More wild life in South Africa
A recent article took us gazing at various animals in South Africa but so many are seen throughout the country so let us get closer to some more bush wildlife!
Anyone living in the 21st century in industrialized country has heard of Pumbaa the warthog but fewer have met the real guy. But what is a warthog now? Going by the scientific name of ‘Phacochoerus africanus’ (which by the way gave ‘phacochére’ in French, another useful knowledge for dinner conversations), this animal, found only in Africa is related to pigs as being part of the Suidae family, hence an omnivorous mammal. An adult can be one meter long and weight over 100kg, mostly bones and muscles! And do not be deterred, this mass is rapid; a Pumbaa can run as fast as fifty kilometers an hour so watch out.
Its nickname comes from protective bumps scattered on the face which make the poor guy look like full of warts…This shield comes with more offensive weapons in the form of four sharp tusks, designed for fighting and certainly not to dig the soil as some people think. Anyway, all this war-like paraphernalia is mostly for security, the warthog is a rather peaceful grazer which will enjoy grass, various plants, bulbs and roots which are dug using its efficient snout. Insects, larvae, eggs can also be eaten as well as corpses. This seemingly ugly beast enjoys bathing in water but also frolics happily in mud for cooling off as well as enjoying the bug repellent effects. Warthogs live in savannahs, meadows, open forests, humid and wet areas, in groups of five to fifteen animals. They can fall prey to lions, hyenas, African wild dogs, lions while youngsters are hunted by eagles and jackals. Clever and fast, those animals are well adapted to shifting environments thus poorly affected by modern changes and are therefore not considered endangered.
Monkeys are of course unique for us people as they often seem to be human! There are one hundred forty-seven different species of monkeys worldwide, from gorillas to bonobos and baboons but let me focus here on the vervet monkey or grivet. Also known as green monkey, Chlorocebus pygerythrus is found in Eastern Africa in savannahs and deciduous forests, a small species some forty to sixty centimeters long (the tail is often longer than the body!) with a weight between four and six kilos. The hair is grey-green, lighter on the underside, paws and heads are black with lighter hairs on forehead and cheeks which give the vervet a special look, like if carrying a mask.
Arms and legs are roughly of the same length which gives this monkey good running capabilities in order to escape felines, large reptiles and crocodiles. And not only is he a very good and fast climber, but also a gifted swimmer. Nights are spent high up trees where they remain quite safe, days are busy gathering food and water, eating, grooming (a lot of grooming, actually!) and having a happy monkey life which span can be of twenty five years. Groups vary between five and seventy individuals, diet is of the omnivorous kind, fruits, vegetables, small mammals, insects and birds will make it. Hunted by men for bush meat and skin it is also killed when foraging excessively through crops and also abducted to be turned into pet.
Back to some larger guy now, the blue wildebeest aka common wildebeest or brindled gnu (Connochaetes taurinus). It is found on a large territory spreading from Kenya and Tanzania through Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. It prefers short-grass plains, acacia savannahs, open bush lands and woodlands, in areas not too dry nor too wet. This large antelope has a long and broad muzzle and horns similar to cows; it is famous for assembling in very large herds for migrating. The hair is silvery bluish, (hence one of its common names), with vertical black stripes on the forequarters while the front of the face, the mane and tail are black. The long beard is black or white depending on the different five sub-species features. Males can reach three hundred kilos in weight while female are two hundred sixty, both sexes carry horns. This animal is a grazer but also needs enough water to get by; in harsh areas such as the Kalahari desert it will get extra supply of water by eating wild melons and tubers or roots which retain water. Although populations are still strong they do suffer from human activities such as cattle raising, hunting and poaching, fences which block migrating and territory shrinking
Last but not least
Our last animal is poorly considered as it crawls on the ground carrying dung balls from one place to another though we are to see here that the job has to be done! Those dung beetles are scarabs which number around five thousand species, found on all continents except Antarctica. As the name implies they use animal dung for life support and therefore play a very important role in environment regulation. Fresh dung, preferably produced by herbivorous mammals, is rolled into small balls (which may anyhow weight as much as fifty times the beetle itself!) and pushed for some distance until set in a hole of the soil. The purpose is to make a nest for the larva to come which feed purely on dung. By the way, those insects are amongst the very rare ones to have parental concerns, taking care of the young ones. But not all of those bugs are ‘rollers’, some are ‘dwellers’ which means that they will dig a tunnel underneath a heap of droppings in order to lay eggs while a third category called ‘tunnelers’ will bury the thing on the spot where they find it. And to complete this dwarf society we also have the ‘stealers’ which will take the already prepared ball from ‘rollers’.
The ecological impact of this poo removing is double; on one hand the beetles do remove animal droppings hence reducing smell and flies and on the other hand they distribute this highly energetically food for plants all over the place. At some moment in its history Australia had to import huge amounts of those little garbage managers in order to fight massive invasions of flies due to the amazing amount of sheep and cattle poo, with a very effective result. The thing is that those guys are fussy on food and specialize in one kind of dung, so the Australian beetles would happily go for kangaroo droppings but had no interest whatsoever for horses, sheep and cattle which produced stuff out of their usual taste range. If this was not enough strange behavior, the nocturnal African dung beetle (Scarabaeus satyrus) is the only known insect to use the Milky Way to navigate and orient itself, quite sophisticated for a dung eater I would say.
This was another glimpse into South African fauna; make sure to meet me again at my hut’s door to learn about birds from this part of the world in a next article.