Here one of the five thousand black rhinos left in the wild in Southern Africa enjoys a green grassland bounty produced by mid-summer rains. This rhino seems to have had a mud bath recently – a behaviour which helps rhinos to cool down and discourage ectoparasites. Usually a group of rhinos is referred to as a ‘herd’, but they can also be described as a ‘crash’ of rhinos – a phrase very descriptive of a rhino charging through the bush, which they can do at a speed of up to 56 kilometres per hour.
Seeing a samango monkey in the wild is quite a rare and magical experience. They are similar in looks to the ubiquitous vervet monkey, although their fur is more luxuriant and velvety. These monkeys tend to confine themselves to evergreen indigenous montane and coastal forests, so samango monkey sightings are usually augured by their strange cries and rustling jumps in forest canopies.
Entomologists speculate that the spines on this gorgeous little spider are meant to deter predators, but their function is not truly known. This one’s well-developed spines suggest that it is probably female as males tend to be smaller and have reduced spines. Often called Kite Spiders because of the flamboyant shape of their exoskeletons, they are found in tropical areas and along the southern coast of South Africa. They make very pretty, fine, concentric webs that occasionally end up on hiker’s faces.
Rhinos use their horns to dig for water, break branches and defend their calves and territory. During the past few years it has become almost impossible to look at a handsome pair of rhino horns without thinking of the scourge of poaching. Although rhino horn is made of keratin (the protein found in hair and nails) it is in high demand in Vietnam as a cancer and hangover cure and an aphrodisiac. More than two thousand rhinos were poached in Southern Africa in 2014 and 2015 to meet this demand - a heart-breaking average of one rhino seven hours.
The hornbill is known to the Zulu people as ‘umkholwane’, the believer. According to the traditional healer Credo Mutwa, this name comes from this bird’s tendency to stare at the heavens. The hornbill struggles to see past its large beak and its distinctive canny stare is therefore quite noticeable and comical. The hornbill uses its beak like a pair of forceps, extracting spiders, scorpions and small insects from the crannies they reside in.
African Sacred Ibis perching on the rocks in Betty's Bay, Overberg. These birds have a varied diet that includes everything from bird and crocodile eggs to carrion and offal. They are widespread in Africa, occur naturally in some parts of the Middle East and Madagascar, and have been introduced in parts of Europe, Taiwan and the USA. They are called the Sacred Ibis because they were venerated by the Ancient Egyptians who associated this bird with the god Thoth - the maintainer of the universe and arbiter of disputes between deities.
If a brilliant sunset were turned into a bird it might look something like this African Pygmy Kingfisher. This is the smallest of the southern African kingfishers, and it has a thin, squeaky voice that matches its diminutive stature. The tiny droplets of water glinting on this bird’s feathers suggest a recent fishing expedition. The Pygmy Kingfisher’s main prey is frogs, lizards, insects, crustaceans and spiders.
think we can all imagine what bliss a bare branch at a convenient height might represent to an itchy giraffe. If you can’t, this picture says it all. If there isn’t an Oxpecker bird in the area, this is pretty much the only way giraffes can get relief from worrisome parasites. The giraffe’s Latin name Camelopardalis derives from a combination of the names camelus (camel) and pardus (leopard), as it was once thought that giraffes were a mix of these two animals.
The Greater Double-collared Sunbird is often found flitting around Cape Honeysuckle plants like this one. Their beaks are perfectly designed to reach down the neck of these flowers to sip nectar. Greater Double-collared Sunbirds frequently make use of spiders - both as a snack and for building supplies. These birds are adept at plucking spiders from their webs and they also use spider-webs to make their nests.
A Barn Swallow huddles on a barbed-wire fence in wet weather. There are populations of these swallows all over the world, and they are commonly seen in Southern Africa during the summer months. The Barn Swallow in this photograph doesn’t really look game for an adventure, but this little bird is capable of flying 12 000 kilometres in 34 days to ensure that it enjoys an endless summer.
A young female giraffe nibbles on a thorny bush. Giraffes are often seen as animals that are distinctly African, and these days they are, but this wasn’t always the case. Variations on the theme of the giraffe existed all over the world, although their horns differed and were sometimes quite ornate. Fossilised ancestors of the giraffe have of course been found in Africa, but also in many locations in Europe, the Middle East and Eurasia.
Go ahead ... make my day … a Knysna Woodpecker and a tree squirrel face off over branch space. This particularly handsome Knysna Woodpecker is probably hunting for a lunch of ants or wood-boring beetle larvae, or perhaps guarding its nest. The dense, pretty black and white patterns on this bird’s breast distinguish it from the Goldentailed Woodpecker.
The hard point at which the horns of an African buffalo fuse together is known as a boss. The size and thickness of the grizzled boss of this rather intimidating bovine indicate that is he definitely male. In the USA the phrase ‘it’s all about the Benjamins’ refers to the fact that Benjamin Franklin’s face graces the $100 bill. In South Africa, it was ‘all about the Buffalos’ since, until recently, the South African R100 note featured the bust of a cantankerous buffalo very similar to this one.
A Half-collared Kingfisher looking bright and beady-eyed. During breeding season this kingfisher’s lapis lazuli feathers are at the height of their splendour. A breeding pair will tunnel 60cm into a river bank to make their nest and line it with a somewhat gory layer of fish bones. Sixteen days after being laid, their glossy white eggs crack open and some small sticky bundles of incessant hunger will emerge. A month later, after lots of feeding from both mom and dad, the chicks fledge.
Somewhere in the world there must be a yoga pose called ‘the itchy primate’, and it probably looks something like this. Baboons are extremely limber and spend a good deal of their day scratching and grooming. Their itches are predominantly caused by dead skin, insects, ectoparasites, leaves, dirt and twigs, most of which make for a lovely snack during the social grooming sessions that are essential to a baboon’s day.
African Stonechats are quite common throughout most of South Africa, except in the north-western areas. They tend to be seen in grassland, scrub or wetland areas rather than in gardens or forests. These stonechats love the sunlight and are often to be seen perched in the open on twigs like this one, or on fences. They are striking little birds and it is always a pleasure to see them chattering and foraging in the veld.