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Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?

February 10, 2012 by  

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I love collective nouns…a murder of crows, a cloud of bats, a confusion of guinea fowl, a mischief of mice, a prickle of porcupines, a bloat of hippos, a gulp of swallows and my all time favorite a dazzle of zebra.

 

Each individual zebra has unique markings. Putting science and biology aside; these stripes make for wonderful abstract and pattern photographs.

So what exactly ‘does’ the dazzling ?

The key with zebra is to remember that they are hunted by the big cats, in particular: lions. Now one needs to try put yourself in the shoes, or rather the eyes of a lion or leopard. Your eyes will be very different from what you are used to. You will see things completely different. When you hunt a herd of zebra you won’t see the sharp contrasting black, white and surrounding colours but you will find that the camouflage of the zebra is quite spectacular. The stripes blend in so perfectly with the long grass in which they feed. Their stripes merely look like extensions of the grass stripes.

A big cat’s vision is not exactly black and white as many people think but assumed to be more a pastel-like spectrum of colours. This ‘diluted’ array of colours means that they will not have the ease that we have at distinguishing zebras. Add to the confusion the element of movement. Zebras are very fast. Just like their horse relatives they are capable of reaching high speeds when needed. This is when the stripes come into their own… each zebra when being chased will run for another zebra until they have formed a mass of bodies. The stripes of one zebra will quite simply blend into the stripes of another individual. The result : an optical illusion that makes it very difficult for specific body parts to be identified at speed.

 

This photograph shows how the stripes blend into each other as the Zebra run. Imagine a herd of over ten zebra together and you will begin to truly understand the dazzling.

So when the lion is mid stride about to pounce he may not actually be aware what area on the body he is attempting to make a killer blow on. If he gets this right then he will have a good meal, get it wrong and you could pay with your life. Im not sure how many of you are aware but the very first lioness of the Tsalala Pride was killed back in 2000 by a powerful kick from a zebra stallion. She lost her life to the dazzling of the zebra!

 

Looking out from above. One strategy you will see the Zebra use time and time again is to face in all directions when feeding. This behaviour increases their chances of seeing potential predators by widening their perspective.

 

Elegance, grace and speed…three words often used to describe a dazzle of zebra.

Apart from the dazzling aspect of the stripes there are a number of other reasons which may explain the evolution of the stripes…

1.Believed to play a role in their sexual attractions, as the slight variation of stripes allows the animal to distinguish between individuals. No two zebras have the same stripes. It is also thought that any wounds the zebra receives disrupts the striping pattern and indicates the fitness of the individual to other members of the herd and potential mates.

2. The air above the black stripe heats up and rises; the air above the white stripe will be cooler and will sink. This creates very a slight turbulence and wind over the coat of the animal. This air movement may help cooling the animal down.

3.The disruptive colouration of the stripes can effect the visual system of the Tsetse fly, a blood sucking insect.

Let me know what function you think the stripes play play..Im very interested in any extras that we could add to this list.

Written and photographed by Adam Bannister

What It Means When An African Elephant Shows Up In Your Life

January 13, 2012 by  

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Post image for Animal Spirit Guide : African Elephant

Some of you may be aware of Dr. Steven Farmer, the shamanic practitioner, psychotherapist and professional healer. Through his numerous texts and talks he aims to facilitate and inspire a deeper awareness and appreciation for our relationship with Spirit and the natural world.

 

Soulful eyes protected by long eyelashes – Adam Bannister

He speaks a lot about the use of Animal Spirit Guides. They show up in our dreams, meditations, or ordinary reality. When they do they’re attempting to give you a message. Now, whether or not you believe in this kind of thing is up to you but I can tell you that out in the bush certain animals do have a knack of arriving at certain times.

Even if it’s not your cup of tea, it is fascinating to read some of his thoughts on certain animals and what they mean. Here is an extract taken from his book Animal Spirit Guides. I have chosen the Elephant as they seem to have popped up a lot in my life in the last week. I also know that a lot of people who drive with me are transfixed by the African Elephant and can’t seem to think of why. Perhaps there is something to all this talk of power animals…

If Elephant Shows up, it means
Make it a point to be of service in some way to the young, elderly, or those less fortunate than yourself.
Do not let anything stand in the way of attaining this goal that is so integral to your purpose.
You have the determination and persistence required to overcome the current challenges you are faced with.
Trust your senses, and if something in your life “smells” bad, take the necessary action to do away with it.
Remain loyal to those closest to you in spite of anyone questioning their integrity.
It’s a good time to renew your sense of connectedness to the divine.

