Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Close Encounter With A Hippo

Guest Post by Jade Scully

Jade Scully is a copywriter, blogger and online marketing enthusiast who has published her work on a series of online publications and websites including Leeulekker who provide a range of travel and touring information for southern Africa travelers.

When I was much younger I spent some time in Zimbabwe with my mother and family. We lived in Harare, but would often go on camping trips to Lake Kariba, or stay on a house boat. These were my favorite times as we were pretty much living in the bush, staying in tents, with no city smog and noise to disturb the peace, and my cousins and I could roam free, playing in the grass, swimming in the rivers and lake – it really makes up one of the best memories I’ve got.

It was on one of these summer holiday trips that my mom and I had a close call with a Hippo.

Swimming Hippo

We would swim in the river every day, while someone stood lookout on the high banks, watching for crocodiles. If there ever was a croc-scare we’d all run straight out of the water, squealing with anxious excitement, to the safety of the ground. Fortunately no-one ever came up close and personal with a smiley croc.

One night, it must have been really late or even early morning, I woke my mother up asking her to take me to the toilet. I really couldn’t keep it in so reluctantly my mom clambered out of the tent, with me close behind her, into the dark night.

I immediately sensed a massive being to my left, and turned towards it. My eyes had not adjusted so all I could see was blackness but insistently I whispered to my mom “there’s a hippo right there”. When I mean “right there” I mean “right there”. We had set up our tent close to another couple’s spot, so there wasn’t too much space between us – maybe a couple paces. But my mother, in her exhausted stupor waved away my frantic insistence and we began making our way to the block of loos. All the while we were walking the hairs on the back of my little neck were on end.

I sighed relief as we reached the toilet building and happily did my business before realizing we’d have to go back. Though, as my mother wasn’t too fazed I relaxed a little and we nonchalantly walked back to our tent, unzipped the entrance and climbed back into the warmth without a worry in the world. Perhaps I had been mistaken.

But I wasn’t. The next morning as we approached the breakfast area we saw the couple who were staying in the tent next to ours. They had bags under their eyes and shocked looks on their faces.

“Did you not hear the Hippo last night!?” they asked us.

My mom hesitated. “No”, she replied, “what do you mean?”

“Last night, there was a hippo grazing right between out tents for hours. We were petrified.”

My mom looked at me in surprise – I really had been right.

Grazing Hippo

It’s a story we’ve told many times over – without even knowing it my mother and I walked past an adult hippo grazing next to our tent without even batting an eyelid! And considering the bad rap they have with some people, we’re lucky he (or she) was in a good mood that night!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Water In Africa

On the 15th of October bloggers from around the world will be posting for Blog Action Day

This year the theme is water, which having lived on deserts for so many years is close to my heart.

I'll be blogging over at my personal blog, on the topic on Sunday.

Africa is the world's second driest continent, and one of the largest water systems, the Congo drainage, occurs where there are relatively few people. Droughts are as much what one envisages when you think of 'Africa' as Lions and sunset cocktails.

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Are you taking part - water is one of the worlds massive problems, but there is so much that can be done, and a lot of it starts with raising an awareness of water - do your bit, register your blog and take part.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Support the WWF Rhino Campaign

I remember well my first close up encounter with rhino. It was in Meru National Park in Kenya. I can't remember exactly what year it was - early 1980s. The park then was a rather wild place and we enjoyed visiting it. It was on our way up north to where we lived.

Rhino Skull

Meru had a bunch of white rhino that had been re-introduced and they were watched 24/7 by guards. At the time visitors were allowed to go out for a walk with the guards and the rhino. As big an event as it was, I can't actually remember the details. I'm not sure if we actually walked with them or just spent a little time with the? Whatever, I have a clear picture in my mind of that day, a bunch of guards with their rifles, and the white rhino.

We went back to school and carried on. But later on we heard that the rhino had been shot. The poachers had Ak-47s and RPG-7s. The guards with their bolt-action rifles didn't stand a chance. RPGs were so easy to come by from Somalia that guys were buying them in exchange for food when there were droughts in southern Somalia. Some Rhino were actually shot with RPGs - AK-47s just aren't hunting rifles.

Some of you may remember better than me, but I believe that at that time, that incident was the end of White Rhino in Kenya. I certainly didn't see any more of them.

That, at the age of about 10 was my introduction to the story of rhino, and for a little kid to have actually seen rhino that were shot in such a gruesome way, it was something that would stay with me.

Since then the conservation effort for Rhinos have come a long way and has had so much press that it has become a little boring. I honestly seldom read the "Save the Rhino" articles anymore - same old same old.

But, of course, to the rhinos the story isn't so boring.  Rhino poaching hasn't gone away.  It hasn't even changed that much.  There is a very real battle still going on.  Some may argue that Rhino are in a natural dying stage of their evolution cycle?  I can't comment on that.  But if we simply let Rhino die, what about whales, what about turtles.  I know, you have heard this so often, but we really are at a point where we can do something concrete about these things.

Interested in doing your bit?  Visit the WWF South Africa Rhino Campaign web page and learn a little more about what you can do towards saving Rhino.  WWF is going to have a Save the Rhino day on the 22nd of September, and asking everyone to:

On 22 September, RHINO DAY, WWF calls on all concerned citizens of the world to dust off their vuvuzelas, toot their horns and to make as much noise as possible, at 1pm, as a symbolic act to send a powerful message to leaders that the time to take serious and effective action against rhino poaching is now.

You can also join the Help our Rhino (HORN) cause.

