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Browsing: The wild guide

In last month’s article, we looked at the ingenious adaptations that enable the Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) to survive, and thrive, in its arid savanna home. This month I would like to explore a different type of survival stratagem, namely colour, which is employed by a wide variety of animals you are likely to see in the bush. And we are not talking only about ‘fifty shades of grey’, but also vibrant, bright, ‘out-there’ colours! Many predators search for their prey visually. As a result, numerous prey species have evolved special body colouration to reduce their chances of being eaten. For…

Mention the words ‘survival expert’ and the first name that comes to mind for most people is Bear Grylls or Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Whilst both men have demonstrated remarkable survival skills in extreme conditions, I would dare to suggest that the ultimate survivalists are found in nature. The dictionary defines survival as “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of difficult circumstances or adverse conditions”.  As environments have changed over the millennia, animals and plants have had to adapt to challenging circumstances; and nowhere more so than in the arid savanna. The Kalahari, a…

In the next of our ‘often seen but largely under-appreciated’ group of animals, I would like to share with you something of the singularity and amazing environmental adaptation of ‘horses in striped pyjamas’.  So convinced was I as a child that zebras were indeed horses in striped pyjamas, that I recall asking my mother why they were allowed to stay in their pyjamas all day but I was not! To my five-year-old mind, this seemed grossly unfair. An answer, if there was one forthcoming, is lost in the mists of time, and the etiquette of attire for zebras and me…

Warthogs are African members of the pig family (Suidae), famous for their long, upcurved tusks and facial ‘warts’. The term wart is something of a misnomer, however, as these protuberances are actually thick pads designed to offer protection – mainly to the eyes – and most especially during sparring between males. Boars have three pairs, but sows have only two pairs, lacking the set situated on the sides of the jaw in males.   For much of the 20th century, it was widely thought that all extant warthogs belonged to the same variable species (Phacochoerus aethiopicus). However, in recent decades we have been…

This month, I would like to start a series of articles focusing on animals that are frequently overlooked because they are so often seen. Oxymoron? Indeed. True? In my opinion, definitely. Let me explain… With their shiny rust-coloured coats and long slender legs, Impala (Aepyceros melampus) are amongst the most graceful and beautiful of antelope − yet they are rarely given a second glance. The reason? Because they are ‘common’. Despite their obvious abundance, they are unique enough to be classified in a tribe of their own, the Aepycerotini; and are the only extant representative of the genus Aepyceros −…

Such a small word, and yet one which has had significant impact on scientific discoveries through the ages. Indeed, just such a question led to the discovery of the planet Neptune, before it was ever observed!  As bizarre as this may sound, it was unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus that led astronomer Alexis Bouvard to ask why these fluctuations were occurring.  He hypothesised that they were due to the gravitational effects of an “as yet unknown planet”. In 1846, Urbain Le Verrier, (another astronomer) used mathematics rather than empirical observation to prove that the perturbations in Uranus’ orbit…

This month, I would like to take you on a journey ranging from several hundred million years ago to the present day. Although this may seem like a strangely ambitious and long safari, I promise it is one worth taking. Our safari begins in what is now the Karoo, but 265 million years ago when rivers were depositing sediment into a shrinking inland sea. As these rivers filled the basin with sediment, eventually giving rise to a group of rocks known as the Beaufort Group, they entombed the remains of the animals that lived around them. It is in within…

As humans seek ever more urgently for ways to go faster, operate more efficiently, and work with greater resourcefulness, we are slowly coming to realise that many of the problems we are grappling with have already been solved. Nature has billions of years of research and development invested in her designs, so it seems only logical that we (Homo sapiens), with a mere 200 000 years of knowledge and skill to our name, should look to her for direction. The discipline of biomimicry (from Greek bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning imitation) seeks to create solutions to human challenges by…

Mention the word scales and most of us cast a furtive look in the direction of the bedroom cupboard where the dreaded machine is stored… surely that triple chocolate sundae couldn’t have been that bad! So, you ask, what does this have to do with nature and the environment? The answer: nothing! As is the case with so much of the English language, this is a classic example of one word having incredibly disparate meanings. The scales that I am referring to have nothing to do with weight measurement, and everything to do with water-proofing, protection, movement, thermo-regulation and camouflage.…

As designers of high fashion prepare their 2018 collections for the catwalks of New York, London, Milan and Paris, the African savanna presents its own unique designs through a very different catwalk display. Enter lion, (Panthera leo), leopard, (Panthera pardus) and cheetah (Acionyx jubatus) – Africa’s large cats. “The divide between large and small cats – Panthera and Felis – has more to do with the ability to purr than with size or behaviour”With its tawny coat, regal mane and piercing golden eyes, a lion is indeed a creature of beauty. Long revered, (and even worshipped by some), its ascendency as the…

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