 

Elephant tusks in black and white

 

Close up of elephant’s face

Extract from Animal Spirit Guides, Steven Farmer, Ph.D
Written, filmed and photographed by Adam Bannister

Boerewors Week: Rangers and Trackers Teambuild

December 19, 2011 by  

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The Rangers and Trackers were randomly divided into two teams; these teams would compete against each other in the inaugural ‘Boerewors Week‘. A week set aside in the busy calendar year to strengthen partnerships, moral, improve skills, increase banter and have great fun amongst work colleagues. All done to shape this already superb field guiding team into a exceptional unit.

 

The reward of each days hard work was getting to eat boerewors rolls out in the bush

Over the duration of a week the teams competed for points in a variety of exercises. Points were awarded for an event victory and team-mate participation. Activities included: Rifle practice, birding, branch cutting, first aid training, walking scenarios, photography, scavenger hunts and of course no week at Londolozi is complete without a Touch Rugby game…an explosion of colour and speed.

 

Refreshing the skills and techniques required for CPR in the First Aid program

 

Armed with machetes, cutting overhanging branches off the roads – boys will be boys

 

Rifle training for the Trackers

 

Solly Mhlongo ready to start his rapid firing task

 

Ranger Jess Boon showed the boys how its done

 

Jerry Hambana takes aim with Byron looking on. If Jerry ever misses a shot he has 3 knives on his belt to finish off the job.

 

Vivid colours and outfits graced the touch rugby field. A shot of the two teams before battle. Please take special notice our Head Ranger, Chris Goodman who is lying in the front!

The highlight of each day however was that as the sun started setting the two teams would head out and link up at a random spot in the bush armed with a braai grid, a cooler box of drinks, rolls and lots of boerewors. Around a campfire each night we would tell stories, make fun of each other, laugh, discuss strategies, techniques and opinions. A sharing of knowledge. Years of experience combined under starry African skies…It’s a tough job that someone has to do!

 

Day 1: Our first braai of ‘Boerewors Week’ was had in the beautiful Tugwaan Drainage

 

A hard day spent at the rifle range

 

Day 2: Team shot in the Maxabeni riverbed

 

Yet another superb way to end the day. A Boerewors Braai on the top of Ximpalapala Koppie

 

The reward after the last afternoon of cutting branches…ice cold beers

As for which of the two teams walked away with the title…well there is still a little bit of debate on the matter! What it did succeeded in entirely is grounding everyone, putting us all out in the bush, getting us dirty and on a level playing field…clearing the mind for the very busy festive season ahead.

Written and photographed by Adam Bannister

A Welcoming For Two New Lion Cubs At Londolozi

December 13, 2011 by  

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It is with much excitement that we can confirm that there are two new additions to the Lions of Londolozi. In the last 3 weeks we have started seeing two cubs belonging to one of the Sparta Pride lionesses. Although we can not be completely sure as to a date of birth we speculate it at around the middle/late September 2011. The Sparta Pride have had a real up-and-down last 2 years since the passing of the notorious Shaws Male back on 1st January 2010. It is with a big smile on my face that at last I can tell you that the pride appears to be in good health.

 

The two Sparta Pride Lion Cubs play around in the green summer grass – Adam Bannister

A mother’s tail is the ultimate play toy – Adam Bannister

Currently the two very relaxed cubs are spending time roaming around the central and eastern sections of Londolozi under the guidance of their mother and another Sparta Lioness. The remaining three females from the pride are always not too far away and we are hoping that there may be more additions on the way from their side.

The father’s of the cubs are the infamous Majingilane Coalition who appear to have settled in nicely into the central and eastern portions of the Sabi-Sands. I don’t want to speak too soon but it does appear as if, at last, the Lion dynamics in the Sabi Sands are starting to stabilise some what. One thing is for sure though…we are still in for lots of excitement as we now have two prides at Londolozi with youngsters.

Written, filmed and photographed by Adam Bannister

Newborn Impalas and Wildebeests in Africa’s Low Veld

December 10, 2011 by  

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Post image for Impala and Wildebeest Babies

This is one of the best times of the year to be in the low veld… The lush green grass, the dry heat, late afternoon thunderstorms, and most of all the babies – Impala and Wildebeest newborns running around make for a magical season of joy and festivity. Here is a small collection of photographs taken during a drive a few days ago.

