About Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
Latest Posts by Rich Laburn
World Rhino Day is in September every year, September 22 to be exact. Initiated in 2010 by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) South Africa, World Rhino Day was meant to be away of drawing attention to the plight of South Africa’s rhinos as poaching levels began increasing exponentially, in this country as well as throughout the rest of Africa.
Although the numbers of poached rhinos continued to rise over the following years, particularly in South Africa itself, there is light at the end of the tunnel, in that 2015 saw the first decrease in the number of poached rhinos since the crisis first began in 2007. The number of animals lost was still unacceptably high, but given the number of deaths over the preceding few years, it did seem that things had turned in the right direction.
A white rhino bull marks his territory on one of his many middens. Photograph by James Tyrrell
A white rhino calf lunges for high ground to avoid being squashed by its mother in a wallow. Photograph by James Tyrrell
Currently, men and women all over Africa are risking their lives to protect the remaining black and white rhinoceroses, and indeed in the Kruger Park and surrounds, anti-poaching teams are on a 24hr vigil. Hear hear – we salute them!
Let’s face it — I have had a love and fascination for giraffes. I find them to be the most incredibly absurd and yet beautiful creatures to look at, whilst also giving off such a gentle and calming energy. I have found myself on countless occasions out in the bush with guests on their first game drive as they excitedly chat, talk over each other and shift around in the vehicle, scanning for animals. Often there are remnants of the mania and stress of the city and you can almost hear everyone’s minds ticking behind you. But find a herd of giraffes lazily feeding on a grassy crest, all eye lashes and long legs and the whole vehicle falls into silence and stillness. Firstly, I think because they are so crazy to look at, every other thought disappears as you attempt to wrap your head around how something so strange could exist but there is also just an undeniable serenity that they exude. Not only are these animals fun to look at though, they’re fun to learn about too.
NAME: The giraffe’s scientific name, Giraffa camelopardalis, comes from the ancient Greeks’ belief that it looked like a composite creature, a camel wearing a leopard’s coat.
HEIGHT: The giraffe is the tallest mammal in the world. Female giraffes stand at about 4, 5m while males are about 5-6m tall. A giraffe’s legs alone are taller than many humans—about 1, 8 meters/6 feet.
BIRTH: Giraffes have big babies that are born weighing about 100 kg. Even new-born babies are taller than most humans and stand at about 2 meters tall. Female giraffes give birth standing up and their young endure a rather rude welcome into the world by falling more than 5 feet (1, 5 meters) to the ground.
SLEEP: Giraffes only spend between 10 minutes and two hours asleep per day. They have one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal. Typically giraffes also rest standing up. Although they would probably prefer to sit down to rest, this places them in a rather vulnerable position because their powerful kick and ability to see a large area around them are their strongest defences against predators.
SPEED AND SELF-DEFENCE: Despite their size and fairly placid gait, giraffes can move incredibly fast. Because of the size of their gait (they can cover 4, 5m or 15 feet with each step), they cover a lot of distance without much effort. Even a leisurely walk gives it a speed of 16 kilometres/ 10 miles per hour. The fast and surprisingly graceful gallop of a giraffe can easily outpace a human, and even many horses. Its top recorded speed is a whopping 56 kilometres/35 miles per hour. Giraffes are well-versed in the art of self-defence, to the point where even lions only dare to attack them in large groups (and even that is fairly uncommon). Giraffe legs are incredibly powerful and each of them ends in a hard, sharp, 30-centimetre/12 inch hoof. A giraffe can kick in any direction and in a manner of ways, and its kick can not only kill a lion, but has even been known to decapitate it.Unsurprisingly, very few predators bother an adult giraffe.
