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Browsing: The wild guide

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by puzzles. Both those that you solve on paper, and those that involve fitting pieces together to create the complete picture. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to the greatest jigsaw puzzle of them all – nature. Everything in nature is interconnected, and even though some pieces might take us longer to slot into place than others, eventually the sum of the parts equals the whole. So often when we are out in the bush, in our haste to see as much as we can, we just

Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) are the most widespread of the African monkeys; occurring from the Ethiopian Rift Valley, highlands east of the Rift, and southern Somalia, through the eastern lowlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia (east of the Luangwa Valley), Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and all nine provinces in South Africa. Like the Impala (Aepyceros melampus) of a previous article, vervets are often overlooked because they are so ubiquitous. Yet they are fascinating animals and certainly worthy of a second look. The origin of the name ‘vervet’ is unclear; perhaps a shortening of two French words ‘vert grivet’ meaning

Despite a high diversity of small carnivores in Africa, little is known about their ecology and their role as primary and secondary consumers. This is partly due to our general focus on what I like to call the ‘hairies and scaries’ – those large and charismatic animals that possess features such as tusks, horns, or very large teeth! We often overlook the smaller, and often nocturnal, predators which also play a crucial rule in ecosystem functioning. In this article, I would like to focus on one group of these small carnivores, in particular, the genets. Members of the genus Genetta

“And though they be but little, they are fierce…” (William Shakespeare) Story by Lorraine Doyle Although this is a cheeky misquote from Shakespeare’s a Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is so apt when applied to the subject of this month’s article – the Dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula). What this southern African small carnivore might lack in stature, it surely makes up for in attitude! A Dwarf mongoose weighs between 210-350g on average, with a maximum shoulder height of about 7.5cm and a total length (including their tail) of 35-40cm. The Dwarf mongoose is the smallest of the family Herpestidae (derived from

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

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