 

 

An impala lamb springs over a fallen log

 

Elegance in full flight

 

Little guys like this make Christmas in the bush a very special occasion

 

A newborn Wildebeest calf experimenting with the joys of movement

 

It’s truly amazing how something only a few days old can run so quickly

 

Turning this way and that…

 

…but never too far from the protection of mom

 

Mastering The Intricacies Of Photography With South African Animal Silhouettes

December 6, 2011 by  

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The photography bug really has taken hold of everyone here at Londolozi. Here we feature something a little bit different from pictures taken by our talented guiding team. Instead we show off some of the work taken by our newest up and coming photographer…one of our most talented trackers Jerry Hambana.

Jerry was very kindly given a camera and has taken it upon himself to begin learning how to master the numerous intricacies of photography. During the day one can often find him approaching the rangers quizzing them about ISO, white balance, aperture and how to improve his composition. Alternatively he will be sitting outside his house polishing his shoes, reading numerous field guides or brushing up on the soccer news.

As his teammate Tom Imrie has said time and time again, Jerry is the most wonderful, kind and well natured man in the world!

“I’ve written before about Jerry’s specialness as a person and I frequently introduce him to guests as the nicest person on the planet. Spending as much time as I do with Jerry is a privilege and I’ve subconsciously added him to my shrinking list of close friends.” – Tom Imrie

Together Tom and Jerry have formed one of the most potent and entertaining guiding teams in Africa.

It is wonderful to view some moments through the eyes of one of Londolozi’s trackers. Scenes from both out in the bush and back home in the community. It comes as a breathe of fresh air to watch a man from a completely different background embrace his newly found passion for photography and want to learn more. I feel especially lucky to be able to view a couple of portraits taken by Jerry of his family…to just briefly be allowed to step into the life of another.

To spend time in the bush learning from Jerry is a privilege and one that I leap at, at any opportunity. It is something I am incredibly thankful for. When he approached me the other day asking me to help him in storing and backing up his collection of photographs I was more then ready to teach him and help him about how to copy and paste, moves files and burn dvds…it is the least I can do for a man who has been through so much and is still eager to give so much of himself to any who is willing to listen.

Camp Pan Male Leopard

Giraffes silhouetted by the fading afternoon sun

Leopard descending tree

Wild Dogs stretching after a successful afternoon hunt

Lions in the midst of a feeding frenzy

Leopard with kill

Photograph of Jerry’s late grandmother at her house in Mozambique

A family gathering to celebrate the life and the passing of his grandmother

Photograph taken on the day that Life Sibuyi’s brother ‘graduated’ to become a traditional healer

Portrait of Life Sibuyi (back row, right) and his brother (back row, centre) during the celebrations

Photography by Jerry Hambana
Written by Adam Bannister

African Wild Dogs and Wild Beasts: The Khoikhoi Called Them “Gnou”

November 3, 2011 by  

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The khoikhoi called them “Gnou” after their unusual sound; the Afrikaners called them Wildebeest, or “Wild Beast,” for the menacing appearance presented by its large head, shaggy mane, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns. They roam over much of the African grasslands, open plains and dry woodlands. Throughout Africa they battle in the game of survival; competing with lions, hyenas and of course the most explosive of all…the African Wild Dog.

 

A Wildebeest calf sticks close to her mother and the protection of the herd – Adam Bannister

The African Wild Dog, also called the Hunting Dog, is a vanishing species with numbers dwindling all the time. These highly social and very intelligent animals are ferocious predators and thought by many to be the most efficient and successful hunter in the bushveld. They hunt in a pack using speed and endurance to tire out and then kill their prey. Although Impala, duiker and bushbuck are usually more in their target range, in terms of size of prey, they are fully capable of killing larger animals.

 

Blood stained face after a successful hunt – Adam Bannister

As a Game Ranger there is nothing more exciting then a pack of Wild Dogs running though the wilderness. It tests your knowledge of the pack itself, the individuals within the pack, the characteristics of the prey, the vegetation, your knowledge of the roads together with your driving capabilities. All in all it has the ingredients for an unforgettable experience…

What is fascinating to watch is what happens when the Wild Dogs come across a herd of Wild beasts. A Wildebeest calf is well within the hunting capabilities of a sizable pack of dogs, so too is possibly a young cow; a bull on the other hand is a little tough for the Hunting Dogs. I have been lucky enough to watch the scenes unfold as the dogs try to isolate the youngsters in the herd only to be driven off by the very brave larger members. It makes for an intriguing couple of minutes.

