Dog-faced monkeys.

Picture the scene. You’re in Cape Town, one of South Africa’s tourist hotspots. It’s a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a daytrip. So you decide to go here;

Or you could just stay in the hotel and watch TV.

Or you could just stay in the hotel and watch TV.

That’s Cape Point, Africa’s southernmost point. It’s a dramatic finger of rock stretching out into the sea. It’s where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. And it’s well worth seeing. So you pack up your hire car with a few tasty snacks for the road and set off.

There are lots of spectacular viewpoints along the way. You stop at one and hop out to take a couple of pictures. Then this happens.

This is just unacceptable. Those passengers are clearly not wearing seatbelts.

This is just unacceptable. Those passengers are clearly not wearing seatbelts.

That, good people, is a Chacma Baboon. When I wrote about Vervet Monkeys the other day, I implied that they were a bit of a handful. They are nothing compared to these guys. These guys are distilled mayhem. The Hell’s Angels of the Lowveld. They make any other destructive animal you can think of look like a teddy bear. And yes, that one does know how to open a car door. He could probably break the lock with a coat-hanger given half a chance.

Yes. He is stealing a handbag.

Yes. He is stealing a handbag.

Baboons are just monkeys. Monkeys that have done something rather unusual. They have come down out of the trees and moved into the grasslands. They have become omnivores, sometimes even hunting and killing antelope or Vervet Monkeys.  They do still climb phenomenally well, and need tall trees or cliffs to roost in at night. But they are not nearly as dependant as other monkeys on trees for their safety. For one reason only. Would you go and pick a fight with a Hell’s Angel?

They are sometimes referred to as dog-faced baboons. For obvious reasons. While most monkeys have flattened, human like faces, these guys have elongated snouts like dogs. Because they need somewhere to keep these.

Scientists have described baboon teeth as being “quite big”.

Scientists have described baboon teeth as being “quite big”.

Those teeth are bigger than a lion’s. And they aren’t there for show. Curiously enough, the theory is that those teeth evolved not for self-defence but for dealing with other baboons. I’ll go into that later. But they do prove rather handy when a troop is attacked. Attacking a troop of baboons is a very bad idea.

Like the Hell’s Angels, they spend an awful lot of time fighting among themselves, but when the chips are down, they have each other’s backs. And a skirmish line of adult male baboons, with arms and hands hardened to steel by years of hauling themselves in and out of trees, and those fearsome teeth sticking out one end, is a formidable thing indeed. They are fully capable of tearing a leopard to shreds, and a domestic dog having a go at them doesn’t stand a chance.

This doesn’t make them invulnerable. Indeed, leopards are their main predators. If baboons are like Hell’s Angels, leopards are like ninjas. They will lie in wait or stalk up to within touching distance, and then leap out and kill a baboon as quickly as they can. And then get the hell out. They are happy to come back and retrieve their kill later, when the troop has moved on. Or, like ninjas, they attack at night, when the baboons can’t see properly. But while leopards might be the baboons’ main predator, baboons are certainly not the leopard’s favourite prey. Even lions tend to be wary of baboons.

I mentioned that Vervet monkeys lived a life of constant political intrigue. They can’t even begin to compete with these guys. Vervets live in groups of about ten or so. Baboon troops can be up to 200 strong. Every single relationship within the troop has to be managed. And things can get very complicated indeed.

Geoff there is in a relationship with Pauline, who used to have a thing with Charles, but that ended when she had a baby by Mike before he settled down with Susan, who seems to have her eye on Dean, who……

Geoff there is in a relationship with Pauline, who used to have a thing with Charles, but that ended when she had a baby by Mike before he settled down with Susan, who seems to have her eye on Dean, who……

The political life of a baboon revolves around two things. Dominance and sex. I’ll try and give you a very basic introduction.

The females are the foundation of the troop. Generally speaking, they are born into their position in the hierarchy, and stay in that position all their lives. Once the males reach maturity, they move out of their birth troop and into another. And then perhaps another. A male’s position in the hierarchy is not inherited. It is earned.

It all seems fairly simple so far. But it gets more complicated. Almost everything a baboon does includes some element of communication. The way they sit, the way they look at each other, the way they walk, the sounds they make, who they sit near to, who they touch, all carry meaning. And it pays to be on the ball, because getting things wrong ends like this.

Baboons do not excel at negotiating.

Baboons do not excel at negotiating.