In May I was in Etosha and spent a night at Okaukuejo. At the waterhole we had one white rhino and we all lost count of the black rhino that came to drink. It was special, though that is still common at Okaukuejo.

I had the chance as a student at Addo Elephant National park to see a little of the effort first hand, where Black Rhino from zoos were being re-introduced to the wild. It all takes money and money that is all wasted if someone just goes and shoots them.

Ongava Black Rhino At Night

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Guest post - Battle to the Death

Friends of mine sent me this amazing story.  Copyright for the images and story remain with the author, James Crookes.

Note, the story and images are a little violent!

Battle to the Death

James Crookes [his blog]

One of the joys of living in the bush is that the most amazing sightings tend to
happen at the most unexpected times and often in the most unexpected places.
On the way back from breakfast, walking through the staff village, I noticed two
birds rolling around on the ground outside one of the rangers’ rooms. They were
obviously having some sort of altercation, so, with a sense of amusement, I
decided to stop and watch them for what I expected to be a couple of seconds of
interaction before going their separate ways. What unfolded was much more
serious than I could ever have expected and it turned out that the birds were
engaged in mortal combat. What developed turned out to be the most gruesome
scene I have witnessed in my time in the bush and, my sense of amusement
quickly changed to one of astonishment.

As I moved closer I noticed that the birds were both bearded scrub-robins
(Cercotrichas quadrivirgata), which are monogamous and are known to be
territorial throughout the year. By definition, a territory will be defended against
members of the same species, with the extent of the territoriality depending on
factors such as the availability of food, population densities and habitat.
Although there is no sexual dimorphism in this species, based on their behaviour,
I concluded that this was a territorial battle between two males. I expected that
at worst, the territorial male would have engaged the other male, shown him
who is boss in the area being defended, and left him to lick his wounds in
someone else’s territory. After all, these territorial disputes put both parties at
risk as the aggressor also faces a risk of being injured during the course of the
altercation, so it is in both parties’ interest to settle the dispute with as little
physical interaction as possible. The dominant bearded scrub-robin in this
territory, however, obviously had a different idea.

Early on in the battle, one bird clearly dominating the other

I’m not sure how long the fight had been going on for when I arrived, but at that
stage, although one of the birds was clearly dominating, both were putting up a
fight and, amidst a lot of wing flapping, they were rolling around on the floor.
Both seemed to be trying to peck each other, but one of the birds had a good
grip on the other’s leg, so was able to dominate him. As time went by, I noticed
that the dominant scrub-robin was making a distinct effort to peck the other,
which by this stage almost seemed submissive, on his nape and the back of his
head. This continued for a couple of minutes, after which the other bird, clearly
having sustained some injuries, was completely submissive. My expectation was
that the dominant scrub-robin, clearly the victor, would now have left the scene
and carried on with his daily foraging. This, however, was not to be.

The birds engaged in battle, fighting for survival

By now a reasonable crowd had gathered, all with the same sense of
astonishment, to witness this epic battle. Some suggested that one of the scrub-
robins had obviously come home that morning to find the other in bed with his
partner and was now teaching him a lesson. This anthropomorphic idea seems to
be the only logical explanation for what was taking place. Just as we were
discussing this, we noticed a third bearded scrub-robin enter the fray. Our
assumption was that this was the ‘offending’ female, as she stayed on the
outskirts and watched for a couple of minutes, before hopping off to carry on
with her daily activities.
All this time, without paying any attention to either the third scrub-robin or any
of us, the dominant male continued to peck at the other bird’s head and, after a
while, had pecked out the eyes and plucked off the majority of the feathers. This
took the scene to a new level and it was now obvious that the dominant male
wouldn’t stop until the other bird was dead. At this stage there was the odd
whispered suggestion that we chase the scrub-robin away to give the other a
chance of survival, however one needs to bear in mind that we are in nature and
that this is a manifestation of the idea of the survival of the fittest. We are in a
world where there is more than enough human interference and although this
may appear cruel and gory, it likely happens all around us without us even
knowing. Being able to view this sort of interaction is a privilege and enables us
to gain an invaluable insight into the behavior of these animals. Although
sometimes tempting and I must admit, it was a thought that went through my
head early on in this battle, it is best not to interfere and let nature take its

The aggressor with a good grip from which to continue his attack, having plucked most of the head feathers.

After about 45 minutes the battle continued and by this stage we were convinced
that the targeted bird was on death’s doorstep, but miraculously, every couple of
minutes he would writhe, bringing about more aggression from his attacker. His
scalp was exposed and bleeding and the attacker continued to pluck flesh from
his head. The level of aggression was so pronounced that the attacker appeared
to have blood splatter on his otherwise clean belly and chest.

The head and scalp had clearly taken a beating to expose this gory scene.

The Bearded scrub-robin’s chest, showing evidence of blood splatter after the gruesome battle

Finally, in a dramatic scene after a valiant defense, the injured bird extended its
wings, raised its tail and took its last breath. This epic battle had lasted just over
an hour.

Amazingly, the victor continued to peck away at the deceased’s head for a
couple of minutes, even though it was clearly dead. Eventually he decided he
had achieved his goal. He lifted his head, had a look around, and hopped off as
though nothing much had happened, carrying on with his foraging in the leaf
litter surrounding the scene of the battle.

 The end result of the attack. After a valiant effort, the loser finally took his last breath

This interaction caused me to look at the bearded scrub-robin with new eyes.
What had always been, to me, a pretty bird, with a cheerful whistling call, has
exposed a different side to its nature, one that rivals the most aggressive and
savage I have seen in any animal of the African bushveld.

James Crookes
Trainee Guide
Singita Game Reserve