, and (?) . . . . . . . . you guessed it, zebras. When they do this, not only does it provide them with an elevated lookout, but as other animals pass by, they stir up insects for the birds to go after as they move along.
The following is part of a Birdlife International Newsletter dated April 9, 2020, 7:05 am
A Look Back at BirdLife Africa’s World Wildlife Day Celebrations 2020
On 3 March every year, people across the world gather to raise awareness of the world’s wild flora and fauna. From films and exhibitions to nature walks and face paining, Birdlife International looked back at the diverse ways its various partnerships marked the day across Africa. Special mention was made of the activities in Zambia, the island nation of Mauritius, Nigeria and Uganda (our last stop before returning home).
Nature Uganda, in conjunction with conservation groups and local governments celebrated World Wildlife Day with special focus on the Grey-crowned Crane. The Grey-crowned Crane is Uganda’s national bird. It is facing extinction.
The celebrations included a Conservation Conference in the Kampala, a Crane Festival in Kabale Town, primary school competitions and the launch of the National Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Grey-crowned Crane.
Stripes are clearly one of the zebra’s most innovative adaptations. Every pattern is unique. Climate may have something to do with the patterns. Zoologist have found that zebras living in the cooler climates of southern Africa have stripes that are broader and farther apart than zebras living near the equator.
But why do they have stripes in the first place? Zebra stripes are one of evolution’s great mysteries.
Over the years, scientists have suggested zebras developed stripes for camouflage in order to confuse their predators. They’ve also suggested that the stripes help lower body temperature, while some believe the striped coat evolved to repel insects.
The Bug Repellent Theory
There is some evidence to support the insect repellent theory. Using sticky plastic models with surfaces painted differently, researchers showed that zebra stripes painted onto the body can protect against biting insects. Relative to the striped mannequin, the dark brown mannequin attracted 10 times more horseflies, while the beige one lured in twice the number as the striped figure.
Researchers concluded that the stripes likely make the skin less attractive to bloodsucking horseflies. This leads scientists to support the idea that zebras developed stripes to help them avoid death by disease.
The Temperature Control Theory
A study published in June 2019 reported that biologists measured the temperatures of black and white hair stripes on zebras in Kenya. The researchers found a 12- to 15-degree-Celsius difference in temperature between the two different coat colors.
In theory, the currents of air that flow over the zebra’s body are faster over the black parts and slower over the white. At the junction of these two air flows, the different speeds may create little air swirls that cool the zebra.
Moreover, zebras can actually raise the black stripes separately from the white stripes. Perhaps this is their way of regulating their temperatures by adding more turbulence to the airflow over their coats.
Last year, an extremely rare zebra with partial albinism was spotted in Serengeti National Park. Partial albinism means that the animal has significantly less melanin than typical zebras. As a result, stripes appear pale in color.
A few dozen partial albino zebras live on a private reserve in Mount Kenya National Park, but this sighting confirmed that at least one “golden” zebra also lives in the wild. Zebras with this condition may be more widely distributed in and around Kenya than was previously believed.
Early last fall, a newborn zebra foal with bizarre polka-dot markings was photographed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
The rare black zebra foal was first spotted in early September 2019 by Antony Tira, a Maasai tour guide and wildlife photographer. At first, Tira thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted for purposes of migration research.
After carefully studying the foal, he realized he was looking at a newborn zebra with a pigment disorder.
The zebra foal has been given the name “Tira.”
The name “Tira” was coined by the Maasai guide who first found him. There is a general rule within the park; whoever finds an animal of significance gets to name it. No need to wonder why Mr. Tira chose that particular name.
Zebras are native to Africa. They are social animals and live in herds. Zebras can be found in a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, savannas, woodlands, mountains and coastal hills.
Their black and white stripes make them a safari goer’s favorite. No two stripe patterns are alike.