It gets even more complicated. This, to a baboon, is like crack.

Addiction is a cruel disease.

Addiction is a cruel disease.

The babies look very different to the adults. And they trigger something in other baboons. They want them. They want to hug them and squeeze them and cuddle them. Which sounds cute. Except that if a high ranking female wants the baby of a low ranking female, she will simply take it, even if she has to drag it screaming from her arms.

It gets still more complicated. Baboons are visual animals. They see colour just as well as we do. Most of the time, a female baboon looks like this.

Right before she was arrested for drug trafficking.

Right before she was arrested for drug trafficking.

But every now and then, she will sashay provocatively through the troop carrying a large sign that says she’s ready for sexy time. It looks like this.

Which seems a little excessive.

Which seems a little excessive.

That’s a hell of a thing to throw into a volatile social mix.

There’s more. Baboons form and reinforce relationships with each other by grooming each other. Some of these are fairly straightforward; mother, daughter; siblings; allied males. But there is one particular relationship which evens out some of the bumps in this charged situation. Males and females form very close bonds with each other.

Almost every female has what amounts to being a boyfriend. They spend a great deal of time grooming each other. The male might help with the care of the female’s offspring, even if they are not his. This relationship works in everyone’s favour. In scenes like the one where the high-ranking female tries to steal a low ranking female’s baby, her special friend will step in and drive off the usurper. He’ll have her back in any sort of drama. And in return? Well, that brazen little hussy up there may not end up mating with the dominant males in the troop. She is just as likely to mate with her special friend, even if he is of a lower rank.

All this complication must make baboons come across as cerebral, sedate sort of creatures, who spend their days mired in intrigue, forming and breaking alliances, climbing the corporate ladder and undermining those who get in their way. Not so much. Baboon politics looks like this.

Morning.

Morning.

Or this.

 

Are you well?

Are you well?

Or this.

Wife and kids OK?

Wife and kids OK?

And they sound like this.

That, by the way, was not an isolated and violent incident. That is just what a baboon troop sounds like. They do that every half hour or so.

None of this is particularly relaxing. Neurologists and psychologists studying the effects of stress on humans study these guys as well. They are a mess of stress related hormones and anxiety disorders.

Baboons are not just the subjects of study. They have a long and troubled relationship with man. It is testament to how smart these creatures are that they are often the last remaining wild animals in any area. And not because they keep a low profile. They are hugely destructive on farms. They eat all the crops, and are even major predators of young farm animals. Human beings have basically spent the last three hundred years or so trying to wipe them from the face of the earth, with guns, poison, traps, exploding scarecrows, and the works. But they have never succeeded. The baboons are still there, barking from the cliffs and the treetops.

The places where I tend to spend my time are not trying to wipe them out. But they do try to control them. This is a baboon-proof dustbin.

784648_monkey_proof_dustbinIt’s a clever design. You have to lift it in two different spots to open it. My wife cannot open a baboon-proof  dustbin. This is also a baboon-proof dustbin.

hhSo is this.

padlocking-wheeley-binSo is this.

baboon-proof-binSo is this.

baboon-proofAnd why, you might be thinking, do we need baboon-proof dustbins? Because baboons treat them like this.

baboon-robbers-march-2010-001And why are there so many designs? Well, if any of them were effective, there would only be one design. Baboons are smarter than baboon-proof dustbin designers.

And that is the human-baboon problem in a nutshell. We have too much food, and they are big enough, strong enough, and clever enough to get it. Dustbins are the least of our problems. You saw what they did with the car. They are even worse with houses. Imagine a cat burglar twice as agile as any human, who could fit through much smaller gaps. Leave a window open just one tiny bit, and they will spot it and get in.

And then they will trash it. They will open every cupboard looking for food. They will empty every jar, knock over every bottle. And that’s just the start.

When I was much younger, on holiday down in the Lowveld, we went out on a nice long drive. And left a window open. At the end of winter, when there was little left to eat out in the bush. They got in. and what they did was simply breathtaking. Not a single jar of food was left intact. Every packet was torn open and thrown out. Every teabag was ripped up and spread around. Boxes of puzzles were scattered on the floor. Toilet rolls were unrolled, pillows torn open. I’ve never seen anything like it.