MOUTHS: Even giraffes’ tongues are huge. They are up to 45 cm long and are specially adapted to allow giraffes to forage on incredibly thorny but highly palatable trees, such as Acacias. Their tongues and upper lip are also prehensile, which means that they work much like a hand or like an elephant’s trunk, dextrously wrapping around leaves and flowers. Their tongues are coloured bluish-black, which helps to protect them from sunburn because it spends so much of its day outside of its mouth feeding. They also produce incredibly sticky saliva so that should they eat a thorn, it slips down their oesophagus without doing any damage. The insides of the mouth, along with the lips and the tongue, are completely covered with hard, tough, finger-like papillae to protect it from thorns and nasty gashes.
HEARTS: Because of their unusual shape, giraffes have the difficulty of having to get blood to their heads, very far above the ground. One of the ways around this is to have an enormous heart, which weighs about 11 kilograms or 25 pounds and measures at 60cm or 2 feet. The result is also a blood pressure that is almost double that of humans. To accommodate for this the artery walls have extra elasticity and to prevent the blood from rushing too quickly back down the neck again, the jugular veins in the neck partially contract to restrict return flow.
BLOOD PRESSURE: Of course, this high blood pressure, combined with the effect of gravity on such a tall body, would also be a problem for the giraffe’s legs. The animal would bleed profusely from any cut, and there is a very real danger of blood pooling in the lower extremities. To combat this, the skin on the giraffe’s legs is extremely tough, and tightly fitted by way of a firm inner fascia to prevent blood pooling. This has been studied by NASA scientists developing the special ‘gravity-suits’ worn by astronauts to help maintain correct circulation while in space. Weightlessness has always posed a number of problems to the human body. One of the most significant issues is the weakening of leg veins. Since the blood flows differently in space, the circulatory system of the legs doesn’t have to put in so much work in order to pump the blood back up. The veins get lazy, thin, and weak, which can pose serious problems when returning to Earth.
Giraffes have provided a solution to this problem. Baby giraffes learn how to stand almost immediately upon birth, thanks to their rapidly inflating leg veins. When NASA observed this, they were able to create the Lower Body Negative Pressure Process. It’s a device that consists of an airtight tube that seals around the astronaut below the waist and applies vacuum pressure, thus rapidly expanding the leg veins and making blood rush into the legs and pelvic area. When this pressure is applied at regular intervals, the astronaut’s leg veins stay in shape. To prevent excess bleeding, the blood vessels in the giraffe’s legs also run deep (away from the skin’s surface), and those capillaries that do reach the surface are very narrow, with blood cells only one third the size of ours. Additionally, these smaller blood cells allow for faster absorption of oxygen, ensuring a good supply to the extremities of such a large animal.
DRINKING: One of the most vulnerable times for a giraffe is when it needs to drink and so they have developed the ability to gain most of their water content from the leaves that they eat. These animals however do have to drink every now and again, which with such a long neck can provide obstacles. When it lowers its head, all that high pressure blood would likely rush downhill (further assisted by gravity) and blow out the delicate blood vessels in the brain and eyes—if it weren’t for a series of clever mechanisms working in co-ordination with one another. When the head is lowered, special shunts in the arteries supplying the head restrict blood flow to the brain, diverting it into a web of small blood vessels (the rete mirabile or ‘marvellous net’). This network of vessels near the brain gently expands to accommodate the increased local blood pressure. Valves in the jugular veins also prevent returning blood from flowing backward while the head is lowered. All of this is controlled by a complex series of mechanisms that constantly monitor the pressure in the blood vessels and make whatever adjustments are needed to ensure that the proper pressure is maintained in all situations. This means that even if the giraffe lifts its head up quickly mid-drink, proper blood supply is maintained to the brain.
SPECIES: Scientists have for a long time held the belief that there was only one species of giraffe, split into about nine subspecies. New research, just released however suggests that four groups of giraffes have not cross-bred and exchanged genetic material for millions of years.
Those four species include:
- southern giraffe (Giraffa giraffa),
- Masai giraffe (G. tippelskirchi),
- reticulated giraffe (G. reticulata)
- northern giraffe (G. camelopardalis), which includes the Nubian giraffe (G. c. camelopardalis) as a distinct but related subspecies.