Zebras can rotate their ears 180 degrees, and can turn them separately so that one ear faces front, while the other listens for sounds back of them. They have excellent eye sight, a dangerously strong kick and can run up to 35 miles per hour.
Zebras are very closely related to horses and donkeys. Although they’ve been ridden, they are small, with rather weak backs and cannot support very much weight. They’re much wilder and more aggressive than horses or donkeys, which makes domestication difficult.
Zebra’s are herbivores and can survive for a week without water. Peak birth periods for the Grevy’s are usually July through August, so I should be seeing a few babies when we go on a game drive.
Of the three species of zebra (Plains, Mountain and Grevy’s), both the Plains and Grevy’s reside in Kenya.
The Grevy’s Zebra
Grevy’s Zebras are the largest of the three zebra species. They have short manes and thin stripes that do not go all the way around their stomachs.
Grevy’s Zebras have large, round Mickey Mouse-like ears.
In the late 1800s, Kenya was home to between 20,000 and 30,000 Grevy’s Zebras. In the early 1980s, there were 15,000. Loss of habitat has dwindled their population to less than 2,500, making them one of the most endangered of wild animals.
Ninety percent of Grevy’s are found in Kenya. They are hunted for their striking skins.
The Plains Zebra
The Plains Zebra is the commonest of Africa’s three species and the one familiar to most safari goers.
The Plains Zebra has a striped belly. The stripes on its neck continue onto its mane, which has stiff, erect hairs.
Zebras nibble each other’s mane and neck to reinforce social bonds during mutual grooming.
They live in small family groups consisting of a male (stallion), several females, and their young. These units may combine with others to form awe-inspiring herds thousands of head strong, but family members will remain close within the herd
NAIROBI, Kenya — A white female giraffe and her 7-month-old calf, whose rare pigmentation mesmerized wildlife enthusiasts around the world, were discovered to have been killed by poachers in Kenya on March 11 of this year. Conservationists estimated from the state of the carcasses that the animals had been killed four months ago. This tragedy illustrates the challenges of conservation and the persistent and devastating impact of poaching.
Twiga Nyeupe White Giraffe
With the deaths of the mother and her baby, only one white giraffe is left roaming freely in Kenya’s wild. Mohammed Ahmednoor, conservancy manager in northeastern Kenya, said “We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe.” He added, “This is a very sad day for the community … and Kenya as a whole.”
The killing of the white giraffes highlighted the threats facing these animals. They were most likely killed for their meat and hide.
These imposing creatures look like giraffe ghosts!
With this worldwide pause, a travel ban has been implemented which will restrict hunters from North America to fly to Botswana. Thus, it is possible that the majority of the hunting permits will go unused.
Siobhan Mitchell, UK Director of Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, reported; “We welcome the fact that foreign trophy hunters cannot kill elephants in Botswana, and hope that the government takes the time to reflect on and rethink its deadly strategy towards elephants and shake off this colonial pastime altogether.”
“As our city streets quiet, as people hang back from parks and paths, and the busy noise of daily life recedes, listen for the birds.” David Arnold, President of the Nat’l Audubon Society
Cattle Egret *
The cattle egret has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. It spends most of its time in fields rather than streams. The cattle egret’s breeding plumage highlights its beautiful peach feathers, and it often appears to be wearing spiked topknots. Its legs and feet even change from black to a dramatic orange.
Cattle egrets feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, lizards and earthworms. They forage at the feet of grazing cattle, heads bobbing with each step, or ride on their backs to pick at ticks.
* Why feature the Cattle Egret?
This is the last day of what has turned out to be Elephant Week, and elephants have a special relationship with the cattle egret. The cattle egret, while relieving the elephant of parasites, receives a free meal and a free ride as the elephant walks along. But the egret enjoys this same kind of relationship with a number of different mammals. Elephants, on the other hand, aren’t involved in any other symbiotic relationships except that of the cattle egret. For the elephant, it’s the cattle egret only.