But that was just the start. There was glass. Broken glass. Everywhere. Baboons don’t know about glass. And so there was blood. Everywhere. And then, the piece de resistance. Poo. We must have surprised them on our return. We must have given them a bit of a fright. Which wasn’t good. The whole troop must have been in the house; about fifty of them. And every single one of them soiled itself. Everywhere. The floor was covered in rotten, fruity smelling poo. It was up in the rafters. It was in cupboards and on top of bookshelves.

 This lot are at least trying to use the toilet. But I bet they didn’t flush.


This lot are at least trying to use the toilet. But I bet they didn’t flush.

We got straight back into the car and drove to the nearest town, an hour away. And bought fifty litres of industrial disinfectant. And drove back. It was a very long afternoon.

In a way, we were lucky. Because every now and then, instead of poo, people find baboons in their houses. Baboons are resourceful. If escape is impossible, they have another option or two. One of those is to lurk. Quietly. I know a good few people who have come home, grabbed themselves a beer, plopped down on the couch, and then looked up into the rafters. And seen their new housemates for the first time. Baboons know when they are rumbled. And that it’s time to explore another option or two. Which means that it is then time for the humans to lock themselves in the bathroom. Just in case these are the options.

454459731_5ee6ce4239_zMy sister once came home and surprised some baboons in the house, but it was fine. They had obviously just come in, and fled without damaging anything. Two hours later, she went through to get a towel from a cupboard. What she got instead was a full grown baboon, which thankfully flew past her and out the door. She needed more disinfectant. And not for the baboons.

I make them sound like the devil incarnate. They’re not. They’re fascinating to watch, even when they’re behaving badly. Coming across the babies of a troop at play is one of the best things that could happen to you. But baboons are the best example I can think of of why we need to be careful around wild animals.

For our benefit as well as theirs.

For our benefit as well as theirs.

Those signs you see in wild places saying “Don’t feed the animals” aren’t there because the rangers hate fun. They’re there because there are animals out there that don’t work well with us. That are too smart and too resourceful to be allowed to learn to associate us with food. And to realise just how bad we are at defending that food. Until we tire of the game. Baboon-proof dustbins are all well and good, but when animals become a genuine problem, we humans prove to be rather resourceful ourselves. And problems like these tend to be solved permanently.

But that’s enough preachiness for one post. I will leave you with a clip of a baboon barking. Watch it in context. Imagine you are walking through the bush alone, a little nervous, keeping an eye open for animals. But then this happens. Next to you.

It is…. disconcerting. But not too much of a problem. All you need to do is carry around a small bottle of industrial disinfectant.

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Posted in African Wildlife, humor, long reads, mammals, nature, South Africa, wildlife | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Blue

If I say the word “monkey” to you, a whole bunch of associations are sure to be triggered. First of all, you will picture a cheeky little scamp, a charming, miniature man-beast who lives to laugh and play, swinging through the trees playing practical jokes on his companions and eating bananas. If you’ve spent a bit of time in zoos, you might also picture a certain amount of self-abuse and poo flinging. And this is how you will picture his home;

With a tree or two in it.

With a tree or two in it.

None of that applies to the monkeys of the Lowveld. I rather suspect it doesn’t apply to many other monkeys either. The monkeys of the Lowveld live here;

Fairly rich in vaguely large bushes.

Fairly rich in vaguely large bushes.

And that might just explain everything else about them. Because they are not cheeky little scamps. They are not charming, and they don’t laugh and play nearly as much as you would suspect. They are, in fact, vicious, criminal little thugs. Say hello to the Vervet monkey.

Staring is rude.

Staring is rude.

If I seem a little disapproving of them, I’m not. I think they’re awesome. What they are not, however, is “cute”. If you look at the picture of the jungle up there, where monkeys evolved to live, you’ll see that it’s almost all tree. Which is a nice place for monkeys to live. They live concealed in the leafy green treetops, almost permanently surrounded by food of one sort or another, out of reach of terrestrial predators, prey only to the odd eagle or snake. Not so much with the Vervets. If you look at the savannah picture, you’ll see that it’s more grass than trees. The trees are also smaller, with open, small leafed canopies. There is no safety here.

The Vervets are under constant pressure from predators on all fronts. On the ground, there are snakes, lions, hyenas, jackals, caracals and a multitude of others.  Up in the trees they can get taken out by eagles and owls,  more snakes, and the odd particularly agile leopard. They are even preyed upon by their cousins, the baboons. And they can’t stay up in the trees forever anyway. Because the savannah is a much poorer place for monkeys than the jungle. Finding food is a constant struggle.

