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Trivia & Beyond: Why are Female Hyenas Bigger than Males?

May 23, 2012 by  

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In the 1960′s the chimpanzee expert, Jane Goodall, arrived in the Ngorongoro Crater expecting to dislike Spotted Hyenas. However, it did not take long for them to win her over. “Hyenas are second only to chimpanzees in fascination,” she wrote; “they are born clowns, highly
individualistic.”

It was not just her who had a fascination with these creatures. In fact, they continue to capture the imagination of many. Most people have a fairly warped idea of hyenas; largely due to the fact that a huge percentage of those interested in African wildlife have seen the Lion King. The Lion King did for hyenas, what the movie Jaws did for the Great White Shark. But, spend some time with these creatures and you will find out that there is just so much more then meets the eye…

 

The protective mother standing guard at the entrance to the den

Recently I stumbled upon an article by Steve Kemper in the Smithsonian Magazine. It included the most fascinating research. Below is a snippet of one of the more fascinating aspects of hyena life.

Cubs enter life with their eyes open and some of their teeth erupted, and within minutes siblings are fighting one another to establish dominance. The mother has only two nipples; in a litter of three, the least aggressive cub will usually starve. Cubs inherit their mother’s rank, and the higher it is, the more likely her cubs will reach adulthood and reproduce: status ensures powerful allies, extra protection and a bigger share of the food. The effects of a mother’s status can be stark. You have to believe me when I say that you can sit two 6-month-old cubs side by side and the one could be twice as big as the other, purely because of having a mother ranked No. 1 and the other ranked No.19.

 

The two cubs just can’t get enough of climbing all over mom

A recent study by Holekamp and her colleagues suggests that status begins in the womb. They discovered that in the final weeks of pregnancy, high-ranking females produce a flood of testosterone and related hormones. These chemicals saturate the developing cubs—both males and females and make them more aggressive. They’re born with a drive to dominate. By contrast, a pregnant subordinate female produces a smaller spike of hormones, and her descendants become subservient. Holekamp says this is the first evidence in mammals that traits related to social status can be “inherited” through a mother’s hormones rather than genetics.

 

As they get older so their confidence grows and they move further and further away from the safety of the den

At Londolozi we have a very healthy population of Spotted Hyena and every once in a while we get to view them at a very young age. They are the most adorable things to watch as they play around the den-site. What I love, however, is the fact that there is so much complexity within this species. There is so much going on. They are for example, a species in which the female is completely dominant and both larger and more aggressive than the males. In 2008 a new theory was developed by Holekamp to try explain this. To end off, I thought I would include a passage of hers which she used to explain the evolution of hyenas’ female-dominated social structure and odd reproductive apparatus…

“I think the bone-crushing adaptation is the key to it all.” She explains: Spotted Hyenas’ ancestors evolved massive skulls, jaws and teeth so they could pulverize and digest bones. This gave them a tremendous advantage over other predators, but with a cost: the skull and jaws that make bone-crushing possible take several years to mature.

Holekamp has found that young hyenas can barely crunch dog biscuits. Hyena mothers care for their cubs for three or four years, much longer than most other predators do. Alone, cubs would be unable to compete for food at kills. “That put pressure on females to give their kids more time at the carcass,” says Holekamp. Females had to become bigger and meaner, Holekamp hypothesizes, which they achieved partly by boosting their “masculinized” hormones.

If Holekamp is right, female dominance and matriarchy among Spotted Hyenas stem from evolutionary adaptations made for the sake of feeding the kids.

 

Putting the cubs back into the den

Written, filmed and photographed by Adam Bannister
Inspired by the work of Steve Kemper and Kay Holekamp of the Smithsonian Institute

Saddle-Billed Stork and the ‘Big 6 Birds’ in Africa’s Bush

May 12, 2012 by  

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Post image for Saddle-billed Stork and the ‘Big 6 Birds’

The Big 5 represent the 5 game species that were most desired as hunter’s trophies in times gone past. They now represent the 5 species that visitors to classic African wilderness areas most want to see. The Kruger National Park set about establishing the ‘Big 6 Birds’ in an attempt at mirroring what the traditional big 5 mammals do for public eagerness to spot species.

Aimed at the layman birder, all 6 birds are large, easy to identify and instantly recognizable. These species are also limited substantially in their distribution and have had their ranges negatively impacted upon by human encroachment; habitat degradation and other pertinent conservation issues.

It is hoped that by making the public aware of these 6 bird species that they can be recognized and so some kind of pressure will be put on the conservation bodies to conserve the areas that house these species.

The Big 6 Birds are:
Kori Bustard
Martial Eagle
Lappetfaced Vulture
Pel’s Fishing Owl
Saddle-billed Stork
Southern Ground Hornbill

Just yesterday on drive, I discovered that a pair of Saddle-billed Storks appear to be nesting. It is estimated that there are only between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of Saddle-billed Storks in the greater Kruger area. These numbers make them far rarer and more threatened than animals such as cheetah and wild dog, not to mention the big five.