This suggests that each species is adapted for a specific environment or diet – a question that is the subject researchers are now turning to.
Although giraffe numbers are not considered a problem by most conservation groups, they have declined by about 40% in the last 15 years, a recent BBC report stated recently. Now that we know that these animals cannot just be lumped into one species group, this may change how we view the vulnerability of their numbers and proves how much there is still to learn about this iconic species of the African bushveld.
Most of the wildlife that you find on an African safari and in general, in the bush, is designed for camouflage, something fairly necessary when being easily detected means you’re more likely to get eaten. Think about a leopard’s coat and its ability to melt into its surrounding, a chameleon and its incredible disguise or the tawny coat of a lion lying amongst the dry scrub. There’s one animal though that to us seems glaringly obvious in the bush, namely the zebra, and you may have wondered about the reasons these animals developed this coat at all. Well here’s why…
Firstly, lions, the predominant predator of zebras, do not have great colour vision. They have a higher density of rod cells in their eyes which help them to have better night vision than us, but as a result have a lower balance of cone cells, which predominantly aid in colour vision. The wavy black and white lines of a zebra therefore act as a sort of fatigue design, breaking up their outline and helping them to blend into the blowing grass or scrub around them that to a lion appears as a similar colour.
Added to this, there is a theory that the multiple mixtures of overlapping stripes of zebras as they stand together dazzles any potential predators. Imagine a zebra standing top to tail with other zebras, tails swishing, stripes overlapping, bodies crisscrossing. How exactly do you tell where one zebra starts and the other one ends and therefore how on earth do you plan your hunt? This may sound a little far fetched but there is one truly fantastic thing about zebras that you may never have noticed that does help to support this theory. This is the fact that the youngsters are born with legs the same length and therefore stomachs of the same height as the adults. The thinking that follows from this is that if a lion for example crouches down in the long grass and attempts to spot the weakest link by looking for the shorter body, it’s going to be a struggle. If the zebras stand or run together as a group, there is going to be a mess of stripes; how do you then tactically separate off and target one zebra if you can’t distinguish any of them as individuals?
This may get you thinking that zebras therefore all have identical stripe patterns but beautifully enough, this isn’t the case at all. Each zebra’s stripes not only differ from one zebra to another but even from one side of their body to the other. Some researchers believe that this is to help individuals to not only recognise each other in the group but it is also likely that the differences help to strengthen the group too. The broken and wavy lines act as a form of disruptive colouration, similar to the way in which the military use fatigue design in their uniforms. The more rigid and stringent the shape of something is in the bush, the more it stands out. Whereas the tumble of different length and shaped black and white lines, moving around and across each other can only add to the confusion, the dazzle.
Another completely different theory, which branches away from evading predators is that zebras have stripes for reasons of thermoregulation. The basic idea is that the black and white stripes heat up differently, causing an airflow between the two which produces a cooling effect. This is interesting to note as quite often you’ll find zebra grazing out in the open on hot summer days when other species are seeking shade. Some researchers even believe that the degree of striping on a zebra is closely linked to the typical temperatures of places where they are found. What they’ve noted is that thicker, bolder black and white striped zebras are more prevalent where “temperatures are consistently warm” and thinner, paler, incomplete stripes are found more commonly on species where temperatures tend to fluctuate and drop significantly during the winter months.
One of the things that is so fascinating about studying nature is that we can’t be sure about a lot of things and in this case we can only rely on healthy debate, theories and speculation. It’s interesting to explore the question but ultimately it doesn’t really matter why zebras have stripes; what matters is that it seems to work for them. Essentially for me, it reinforces the simple fact that a healthy mixture of differences in a group can be its greatest strength.