There is little time for simply hanging out with friends.

There is little time for simply hanging out with friends.

The seasons are more pronounced. There is no fruit around in winter. There are hardly even any leaves. The monkeys need to come out of the trees to supplement their diets and to drink. And supplement they do. They are omnivores. They will eat whatever they can get their hands on, including insects, eggs, and fledglings. All this makes the Vervet Monkey a fairly serious animal.

When I was younger, we used to play a game with them. When they gathered around our place in the bush, we would go out and dance with them. Not cheek to cheek, mind you. Those things have fleas. When you looked at one, it would suddenly stare right at you and bob the whole front of its body up and down. We would bob back at it. It would bob to the side. So would we. Up, down, left and right we would go, and so would the monkey, staring harder and becoming more and more exaggerated in its movements as the dance went on. What fun and games we had with our little friends.

Or not. I later found out that what the monkey was doing was a mortal threat. A prelude to opening up a can of whoop-ass. It was the monkey equivalent of spreading your arms out and shouting “Come at me, bro!” It was a threat we would have done well to heed. We were probably safe, because these were properly wild monkeys, but people get bitten by tamer ones often.

Many seemingly innocent wild animals are more confrontational than you would suspect.

Many seemingly innocent wild animals are more confrontational than you would suspect.

That’s “tamer”. Not “tame”. Because Vervet Monkeys love people. Or rather they love our food. If you spend your time scrabbling a meagre existence from the desiccated savannah, finding a creature that leaves vast piles of food lying around is a godsend. There is hardly a hotel in South Africa that doesn’t have its own troop of Vervets. They dart in at any given opportunity to grab scraps left on tables, or buffet displays. They even break into houses.

If we ever left a door or window open down in the bush when they were around, we were sure to be treated to the sight of an awkwardly two legged monkey running off into the distance with arms full of oranges and apples or even the occasional unfeasibly big melon. They have even moved into the suburbs, making life a misery for the residents, who have to be constantly alert. They get so bad that there’s even a show about them on the Discovery Channel which is basically just a video montage of them stealing things that don’t belong to them.

The unacceptable face of suburban crime.

The unacceptable face of suburban crime.

The ones who haunt busy hotels can be a huge problem. Because, as I said, they get tame. Ish. They lose their fear of people. They are smart enough to learn to recognise the hotel employees who drive them off at every opportunity, but will come right up to tourists. And that’s where the problems start. Because they don’t want to be friends. When someone, often a child, gets too familiar, things go to hell. They bite. With these;

Those teeth are not there for eating bananas.

Those teeth are not there for eating bananas.

Something else rather odd happens at some of these hotels. The Vervets become alcoholics. People leave half empty drinks lying around pools or out on patios, and the monkeys help themselves. And they are just like people. Some abstain. Some have the odd tipple. And some become hardened drinkers. This shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Vervet Monkey’s are a little stressed out. Their lives are a constant political struggle. Every day is like a game of survivor. They live in troops of twenty or more, and have a strict hierarchy, enforced by violence. They make alliances, by grooming favoured companions, and allies will unite to take on enemies.

This monkey is deeper in intrigue than the whole cast of “Game of Thrones”.

This monkey is deeper in intrigue than the whole cast of “Game of Thrones”.

Young males get bullied by the two or three senior males in the troop, and get driven out to move into neighbouring troops to start the long climb up the social ladder. The females inherit their status from their mothers, but can lose it to a stronger competitor, or one with better allies.

The political game makes them vindictive; they have been seen wilfully destroying their enemies’ food, rather than simply eating it themselves, out of something very much like spite. As I mentioned, all this can prove a little stressful. They have been diagnosed with hypertension and anxiety disorders. So not so much the whole “carefree monkey” thing. More the “one more drink for the road” thing.

One more drink and he’s going to pick a fight with the bouncer.

One more drink and he’s going to pick a fight with the bouncer.

The constant struggle of their lives has given them one thing. It has given them something very much like language. With so many predators around them, they do, despite their differences, depend on each other. The more eyes there are looking out for predators, the better their chances, so whoever spots a potential danger gives a warning call.

But a warning call is not enough. If an eagle is coming after you, you need to behave very differently to the way you would if a snake popped up next to you, or if a hyena came trotting along. So they have a number of different warning calls. One for birds like eagles, one for snakes, one for ground predators, and even one for us. And the one for us is, interestingly enough, almost identical to the one for snakes.

