Like many baby boomers I loved watching animal programs growing up – Wild Kingdom, Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, etc and have continued this fascination with wildlife viewing series on Nat Geo, Discovery and Animal Planet.i also had the advantage of having a grandma that lived a few blocks away from the Bronx Zoo. On many weekends my mother and Grandma Pauline cooked a delicious multi-course meal while my father, brother and I pre-worked off the calories by walking many miles after being left off on the far side by the zoo’s trolley. Not only did I feed my favorite mountain goats each time I went, but also started on my photography “career” at the zoo:
Between my frequent visits to the Bronx Zoo, along with trips to the Museum of Natural History and the aforementioned nature television program viewing, I have always felt that I have a wide knowledge of this diverse animal world.
That is, until I went to Africa.
In Kenya and Tanzania I was thrilled to see up close and personal:
THE BIG FIVE GAME:
There are also other big favorites:
And of course, the beautiful and graceful:
However, there are so many more species and while I did recognize a few here and there, many of the animals I “met” during this journey were totally new discoveries for me. See which of the following creatures you recognize.
First, did you know that along with the BIG FIVE there is the LITTLE FIVE? This group includes mammals, reptiles, insects and birds that have namesakes of the dangerous Big Five.
1. BUFFALO WEAVER – social birds that nest in open loose colonies. Their nests are oblong thorn structures with side entrances facing different directions. They are quite territorial and have no fear of humans – as I quickly learned from the white-faced buffalo weaver colony that raucously screamed at me when ever I entered or left my Sanctuary Swala tent:
There are also the Black Buffalo Weavers that ride the Cape Buffalo, eating the insects off their backs:
2. LEOPARD TORTOISE – approximately 2 feet long, it is the biggest turtle in Africa. It weighs 50 to 100 lbs. Its name comes from the color of its shell. We saw a youngster crossing the road:
3. ANT LION – not an ant or a lion but rather an insect also known as a doodle bug – but it is a fierce predator of ants – this is its larval stage:
4. ELEPHANT SHREW – a rather cute looking tiny mammal that isn’t actually related to a shrew . Originally classified due to their physical similarities to shrews, in the late 1990s due to the results of genetic mapping scientists learned that the elephant shrew sprang from a branch of the tree that houses the aardvark, manatee, and elephant. There is a closer and more surprising elephant relative that I will introduce you to in a moment:
5. RHINOCEROS BEETLE – Just. No:
I am quite glad I did NOT run into the ant lion or the rhinoceros beetle, though I would have like to have seen the elephant shrew. I can barely look at the pics of the insects without my skin crawling – ewww.
While I didn’t get to see the beetle, shrew or ant lion during my journey they were known to me beforehand. Nevertheless, my knowledge ego did experience an epiphany with a multitude of unfamiliar animals and I can humbly say I still have lots to discover – and that is wonderful.
Here are a few of my “findings:”
SECRETARY BIRD – It is a bird of prey, but unlike other raptors it has long legs, wings and a tail. The bird gets its name from its crest of about 20 black tipped long feathers that look like the quill pens 19th century office workers used to tuck behind their ears. It is also said that its dark feathers that cover the upper part of their long legs look like the breeches also worn at the time. Secretary birds eat snakes, reptiles, amphibians, tortoises, rats and other small mammals as well as young game birds.
GERENUK – This impossibly pretty gazelle is very rare and its long neck gives it its nickname: “giraffe gazelle.” It is also unusual in that it can stand erect on its hinds legs while grazing.
DIK-DIK – This is the tiniest antelope with the biggest eyes I have ever seen. The males have short, spiky horns. They live singly, or in pairs and they mate for life and fiercely protect their territories.
For those who follow me on Instagram, you know I posted a “What is it?” pic last week:
This is a hartebeest, a medium-sized antelope with a very long and pointed face. Both male and female hartebeest have horns which curve forward and backward. Hartebeest are related to the topi – an antelope that looks like a compliation of a few different animals:
and the wildebeest:
And here is my new favorite:
Now this little fellow is FASCINATING. Despite looking like a large rat or gopher, this mammal is actually the closest living relative of the ELEPHANT! Allow my inner science geek to give a brief discourse, starting with another family tree:
The order that includes the hyrax has fossils dating back 37 million years ago. Some were tiny, mouse sized creatures. Others grew to be the size of a small horse. Some took to the water and that group gave rise to both the elephant, manatee and dugong.
This group’s common traits include: toenails and thin-skinned pads on their feet. excellent hearing – and a great memory. They also live in herds with a very well-defined social structure that includes more than one male. These social herds have a complex collection of vocalizations – a sort of communication language. And these “songs” often have regional “dialects!”
It was the dialect of the hyraxes living by our tent that sealed the deal for me. While I couldn’t find online exactly the same sound uttered by my neighbors. these two below are pretty close. Imagine hearing this in the middle of a dark night (turn your speakers up to get the full effect):
Now imagine me mimicking this call while my friend Peggy was fast asleep.
PS. She is still my friend.