Contributed by Amy Attenborough
Hey bird watchers and lovers, South Africa needs to be on your bucket list if it isn’t already. This winter in South Africa (the northern part of the world’s summer), has been particularly dry with the drought and, although a lot of the fauna and flora battle with the lack of rain, the aloes seem to thrive. The landscaping around the camps, staff village and office areas consist of a great variety of indigenous aloes and in the harsh landscape of winter, they provide the most welcome relief from the stark background. Dripping with flowers in all vibrant shades of red, orange and golden yellow, they attract the attention of not only the staff and the guests but some very special and equally beautiful visitors; the sun birds.
I’ve spent many a lunch break, afternoon and even a sneaky half an hour here and there during office hours sitting quietly trying to capture these striking birds in action while they flit from flower to flower feeding on the nectar that the aloes provide in otherwise very bare surroundings. Sun birds need to feed consistently throughout the day in order to harness enough energy, so staking out a patch of aloes in the dead of winter can often be an incredibly fruitful experience. They will often feed in mixed-species foraging flocks so there is usually a colourful variety of birds milling in one area. The aloes also perform a second function for the sun birds by attracting a variety of insects, which make up a substantial part of some species’ diets. The Collared Sunbird, a popular visitor this time of year, is probably the most insectivorous of the sun birds that I have seen here. It will eat a variety of insects, including pupae, as well as small spiders and even snails.
Enjoy this collection of images:
Aloes in all shapes and sizes can be found throughout the different camps, they provide a beautiful structure to the landscaping as well as food for birds and insects during winter. One of the many beautiful Aloe marlothii will not only bring colour in winter but hopefully attract even more bird life.
A colourful male Collared Sunbird perches on the stem of a Aloe chabaudii flower, in between feeding off the nectar of the flowers and the small insects that they attract. f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO640, 400mm
Here you can clearly see the difference in the underparts of the female Collared Sunbird compared to her slightly more flamboyant male counterpart, in that she lacks the distinct bluish-purple breast band.
The female Scarlet-chested Sunbird isn’t as colourful as her male counterpart either but she has beautiful off-white and dark brown mottled underparts that make her easily identifiable. f/5.6, 1/8000s, ISO1600, 371mm
This female Collared Sunbird feeds on the nectar of the Aloe chabaudii flowers, a little more colourful than the female Scarlet-chested. f/5.6, 1/6400s, ISO1250, 400mm
A male White-bellied Sunbird eyes out the next Aloe arborescens flower that it is going to investigate for nectar; you can clearly see how much longer his bill is than that of the Collared Sunbird. f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO4000, 400mm
The flowers of the Aloe marlothii attract a variety of small insects that not only feed off the aloes themselves, but provide another source of food for the Sunbirds. If you look carefully you can see one here.
A male Scarlet-chested perched on an aloe flower stem shortly after catching a small insect. They will also eat spiders by hovering and snatching them from their webs if given the chance. f/5.6, 1/5000s, ISO4000, 400mm
The velvety black body of the Scarlet-chested Sunbird really makes the glossy emerald green throat and bright scarlet breast that much more striking. Here you can clearly see the iridescent green throat on the male. f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO4000, 400mm
Sticking its beak into the open end of the Aloe arborescens flower, the sunbird then extents its tongue further to reach the nectar. You will often see male Scarlet-chested sunbirds taking part in chasing both other Scarlet-chested sunbirds and those of a different species around at a nectar source, vocalising their perceived irritation at having to share. f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO400, 400mm
Here you can see the bill of this Collared Sunbird probing the still closed flower in search of nectar, it appears that he has pierced a hole near the base of the flowers in order to reach the nectar-rich area of the flower. This technique also provides an opening for the small insects that feed off the same flowers to access the food source before the flower has even opened.
The iridescent green throat and upper parts of the Collared Sunbird are clearly visible from this angle as he feeds from the Aloe chaubadii flower, sticking his bill through the base of the flower once again, despite the open end.