I am thrilled to share with you a new film, released today, which takes you into the heart of our extensive wildlife conservation projects in Kenya.
As a foster parent, you perhaps know us best for our Orphans’ Project, which has over many decades seen us rescue and raise more than 262 orphaned elephants, as well as rhinos, antelopes, giraffes and a plethora of other species. As our orphans gravitate towards a life in the wild once more, keeping them and Kenya’s wild herds safe is of equal importance, ensuring a viable long term future for all.
We are proud to be able to showcase in this film the many indispensable aspects of the SWT’s work, each so important to the whole.
During these unprecedented times for us all, I hope you feel as inspired as we do seeing what we can achieve together. We humans are facing one of our greatest global challenges ever, however, the wild world has been facing challenges created by us for thousands of years and the threats they face are as real today as they were a few months ago.
Despite all that is unfolding, our teams are out there in the field right now, walking with the orphans, flying our planes, patrolling to prevent illegal activity, and seeking out and treating injured animals. You help make all this happen and I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to you all. Your steadfast support is hugely appreciated.
Gardeners of Eden is about the operations of Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust , the vision of its founder Dame Daphne Sheldrick and the dedication of the keepers who raise the orphaned babies. The film covers some of the successes and the tragic losses that occur while trying to save these fragile babies. (Yes, it’s hard to imagine “fragile” as being a descriptive word for an elephant.)
Gardeners of Eden exposes the slaughter of elephants for the valuable ivory they can provide and the reluctance of countries to stop trading in ivory trinkets. There is a plea at the end of the film that goes something like this: “We will either be a witness or the solution to the unfolding of an ecological disaster. What will we say to our grandchildren when they ask us why there are no elephants remaining in the wild? Will they be proud of us when we say it was more important for us to own beautiful things than for beautiful things to roam in spectacular places?”
There is no storybook ending here. These magnificent animals are in serious trouble.
Daphne Sheldrick passed away April 2018. Linger long enough to listen to the closing song during the credits.
The following was taken from a Change.org email dated March 25, 2020
– Welcome to Botswana – Where Rich People Can Kill Elephants
Kenya has banned the practice of trophy hunting. Botswana had formally joined in the ban, but has now chosen to reinstate elephant hunting. Foreign hunters will be allowed to kill 202 of its elephants.
Most of the foreign hunters who go to Africa are from the United States. The average cost for foreign trophy hunters to purchase hunting rights, travel, hire a professional to accompany them and pay for taxidermy is approximately $71,000.
Elephants help support the health of our planet. They spread the seeds from the plants they have eaten, dispersing plant life to other areas. They dig water holes in dry river beds that other animals use as a water source as well as creating trails that serve as fire breakers. Elephants help the local economies through eco-tourism. Eco-tourism is a $2 billion-dollar industry, while reintroducing hunting contributes to only 1.9% of tourism.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has held Crush Ivory Days in various sites over the years.
In Colorado, U.S. officials destroyed more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry — the bulk of the U.S. “blood ivory” stockpile — and urged other nations to follow suit to fight a $10 billion global trade that slaughters tens of thousands of elephants each year.
There are two bills that have been introduced in U.S. Congress (the CECIL and Protect Acts) that will ban trophy hunting imports from crossing American borders. The fate of these bills is unknown at the time of this posting.
Change.org is asking everyone to consider contacting his/her representative in support of these bills.
*facts and images collected from all over the internet
The African Elephant
1. It’s true that elephants never forget (sort of).
Elephants can remember the locations of water holes hundreds of miles apart, and return to them every year. Their brains are very advanced, like humans, dolphins and chimpanzees.
2. African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet. One of the largest known elephants was Jumbo, whose name is thought to be derived from the Swahili word for “boss” or “chief.” He is the reason we now use the word “jumbo” to mean “huge.”
3. Elephants commonly show humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, tool use, playfulness, sharp learning abilities and frustration.