 

Last year December I was treated to an amazing stand off between the same pack of Wild Dogs and a herd of Wildebeest. At first the Wild Dogs looked like they may have had the upper hand and were seen trying to separate the youngsters from the herd, driving the male off. – Adam Bannister

 

Both the Wild Dogs and the Wildebeest seemed out of their own league at times. – Adam Bannister

 

The Wild Dogs lost the advantage and were driven away by the lead territorial male of the herd of Wildebeest. It was incredible to watch the bravery of the bull as he chased off the entire pack – Adam Bannister

Written, photographed and filmed by Adam Bannister

Why the Giraffe Has a Short Neck

October 27, 2011 by  

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The idea that the Giraffe got it’s long neck due to food shortages in the lower reaches of trees seems like a no brainer. The Giraffe is taller than all other mammals and so can feed on the leaves that no other animal can reach. For this reason it’s neck has grown longer and longer. It was called Competitive Advantage. That is the conclusion that evolutionists like Lamarck and Darwin came up with. That is the story that children’s books tell and textbooks teach. But is this the truth…

 

Giraffe resting – Adam Bannister

1. If there was a drought it would be silly to assume only the higher branches are available for grazing. If this were the case then a multitude of antelope species in Africa would have gone extinct, or may not even have evolved in the first place.

2. As Pincher said back in 1949 “Males are nearly a meter taller than females, let alone young giraffes. The moment this sexual dimorphism was expressed in the evolution of the Giraffe, it would have been the males that could have reached the higher branches. The females and young animals would have died and the species would have gone extinct.”

3. Researchers have spent hours watching Giraffe feed and can confirm that the majority of the time they are only feeding at shoulder height.

4. There are other ways to reach the high foliage of trees. Goats, for example, are known to climb into trees and eat foliage. If feeding at such great heights is such a factor than surely we would have tree climbing leaf-eaters in the savannah.

Could the evolution of the Giraffe’s neck not be linked to something else…

Again it was Pincher (1949) who queried Darwin saying that the “most extraordinary feature of the Giraffe is not the length of the neck but the length of the forelegs.” By developing long legs, the Giraffe has acquired a huge stride so that it can move relatively fast for its size. This has left the giraffe with only one predator—the lion. Is it maybe possible that the Giraffe developed long legs and quite simply the neck had to follow suite as as to enable the Giraffe to drink water!

Simmons and Scheepers (1996) found flaws in this argument when they analysed 100 Lion – Giraffe kills. They found that almost twice as many bulls were killed as cows. Thus it did not pay to be a male with a longer stride. Another theory with a pitfall.

Simmons and Scheepers have more recently come up with another theory. That of sexual selection. They describe how male Giraffe fight by clubbing opponents with their large, massive heads; “the neck plays the role of a muscular handle. The largest (longest-necked) males are dominant among other male Giraffes and mate more frequently. Since long-necked males mate more frequently, selection works in favor of long necks.” But whilst this hypothesis explains the maintenance of the long neck it does not explain the origin of the long neck, nor does it explain the female’s extended neck as they do not ‘club’ each other.

 

Sexual selection – Adam Bannister

So far all these hypotheses have flaws… Perhaps looking for one reasoning is the problem. Remember the neck has a number of functions. It allows feeding from high branches, serves as a weapon in males, brings the head to elevated heights that give the Giraffe a large field of view, is used as a pendulum while galloping, and so on.

To play devils advocate I am on the side that says that Giraffe’s have short necks! If you watch a Giraffe drink you will see how they have to either splay their forelegs to the side or bend their forelegs strongly at the wrist joint. This is a very akward movement for a Giraffe and hence they are always extremely cautious in doing so. When one looks at the Giraffe from a drinking perspective, the Giraffe has a very short neck. Antelopes and zebras reach the ground without bending their legs, and the long-legged elephant has its trunk to compensate for its short neck. Only the Giraffe (and its rain forest relative, the Okapi) have necks that are so short relative to their legs and chest that they must splay or bend their legs.

 

The Giraffe’s ‘short neck’ is visible when drinking – Adam Bannister

So why has the Giraffe not become famous for it’s short neck? I guess it all depends on the perspective from which you view the animal. We are always amazed at the long neck as it towers skywards…we forget certain other elements of the animal and forget that when exploring the evolution of an animal we must take a holistic approach.

 

Red-billed Oxpeckers take flight – Adam Bannister

Written by Adam Bannister ; inspired by an article by Craig Holdrege. Filmed and photographed by Adam Bannister

Pincher, Chapman (1949). “Evolution of the Giraffe,” Nature vol. 164, pp. 29-30

Simmons, Robert, and Lue Scheepers (1996). “Winning by a Neck: Sexual Selection in the Evolution of the Giraffe,” The American Naturalist vol. 148, pp. 771-786.

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