In southern Africa, the Sand River is a perennial river originating in the northern reaches of the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa and it winds through the Sabi Sand Reserve before joining up with the Sabie and then the Incomati river, which flow towards the Indian Ocean. This river attracts a myriad of land dwelling animals for numerous reasons. The direct area surrounding the river is exquisite leopard territory. There is an abundance of dense riparian vegetation where these secretive predators can ambush prey animals. Elephants make their way past the lodges to quench their thirst and old buffalo bulls feast on the plentiful soft grazing available near the water’s edge.
Within the water as well, there is a rich profusion of species to be found, none more important than the fishes. Fish are an important source of food for crocodiles and various water birds and are also species by which one can measure the health of an ecosystem. Fish communities, and specific species, are excellent indicators of biological and ecological integrity due to their continuous exposure to water conditions. Fishes display an array of biotic responses to certain levels of toxicity in the water.
In modern time, pollution of rivers is a reality and two of the biggest contributors to the degradation, phosphorus and nitrogen, reach the rivers through, among other things, human waste. The abundance of phosphorus and nitrogen in the system causes algae to grow profusely. When the algae bloom becomes too much, it dies and decomposes, taking the oxygen out of the water. Various species of freshwater fish feed on algae and the pressure of this algae growth can be alleviated by these fish. This feeding behaviour will neutralise the growth of algae, creating equilibrium in the environment.
One of the most abundant species of this river are the Mozambique Tilapia, the sharp tooth catfish and the smallmouth yellowish. To explain the behaviour of these species I am going to use land animals as a comparison. The Mozambique Tilapia: These fishes are quite small and feed on a variety of different food sources. They will eat smaller fish and vegetation and can be compared to the side striped jackal. Always on the prowl looking for any opportunity to pounce.
Mozambique Tilapia. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The Sharptooth catfish: This is the largest freshwater fish in South Africa and one of the apex predators (let’s not forget the crocodile) of the Sand River. These fish hunt other medium-sized fishes and will go as far as eating smaller mammals and water birds. Their slumbering movement patterns and explosive power means that they are not to unlike the lion.
Sharptooth Catfish. Image courtesy of fishthesea.co.za
The Smallmouth Yellowfish: Powerfully built, streamlined and always waiting for an opportunity, the smallmouth yellowfish is the leopard of the watery unknown. Yellowfish hide behind boulders and freshwater vegetation, waiting for the ideal moment to make their move and hunt down unsuspecting fishes.
Smallmouth Yellowfish. Image courtesy of feathersandfluoro.com
Although seldom seen, especially on a game drive, fish are vitally important to the health of the Sand River and consequently the entire ecosystem, regardless of whether they’re in this African river, a lake, an ocean or pond. The great network that is a natural ecosystem includes all facets of the environment. This foodweb includes all species, including the small fishes that feed on algae every day. As crazy as sounds, these fishes – as well as a multitude of other diminutive species – give us the opportunity to view the magical bigger species strolling to the Sand River in the blistering sun by keeping the fragile ecosystem in relative homeostatis. Next time you pass by or over a body of water, take a moment to appreciate some of the less glamorous species that make our planet so precious.
Contributed by Werner Breedt.
On August 3rd, over 15 million South Africans turned out at the 22,230 voting stations dotted across the country to cast their vote for the 2016 municipal elections – the most hotly contested democratic battle since the birth of our democracy in 1994.
Prior to the elections, debates across the political spectrum were lively and robust, yet in the true spirit of opposition politics, freedom of speech, fairness, peace and tolerance, South Africa has once again demonstrated to the world a high functioning and vibrant democracy. Whilst violence, turmoil and disruptive politics are being witnessed in so many parts of the world, we’ve seen the principle of “one person one vote” and the universal rejection of violence and corruption being endorsed by the full spectrum of South African society and by all our political parties.
