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
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.
Contributed by Alison Brewer.
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.
Photograph courtesy of Alphacoders.com
Ahhh yes, in this wonderful world we live in there are literally thousands of families and species of animals. The family of animal that attracts and captivates probably more people than any other are the Felidae, the cats, more specifically the big cats. These enthralling creatures with their perfectly designed camouflaged coats, out-of-this-world strength and fleet footedness lure more people back to Africa than any others. Aside from leopards, tigers, lions and cougars, there is another cat out there whose name conjures up thoughts of mystery and intrigue. This animal was first introduced to many by the famous The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Bagheera – the Black Panther…
The allure of seeing this animal is so tantalising that I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked if there is a possibility of seeing a black panther on safari. Reports of these animals have been around for a long time. The amazon, various African countries, rural areas in Australia’s New South Wales and Victoria provinces and the foothills of England being some of the areas where sightings are frequently documented. The sightings in Australia and England might be hard to explain but one has to remember that at one stage you could legally purchase a lion or tiger at Harrods, and it is suspected that one or two escapees from private collections may be roaming the countryside. Areas where we know for a fact they do occur include the rain forests of Malaya, Mount Kenya, Myanmar and Java.
An incredibly special photo of a black leopard (female) and a male normal coloured male behind her. This photo was taken in the Nilgiris, a mountainous area in India, although the exact location is being kept a secret for fear of hordes of photographers descending on an environmentally sensitive area. Photograph by R.Prakash.
To clear up some controversy and confusion, let’s start with the name, the black panther. The black panther is merely a colloquial name given to a melanistic colour variation of a leopard or jaguar, and is derived from the genus name, Panthera. Black panthers in Asia and Africa are black leopards and black panthers in the Americas are black jaguars. Melanism (a Greek word meaning black pigment) is an over development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin in the skin or its appendages and is the opposite of albinism. Close inspection of these cats will show that the spots and rosettes are still present but much harder to see due to the darker colour of the coat.
What is absolutely astounding is how these cats actually survive in the wild. If you have been fortunate enough to witness a leopard stalking through bushes using its faultless camouflage you will know how perfectly adapted they are. Black panthers on the other hand can only utilize their camouflage at certain times of the day and believe it or not it isn’t in the dark. In the dark the black colour creates a silhouette which makes the animal stand out like a sore thumb. Learning to hunt for a melanistic leopard or jaguar would quite possibly result in different techniques being developed to those of their normal coloured relatives. Survival would not doubt be a result of a lot of trial and error, and would certainly not be possible in many areas in which the recessive melanistic gene occurs. Savanna habitats are poor areas for melanistic cats to live, as the lack of plentiful deep shadows necessarily limit their camouflage. and although there are records of black leopards being sighted in the Kruger Park, the individuals born black would almost certainly not survive long enough to reproduce.
In certain environments where darkness can be an advantage, whether for camouflage purposes or temperature regulation, one finds a much higher incidence of melanism, as melanistic individuals survive and reproduce, thus passing on the gene.
The Aberdares National Park in Kenya is one of the best places to see black leopards in Africa. Some areas in Asia actually have higher numbers of black leopards than normal coloured ones!
The Aberdares mountain range in East Africa is a place where sightings of melanistic leopards are not uncommon. Photograph by H. Fiebig.
These enigmatic cats emanate a certain aura which attracts us to them. Not unlike the Loch Ness monster of the Scottish Highlands. Maybe it is because we have the desire of seeing something so rare, a yearning for something extraordinary.
Or maybe we can associate with Bagheera; we want to help something in need. In Bagheera’s case, young Mowgli, the ill-fated child left in the jungle, in our case a species of animal with such magnetic appeal that we cannot but feel an obligation to enhance their existence in some way or the other….
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.
On Wednesday 3rd August, 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 …
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!
Last week I got the chance to sleep out in the bush with a group of friends, some old and some new. In the early evening, we set up camp at Southern Cross Koppie overlooking the Sabi Sand Reserve. Camp consisted of sleeping bags, a cooler of beer and some sausages. As dusk settled, we began to see the full moon coming up over the horizon with a beautiful yellowish glow reflecting the opposing sun. We each chose our own boulder and sat down for a short period of silence.
