Since childhood I have been fascinated with the animal kingdom. In my youth I devoured programs like “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” “Animal Kingdom,” “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures,” “Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” and the like. My grandparents lived within blocks of the world-renowned Bronx Zoo and I spent many happy hours there feeding mountain goats with pellets provided by the zoo. Sadly I also saw many beautiful creatures pacing unhappily in their cages. The Bronx Zoo has fortunately made much-needed changes and now provides open plains and large bodies of water for many of the larger animals. There are still, however, cages and smaller enclosures so it is still a work in progress.
Back to my love of animals. As an adult I luckily have been able to travel all over the world to see countless animals in their natural wild habitats. My readers have hopefully enjoyed my discoveries through my posts and photography. Lots more to come!
“Discoveries” is the word of the moment. I admit I was once smug about my animal knowledge – but that notion has been summarily squashed – I will NEVER know all. And that is wonderful. I have touched on this never-ending education before but let me update it today and see if you recognize any of these creatures.
When I met this “flying” creature I was totally out of my comfort zone – snorkeling in the Pacific ocean surrounding the Galápagos Islands.
This is a spotted eagle ray. Reaching widths of nearly 11 feet, it is one of the largest rays. Unlike other rays which lie more or less motionless on the ocean floor eagle rays are very active swimmers. These rays are foragers, eating fish and invertebrates using their heavy dental plates to crush the hard shells. They also have venomous barbed stingers on their tails, so one needs to stay a respectful distance away.
Not all the new species I discovered are dangerous – this little fellow could often be found catching rays (the sunshine kind) and begging for treats (which you NEVER give them – it is a wild animal after all and should never become reliant on humans for sustenance) right at our feet during my safari adventures in Kenya and Tanzania:
This is a hyrax, and despite looking like a large rat or gopher, this mammal is actually the closest living relative of the ELEPHANT! Take a look at these family trees
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.
The hyrax may not look frightening, but they have a surprising talent – their vocalizations can sound like a person screaming bloody murder. Imagine hearing this in the middle of the night while you are sleeping in a tent in the middle of a vast African wild habitat:
This next animal I think would have fit very nicely into the Mesozoic Era – its looks are positively prehistoric:
This is a hamerkop – you can see why, given its unusual hammer-head shape – the bird has such unique characteristics it claims its very own genus: Scopus (genus is a classification of related living things that ranks above species and below family).
Here are some of its most peculiar characteristics:
1- The hamerkop has only partially webbed feet.
2- The mating behavior of the hamerkop is unlike any other bird. They actually have ceremonies of up to 10 hamerkops running around in circles, cackling and fluttering their wings and sometimes this includes “false mounting” (no mating actually takes place).
3- Hamerkops construct HUGE nests up to 5 feet across, utilizing up to 10,000 sticks and the birds love to accessorize it with colorful decorations. The nest infrastructure is amazing – it includes walls and a roof and even a tunnel! Here is a photo from the internet:
The hamerkop is a true architect – it builds many nests during the year, improving their designs without necessarily breeding in them. In fact, their fortresses are much in demand, with owls at times chasing out the hamerkops, who then wait for the owls to leave before reinstating themselves.
Even discarded nests retain value as small birds, mammals, even snakes will often take over an abandoned home.
Build it and they will come.
More animal discoveries in future posts…
PS: The *liger* shown at top of post is not real 😉