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Browsing: The wild guide

If lions are the ‘king of the jungle’, then leopards have got to be its ‘prince regent’! Powerful, athletic, graceful and stealthy, they are the epitome of an apex predator. Leopards are one of the most adaptable of all cats, having a wider distribution than any other large carnivore. The fact that it is the most common large predator found in southern African fossil deposits, which date back 1-1.8 million years ago, pays tribute to this adaptiveness. The word ‘leopard’ stems from the Greek words leōn (lion) and pardos (panther), and the ancient belief that it is a hybrid of

Given that 21 June was ‘World Giraffe Day’, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to share something about these iconic animals with you. The giraffe – the name is believed to be derived from the Arab word zarafa meaning ‘fast walker’ – has captured the human imagination for millennia. The Roman poet Horace opined that the giraffe’s unique appearance resembled that of a camel with leopard markings, which (together with its Arabic name) gave rise to the scientific title Giraffa camelopardalis. The earliest human association with giraffes is recorded in the 9000-year-old rock carvings of northern Niger.

The Zulu people call the hippopotamus imvubu. As Credo Mutwa has pointed out, “This word has several meanings, one of which has to do with mixing several things in a container… In this sense, the word imvubu means ‘the mixed up creature’, or ‘the creature which is unable to make up its mind what it is’. It behaves like a crocodile, but it looks like a combination of a rhinoceros and an elephant.” Although this is the stuff of legend, a hippo is indeed a unique animal: it is a terrestrial mammal whose closest relatives are whales and dolphins, a

With its coarse dark fur, and long ‘hangdog’ face the Chacma Baboon (Papio ursinus) is an easily recognisable bushveld inhabitant. Less well known is the origin of its name. The word “chacma” is derived from the Khoikhoi name for baboon, choa kamma, possibly onomatopoeic for their barking call; whilst the word baboon is derived from the French babouin, a name given to them by French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (Whew! No wonder he is referred to only as Buffon in most literature!). Modern baboons evolved as a distinct lineage prior to 2.5 mya. However, only with the advent

Following on from last month’s article about the Spotted Hyaena (Crocuta crocuta), I thought I would deal this month with another amazing animal that has also been long misunderstood – the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). “Wild dogs are nomadic animals and can traverse 50km in a single day. As a result, their territories may range anywhere from 400 to 1 500 square kilometres” A distant cousin of the wolf and domestic dog, the wild dog split from the ancestor of other canids two to three million years ago. The Painted Wolf – the other name by which the African

Sociable and smart are not words that usually come to mind when Spotted Hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta) are mentioned. If anything, hyaenas are seen as sneaky and vicious, cringing scavengers that inspire a queasy mixture of fear and disdain. Yet, after spending 20 years studying them, Professor Kay Holekamp from Michigan State University came to view them as “smart, biologically and socially complex, jam-packed with surprises”. Having had the opportunity to observe a den first-hand, I, too, have become fascinated with these multifaceted predators and their unique biology and behaviour. First among their Pandora’s Box of surprises is that although they

Having been privileged enough to spend time with these majestic animals, I can certainly concur with Mitch Reardon’s view that there is indeed something extraordinary about elephants. “There is nothing that reduces us to our proper dimensions more rapidly and completely than spending long periods in the company of elephants. There is something special about them…” Mitch Reardon, Shaping Kruger It is difficult to pinpoint, but perhaps their clear family bonds, the way in which they look after their young and infirm, and the complexity of their communication may go some way to explaining it. Elephant behaviour is multi-faceted, comprising

Coined in 1854, the term ‘Ethology’ refers to the study of the way in which an animal’s habits (its behaviour) are related to its structure and habitat. It is important to note that there is no such thing as typical behaviour, because the typical animal is a mythical beast! However, patterns can be observed, hypotheses devised and tested, and a working interpretation of what an animal is doing obtained. This data can then be extrapolated, to create an accepted ‘normal’ behavioural model for that species. Without doubt, every person who visits a game reserve hopes to spot an African lion

Coined in 1854, the term ‘Ethology’ refers to the study of the way in which an animal’s habits (its behaviour) are related to its structure and habitat. It is important to note that there is no such thing as typical behaviour, because the typical animal is a mythical beast! However, patterns can be observed, hypotheses devised and tested, and a working interpretation of what an animal is doing obtained. This data can then be extrapolated, to create an accepted ‘normal’ behavioural model for that species. Without doubt, every person who visits a game reserve hopes to spot an African lion

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