“Just as a man who wants to go farther and farther East will end up in the West, those who accumulate more and more money in order to increase their wealth will become poor.” – Fritjof Capra (on Daoist philosophy)
Sitting there with a dramatic moonrise to the east contrasted by an intense, radiant sunset to the west, I felt caught between two cosmic forces. From the perspective of earth, the two represent perfect opposites. The moon is receiving while the sun is giving. In Chinese, the characters for nature’s two equal and opposing forces, Yin (阴) and Yang (阳), contain the symbols for the moon and sun respectively.
The two ideas come from Daoist philosophy, and together they comprise the Dao, literally “the way”, which is the universal dynamic energy that underlies and dictates everything. While Yang is the masculine, aggressive, competitive, and moving, Yin is characterised by the feminine, intuitive, contemplative and grounded. For 2500 years, Daoist’s have favoured the allowing and receptive nature of Yin so as to let the Dao guide their actions.
I feel as though I have always undervalued receptive energy so, that night, I decided to see if the moon could shed some light on the subject. I chose not to close my eyes, not to focus on eradicating my thoughts, and instead face east and ask for guidance from the archetypal feminine. On an emotional level, I felt peace; I was able to let go. This allowed me to settle into an emerging presence that gave permission to all of my anxieties instead of shutting them away. Two of the people I had only recently met, George and Josh, expressed the same sentiment. They both said they felt calmed by the moon. George commented that it didn’t feel at all passive; its presence was purely allowing.
We had a small fire burning as we began to chat about what it was like to be out in the bush compared to where we all grew up. We came from as far as the U.S. and England and as close as the reserve itself, but we all connected on how remarkable it was to be out under a full moon with a clear view of the Milky Way. I confessed that while I hadn’t expected to be chatting about feminine energy that night, especially with other men, I was also relieved. The reality is that it’s the antithesis of the societal norm for manliness. For much of my life I have focused on being bigger, louder, and excessively competitive because, in all honesty, it’s fun. I love winning, and I love pushing my limits. But, leading up to my time in the bush, I started to notice that the other side was being neglected. Overemphasising the masculine traits was hindering the development of their counterparts, namely empathy. Rebalancing with the feminine, then, gives way to a sense of compassion which creates space where allowing others to be themselves is the most you can give, where less is more.
Getting the opportunity to be out in the bush that night was a doorway into nature’s balance of power. For over three hours we listened to lions roaring under the moon and a blanket of stars. Each hour brought the audio closer and louder. The contrast of the competitive versus the contemplative fell away, replaced by a feeling of unity that can only be experienced in the wild. You can read about it in the nature guides and astronomy textbooks, but, at the end of the day, you need to feel the pull of the moon for yourself and wonder what kind of energy you want to embody.
Regret is a funny thing. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, both small and big, but there is precious little that I truly regret, since most experiences, especially those resulting from a mistake, invariably provide some sort of life lesson; you learn from them and move on, and are hopefully a wiser person in turn.
Having said this, one thing I do truly regret from my lifetime is that I never had the opportunity to shake Nelson Mandela’s hand. I know many people that did, many that met him and engaged in long and meaningful conversations with him, but sadly, that privilege was never mine. It is a rare thing in this day and age to feel that you are in the presence of real greatness, but I know, should I have looked into the eyes of one of the most influential people the world has ever seen, I would have felt supremely humbled.
Photo credit: Emilys Quotes and sahistory.org.za.
Even though I never met him face-to-face, I was part of the crowd who heard him speak at Cape Town City Hall on Sunday February 11, 1991, the day he was released from prison, ending his 27 years of incarceration.
Although I can recollect the day vividly, and I have pictures firmly imprinted on my mind, the enormity of the occasion and the fact that I was witnessing history was sadly almost certainly lost on my 8-year old self, but I still count myself as privileged to have been there.
Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is often known – his Xhosa clan name – is a man one struggles (I talk as a South African) to discuss without feeling some kind of emotional upwelling. The sheer magnitude of the way in which he almost singlehandedly oversaw the peaceful transition of South Africa from the oppressive apartheid regime to a nation under democratic rule almost defies belief.
Through his dignity, humility, compassion and ability to forgive, he led the nation through a turbulent period that with anyone else as a figurehead may have resulted in civil war. His legacy will never be forgotten, and it is doubtful we will see his like again.
The same gravel path that the guests tread upon now would have been walked by Nelson Mandela a quarter century ago, and I suppose in its small way, with its reminders of what this wonderful man stood for, it is an attempt to emulate and echo the sentiment of Mandela day itself.
We hold a small ceremony in our staff village every year on this day to honor Mandela and his visit here. Planting aloes along freedom’s way.
This day is more than just a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better.
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