A nyala dominance display
As a field guide, spending time with wild animals and observing their behaviour is always special, no matter their species or size. One animal that has always fascinated me is the nyala. Nyala bulls in particular have a very interesting way of asserting their dominance, and we happened to come across two bulls in full display while out on a recent drive.
‘’What are they doing?’’ my guests asked, understandably intrigued by the long fringe of hair standing to attention along each animal’s back.
“They’ve got goosebumps”, I replied, causing a few laughs, but went on to explain that the technical term is ‘piloerection’. Dominant males raise their long, dorsal hair-fringe and lift their fluffed up tails over their rumps, exposing the maximum amount of white colouring in order to appear larger. Unlike giraffes and many other herbivores that fight each other for territory or females, nyala bulls that perform this full-out display almost always win without coming to blows.
Piloerection can be seen on impalas as well, but not as a display of dominance. On cold mornings you’ll see them lift the hairs all over their bodies to trap a layer of heat while they wait for the day to warm up.
Like most of the guides here at Kapama, I’ll never get tired of sharing sightings of interesting animal behaviour like this with my guests.
Written by: Chane Blignaut
A bit of bushveld comedy
A number of days ago while out on safari, my guests and I spent a few moments enjoying a sighting of a spectacular giraffe bull picking away the tiny tasty leaves from a very thorny Acacia-tree with his long and dexterous tongue. Beside him, swooping back and forth from perch to perch around him, a fork-tailed drongo quickly took center stage.
These little black birds have discovered that it is far easier and energy-efficient to follow larger animals than to actively search for food themselves, so they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with many herbivores, tagging along as they move through the bush and catching the insects they flush out.
This feisty fork-tailed drongo dipped and hovered from perch to perch, pausing between swoops to watch for his next treat. He was so intent on catching insects that he didn’t notice the giraffe’s big tail swishing to and fro, so as he took off towards his intended target he met the hard flick of a hairy tail coming the other way.
He didn’t seem to know what had hit him! Stunned, he floated very slowly to a nearby branch to gather himself. Unaware of the accident he had just caused, the giraffe carried on nonchalantly through the trees, munching leaves and disturbing more insects his poor sidekick was too dazed to notice.
Despite feeling a quite sorry for our little drongo, and even after all the sightings of much bigger, more charismatic animals, the comical moment with this mismatched pair was easily the highlight of my guests’ trip.
Written by: Garry Bruce
Kapama Southern Camp
Even mongooses love sunbathing
When you think of an African safari you can’t help but think of the heat. Out here in the South African Lowveld, however, winter mornings and evenings can be bitterly chilly.
On one such morning, just as the sun was rising and the air was warming up, my guests and I noticed movement on a tall dead tree. Naturally, we stopped to have a good look with our binoculars.
It was a band of dwarf mongooses scrambling up and down the tree, searching for the best spot in the sun. These adorable little creatures had just emerged from their cosy den in an old termite mound at the base of the tree, and their antics in the bare branches above were their way of warming up after a freezing night for a day of hunting for insects, eggs, and lizards.
These beady-eyed, sociable creatures are cute and entertaining at the best of times, but on this morning as we sat curled up in the vehicle much as they were in the tree, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from their cuddling, grooming, and tumbling play.
Smiling, we left this little band of sun worshippers to their sun-loving ways.
Written by: Mark Burns
Hippos love water, but we think they especially love showing off to their audience at Kapama Wellness Centre. The resident hippos grunt, groan, roar and wheeze throughout the day, sometimes opening their mouths wide and baring their teeth in a territorial display before striking the water, creating a big splash. Days would seem very quiet without them, so these displays always make us therapists smile during treatments.
Truly spectacular is the sight of elephants at play, especially in the water or in the mud at the edge of the dam. A herd visited a couple of weeks ago and we watched as one elephant disappeared completely under the water before resurfacing again and showering its body with water from its trunk.
Hippos and elephants aren’t the only animals passing through the centre. Occasionally, a couple of naughty nyala sneak in to nibble on our succulents. It’s difficult to chase such beautiful animals away, especially when they’re so clearly enjoying the moist fleshiness that’s hard to come by in winter months. Instead, we gather the guests and enjoy watching these gentle antelope together.
Our most unusual visitor so far wasn’t quite as welcome as the others. Not long ago, our assistant manager, Lalene van Zyl, heard something drop from the roof right behind her. When she turned and stared into the dazed eyes of a snake, she broke all land-speed records in her rush to leave the room. After catching her breath and steeling herself for whatever she might find, she crept back in and found a non-deadly (and quite beautiful) spotted bush snake and a lizard lying on the floor. The snake hasn’t been seen since, so we can only assume he was as traumatized as she was. Thank goodness it wasn’t Kinty or one of our other non-snake loving ladies at reception that day – we’d have lost their magic hands for good!