South Africa has retained its deserved reputation as a friendly, warm, safe and hospitable country, offering world-class quality food, accommodation and adventure to the discerning international traveller. It is therefore, not surprising that we are experiencing unprecedented numbers of visitors to her shores, all of whom in their own way make a contribution to the continued success of this wonderful country. We express to all the political parties and their leadership our heartfelt thanks and congratulations for an election extraordinarily well run, free of violence and corruption, high on integrity and transparency. This process has been a beacon of hope for the entire world, demonstrating that democracy does work and that opposition politics should be tolerated and respected in the best interests of the people.
Thank you South Africans. You have spoken in the name of democracy, fairness and truth. We rejoice that our young democracy has stood firm for two decades and that together we can all look forward with anticipation to another two decades alive with possibilities in the hands of maturing political leadership.
The Moon. It is one of those things. It is just there, all the time. It is so present that its aura can become lost through its continuous presence overhead. However, its relative positioning makes the world of difference. The moon is to night photography as the sun is to wildlife photography.
As the nearest, prominent celestial body to Earth, the moon reflects a great deal of the Sun’s light rays back onto us when we are facing away from the Sun (during night time). It takes slightly less than 24 hours for the moon to complete its orbit around us and so from a single observation point on Earth, its presence may only be seen across the sky for several hours a night. That, coupled with its relative position to us and the Sun, mean the amount of visual surface of the moon reflecting light changes every night, until finally full moon occurs (normally) once a month as it rises while the Sun sets. For a few nights either side of true full moon the appearance of the moon is still magnificently large and “full” of light, as the majority of its visual surface reflects sunlight back at us. This drastically changes the game for night photography.
Photograph by Trevor McCall-Peat.
An very full moon, with all of its visible surface reflecting sunlight back, looks bright white will high in the night sky and is therefore a great source of white light which is not as harsh as the midday white light from the Sun. 1/320 at f/4; ISO 100.
With a moon surface filled with reflecting light, the night is not so dark. This is often considered unfortunate timing for those wanting to experiment with astrophotography. It is true that the moonlight dims out many of the stars, but close to the full moon period astrophotography is still possible either early in the night before the waning moon rises or later (very early morning) after the waxing moon sets but before the sun approaches. The latter requiring either dedication or jet lag.
As the Sun disappears, a new opportunity for photography begins. 1/400 at f/10; ISO 500 [at 200mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
Without any moon in the night sky, all celestial bodies appear clear and bright! This long exposure on an area of the Milky Way reveals its amazing colours, the large shine of Jupiter, and three separate low-altitude satellites bypassing one another towards the centre of the image. 25,0sec at f1.4; ISO 800 [at 20mm].
In my opinion, it is much more enjoyable to use the great big glowing white moon to your advantage and attempt to capture a completely different type of image during the night. With either a very wide aperture or a very slow shutter, one can achieve beautifully unique landscapes using only moonlight. As the moon’s cool light casts shadows beyond trees and textures the entire scenery, stars litter the skyline behind.
With a bright moon in the night sky, images like like are possible. Stars remain visible in the background while the entire landscape becomes illuminated with moonlight. 10,0sec at f/1.4; ISO 100 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
An otherwise pitch dark scene is revealed through moonlight. The Sand River is bathed in cool moonlight while the stars glitter beyond. 3,0sec at f/1.4; ISO 320 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
From a purely photographic perspective, make the most of a bright moon as it only comes around for a short few nights every four weeks. Get experimental and let us know what you walk away with.
Eager photographers set up cameras in the dark to capture moonlit landscapes, and so use a flashlight to light up a nearby tree as a subject on which to manually focus before beginning the shot. 1,3sec at f/1.4; ISO 1000 [at 20mm]. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
Next on my schedule is to try using the full moon to backlight subjects like tree canopies, dead Leadwoods, or even old and vacant buildings. Another idea is to start photographing animals with moonlight; noting the slower shutter speed and thus the need for stationary animals. Perhaps a standing rhino or seated lion could make for an interesting photograph?The world is at your fingertips, with the moon as an alternative source of lighting. Play with it!