Saddle-billed Storks are classified as Endangered in South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust does a lot of work to try ensure their survival. The question as to why they are struggling is still not completely known, although here area a couple of thoughts.

The demographic profile of the bird is poor. It is a big bird that occurs in isolated, widely spread pairs. It also breeds very slowly and irregularly. Secondly, it has quite specific resource requirements; needing large trees for nesting and fresh water as a source of descent sized fish. Thirdly, it is thought to be very sensitive to human disturbance and will not nest if under any stress. Another issue is that the stork’s dependence on wetlands, and in particular large rivers, means that it is exposed to the effects wrought by dams, soil erosion and silting, and to the chemical pollution of these systems.

So all in all this bird is exceptionally rare in the area and any sighting is a real treat. If, on your safari, you get lucky enough to see a Saddle-billed Stork (or any of the Big 6 Birds for that matter), take a moment to reflect that even though they may not be as glamerous as the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or buffalo, they are in fact under the hammer and in dire need of our time and effort!

 

 

Written and photographed by Adam Bannister

The African Bush and its Misty Beautiful Mornings

April 26, 2012 by  

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We are currently in the midst of one of my favourite times of the year. The reason: the unbelievable mornings in the African bush. The bushveld is always pretty, but it is now that I think it is spectacular! Each morning, I jump out of bed, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and then drive out of camp, hoping for  mist. The day is thick with opportunity and potential; so much so that you can nearly taste it in the air!

The mornings are fresh and cold; but they are rejuvenating. They make for the most marvelous photographic opportunities, allowing one to get creative and to capture a different mood of safari. Even if I don’t see a single animal in the first half an hour I am still grinning from ear to ear. After all, I am driving around on the most beautiful patch of planet earth! Come join me and experience the thrill of the morning drive…

 

A dead tree in the foreground often helps to add to the composition of the picture

 

Yet another distnat view over the Kruger National Park. For this shot I used ISO of 400, F-stop at 2,8, Auto WB and the picture style set to landscape.

 

The glorious view out across Stwise Koppie

The fog that forms here is classified as radiation fog. This is formed by the cooling of land after sunset by thermal radiation in calm conditions with clear sky. The cool ground produces condensation in the nearby air by heat conduction. In perfect calm skies the fog layer can be less than a meter deep, but turbulence can promote a thicker layer. Radiation fogs occur at night, and usually do not last long after sunrise. It is common in autumn and early winter.

 

Animals, such as this Zebra, look wonderful when bathed in fog

 

A distant view of gentle colours

 

What also makes for a wonderful image is if you can get to some water in the early hours of the morning. Here, at first light, a darter can be seen sunning itself whilst a pod of onlooking hippos snort in dissaproval

 

Nothing beats a misty sunrise. All the colours amplified by the surrounding haze and moisture. And with the rising sun comes the reassuring warmth of another spectacular day in the bushveld

Did you know : Fog is defined as cloud which reduces visibility to less than 1 km, whereas mist is that which reduces visibility to less than 2 km.

Written and photographed by Adam Bannister

Ever Curious How Elephants PLAY and Have Fun?

April 24, 2012 by  

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I have lately been writing a lot about the outrageously exciting lion dynamics. I may indeed be more of a ‘lion man’, but I certainly appreciate the numerous other wonders that take place with elephants.

The other day I witnessed one of the most sensational lighthearted events that only the African bush can create. In amidst the turmoil that the lion saga is creating, it is refreshing every once in a while, to just see sheer beauty in action.

 

The two elephant bulls splashing around in Maidies Dam – Adam Bannister

We were on the way back from a glorious afternoon game drive when we stumbled upon two elephant bulls playing around in a watering hole. It was pure magic to watch these whale-like figures bounce, swim, flop, run, splash and play in the cool water. Momentarily suspended in bliss.

Words and explanations are not needed to convey this moment that I was privileged to captured on film. I know that for many people it is the African Elephant which exudes power, strength and stability. It is also many people’s favourite animal. Enjoy the magic!

Written and filmed by Adam Bannister

Lion Warfare: Incredible Shots of Mapogo Lions

April 16, 2012 by  

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Lion Warfare is so apparent at the moment that the still nights are punctuated by the continual sounds of lion roaring. A wondrous sound, guttural, deep and heart-felt. Deep into the night you can hear these giants as they attempt to sort out territorial disputes and differences.

There are currently six coalitions of lions that are running around, vocalizing and causing havoc. The four Southern Males, the two Kruger National Park Males, the three males being lead by Solo, the four Majingilane Males, the six Matimba Males and then the two Mapogo. With this much firepower in the area, someone is going to give. The general consensus is that it will be the two sole survivors of the aging Mapogo Coalition.