According to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, temper tantrums are common among baby elephants, who are known to throw fits by throwing themselves down into mud when upset.
4. Elephants demonstrate concern for members of their families and take care of weak or injured members of the herd.
They greet each other by hugging with their trunks.
5. No matter what you’ve heard, elephants don’t care much for peanuts.
6. Elephant herds are matriarchal. The oldest female elephant will decide where and when the herd moves and rests, day to day and season to season. She will only leave the group if she dies or is captured. Males leave the herd around the age of 12.
7. Elephants can have babies until the age of 50. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months. Female elephants have been known to induce labour by self-medicating with certain plants.
8. Baby elephants are initially blind and some take to sucking their trunk for comfort in the same way that humans suck their thumbs.
9. Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, joining only humans, apes and dolphins as animals that possess this kind of self-awareness.
10. Elephants are very good swimmers. They move all four legs to swim and use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.
11. As important an appendage as an elephant’s trunk is, it has no bones!
Its trunk, capable of lifting 700 pounds or plucking a single blade of grass, contains over 40,000 muscles, divided into 150,000 individual muscle units.
12. Elephants are herbivores and can spend up to 16-hour days collecting and eating tough, fibrous foods, most of which pass through their bodies undigested. All that undigested fiber can produce as much as 300 pounds of poop each day! Some of the poop can be harvested to help produce sellable products.
13. Elephants are one of a few (possibly the only) animals who can understand human pointing, without any training.
14. The total global elephant population is currently estimated at 650,000, and they are very much in danger of extinction. The main risk to elephants is from humans through poaching and changes to their habitat.
Poachers in Kenya have enjoyed lenient sentences and few have been successfully prosecuted. The global ivory trade was worth an estimated $1 billion over the past decade, with 80% of ivory from illegally killed elephants. The street value of elephant ivory is now greater than gold, running to tens of thousands of dollars per tusk.
Tim, one of the last surviving super tusters, died in Amboseli National Park early last month. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), he died of natural causes. There was evidence that his wild animal friends had tried hard to resurrect him.
Famous for his rare majestic tusks, Tim was a very popular sighting for tourists who visited Amboseli National Park. He was considered an ambassador for his species.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which helped save Tim from a swamp in 2018, sent out a statement saying, “Kenya lost a giant today. Our hearts are heavy as we remember a magnificent elephant who we grew to know and love.”
“Our hearts are broken,” said Wildlife Direct, a Nairobi-based conservation campaign group. “Tim was one of Africa’s very few Super Tuskers, and an incredible elephant whose presence awed and inspired many. He was one of Kenya’s National Treasures.”
Tim was 50 years old. He called the Amboseli ecosystem (which spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border) his home. His body was found not far from the Kimana Gate.
Elephant tusks never stop growing, so enormous tusks are usually a sign of an old elephant. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks. African elephants are referred to as “tuskers” when their tusks grow so long that they reach the ground. Due to poaching, conservationists estimate only a few dozen such animals with tusks that size are now left on the continent.
Tim’s tusks were said to weigh more than 100 lbs each.
Tim’s body was moved to a taxidermist in Nairobi so that it can be preserved for display in the national museum for exhibition and education purposes.
On the 2nd of January, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescued a calf from the Masai Mara. The little female baby was about six months old. They named her Naleku.
After the trauma of losing her mother, followed by the noise and handling necessary for the rescue, Naleku was very restless, and paced her room all night.
The following day she sensed the presence of the other elephants in the Nursery and constantly cried out while pacing in her stable.
Although still weak and a resident for only a single day, the decision was made to let her out with the other orphans.
Naleku was greeted with reassuring trunk cuddles and showered with love and affection. It’s amazing when one considers that the older elephants giving comfort and emotional support are only babies themselves, yet instinctively they know to offer a tender trunk hug.
I adopted Maktao in order to get a closer look at SWT’s elephant babies, in a less crowded setting. I adopted Naleku because I couldn’t resist.