Just a few days ago the Mapogo Males showed us that they still had it in them to kill a very large buffalo. They fed on this for three days. We hope that this big feed will provide them with the reserves to forge ahead and try squeeze out a piece of land to make a living in this warzone.

 

Makhulu, the oldest of the Mapogo males maneuvering around his buffalo carcass.

 

 

Even at close on 14 years of age this male still possesses immense strength. He he is seen pulling the carcass.

 

 

Eyes that could tell a thousand tales.

I have never seen lion dynamics this choatic, yet exciting. The reality is that the Mapogo are being chased in all directions; being hit by force on all fronts. I hope it is not the case but these may just turn out to be some of the last images of the mighty old male of the Mapogo, known affectionately as Makhulu “The Big One”. As of yesterday we know that these two Mapogo Males were still alive as they have been feeding on a giraffe carcass in a near in-penetrable drainage line.

We will follow this story with intrigue and will keep you posted as stories and encounters arise.

 

A drink in the perfect late afternoon light.

Written, photographed and filmed by Adam Bannister

Africa aka African Herds in Abundance in the SOUTH!!

March 8, 2012 by  

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There is nothing more spectacular than watching an animal in the wild. Perhaps the only thing that can rival this is to see not just one animal but lots of animals. Great big herds of individuals making up groups that simply take your breathe away. Traditionally, it has been East Africa that has been known for these large herds, but in southern Africa, we are often graced by magnificent congregations of animals too.

To sit in amongst a herd of any animal is a privilege and a very special moment in anyones life. To see the sheer abundance of life in Africa is mind-blowing. We are so fortunate here to have large numbers of big charismatic species; graced in beauty and intrigue. A highlight of any safari at Londolozi may be the chance to live this dream and be held momentarily in a space of joy and wonder. To watch these animals interact with each other and be part of ‘a greater being’.

Written and filmed by Adam Bannister

Goodbye to the Sycamore Fig

February 22, 2012 by  

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The great floods of January 2012 will forever be remembered and spoken about at Londolozi Game Reserve. The sheer volume of water that poured down the Sand River was staggering. Leaving a wake of change in it’s path, this river showed us that humans will never be able to control Mother Nature! I use the word ‘change’ rather then ‘destruction’ because this cycle is natural…a cleansing process and a form of transformation. But change is sometimes hard to take.

The ancient and magnificent Sycamore Fig found on the northern banks of the Sand River, is no more. Swept away in the floods there is no evidence that this tree ever existed in the first place. But her memories will live on forever captured in the minds and photographs of the many guests, rangers and trackers who shared wonderful moments under this iconic tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but all of that has now changed…

 

Written by Adam Bannister

Wrinkles of Wisdom: When an ELEPHANT Dies

February 22, 2012 by  

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This piece was written 2 years ago but we decided that it was worth being shown again as it really does show an incident that is fascinating to watch unfold. People often ask me what kills elephants and what tends to happen to the body after the death. I just though that we would re-post this to let you see for yourself – not for the faint hearted as some of the images are graphic.

 

Elephants in the midst of a jostle – Adam Bannister

The lightning was an omen. A cracking flash was the conflict. Just as quickly as it had started it was over. Trumpeting, crashing and the thunderous force of two pachyderms raging against one another had given way to silence. There was no more conflict, only peace.

The great bull had not lain in his final resting place for long as the carnivores filtered through the bushes towards him. Ravenous teeth sheared the carcass open and bellies bulged with indulgent glut.
The maggots were quick to strike as well. A noisy waterfall of activity, this festering frenzy encased the lower body with their microvillus compounds and bacteria. It was a scene. For some it was sad, others tragic and for many repulsive. But for the bull himself, it was his final contribution to the mystical bushveld he had roamed for decades.

He was not dead. He was alive to those around him. Serving the best interests of a thriving trophic chain. He was of service to the life that fed off of him and in turn proliferated themselves into the bacteria that would stimulate the growth to feed his scattered offspring and his equally hungry counterparts. In life there are options, possibilities and an ever shifting tide of change. In death there is finality and the tangible gift back to the earth.

By day 7 the great bull was only a skeleton of his previous grandeur. A Leathery hide retained some of its shape and his large tusks protruded awkwardly into the air. The lions had long since left and now hyenas and vultures picked at the scant remains. There he lay, like a monument. His story would serve its metaphor for now, but as with life it will someday be forgotten. The remnants of his existence however, will be seen in the new leaves of spring, the stormy winds of change and the sunlit faces of future life in the bushveld.

 

Wrinkles of wisdom – Adam Bannister

Filmed by Adam Bannister
Written by Rich Laburn and Adam Bannister

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