Vervets are very vulnerable when on the ground.

Vervets are very vulnerable when on the ground.

You could spend a lifetime studying creatures as common as Vervets, but that sort of covers the basics. Except for on thing. Their name. Vervet. It means…   nothing. It sort of looks like it could be somebody’s name, as in Burchell’s Zebra. But it isn’t. It sort of looks like it might be French. But it isn’t. It is simply a gibberish word. Balderdash. Gobbledygook. And that will not do.

It’s always bothered me. But I’ve never been in a position to do anything about it. And now I am. Thanks to you guys. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can make sense. Here’s what I’m thinking; we need a name that will tie into the animal itself. A name that both describes the animal and makes it easy to remember. A name that fits. Let me show you what I mean. This is called  a Proboscis Monkey. Guess why.

(It’s because it has quite a big nose.)

(It’s because it has quite a big nose.)

This is called a Helmeted Guineafowl. Guess why.

It’s because it’s wearing a helmet.

(It’s because it’s wearing a helmet.)

This is a Horned Adder. Guess why.

(It’s because it has horns.)

(It’s because it has horns.)

I’m sure you a picking up the trend here. Lets find a name that fits. that works. That describes as well as identifies. So what about this guy?

The Long Tailed Monkey?

The Long Tailed Monkey?

Look back at all the pictures on this post and see if anything springs to mind; if there’s not something that leaps out at you. Lets agree on a name and get this set right. I’ve started you off with a couple of ideas.

*****

Posted in African Wildlife, humor, long reads, mammals, nature, South Africa, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Poison tree.

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. You’re sitting in the dappled shade of a bushveld tree on a hot summer’s day, contemplating the view, beetles and bees buzzing lazily through the canopy above you, when all of a sudden, you hear a loud pop.

Before settling in, it pays to make sure the shade is unoccupied.

Before settling in, it pays to make sure the shade is unoccupied.

You look up just in time to see a small seed pod drop into a patch of sun on the ground in front of you. It’s not a particularly inspiring seed, slightly smaller than a peanut. It’s not the only one. The ground is littered with them. You lean back against the trunk and return to your reverie as the seeds begin to spin themselves into position and hop energetically toward the nearest shady spot.

It is, good people, time to visit the Lowveld again. I am going to try and hold your attention while writing about a tree. Just one. And it’s not even a Magic Penis Tree. Just a boring old deadly mankiller with explosive seeds than can hop along the ground by themselves. Wish me luck.

It’s called a Tamboti. It’s not unattractive, with a scraggly mop of small green leaves and bark like crazy paving. It’s not a huge tree, but is fairly big by Lowveld standards. And it’s best to learn to identify it early on if you’re planning on spending any time in the bush. Because it’s pretty bloody dangerous.

Back up! I think it’s about to open up a can of whoop-ass.

Back up! I think it’s about to open up a can of whoop-ass.

It’s one of the Euphorbioideae, which sounds very smart, and just broke my spellcheck, but it just means that it is a first cousin of the euphorbias. Which look like this.

A Euphorbia. Which is one of the Euphorbieae, which are members of the Euphorbioideae, which fall under the Euphorbiaceae. Just saying.

A Euphorbia. Which is one of the Euphorbieae, which are members of the Euphorbioideae, which fall under the Euphorbiaceae. Just saying.

And like the Euphorbias, it is poisonous. Unpleasantly so. They all have a deadly white sap that can burn your skin and damage your eyes. My father once absent-mindedly rubbed his eyes after cutting down a euphorbia and couldn’t see properly for days. The thing with Euphorbias, though, is that they are easy to spot. And they just look poisonous, so it’s easy enough to leave them alone.

They are attractive in an otherworldly sort of way, and can bring lots of insects to your garden, but there’s very little reason to meddle with them. Unless you’re my father. They have no leaves to speak of, and the wood is soft and pulpy.

Not the Tamboti. It just looks like an ordinary tree. Which is a problem. If you happen to be the sort who likes to make fires by picking up deadwood lying around in the bush, you need to be careful. Making fires with Tamboti wood is a very bad idea. If one of the logs you pick up to make your braai (barbecue) with happens to be a Tamboti log, you’re in for a bit of a ride. If you eat anything cooked over Tamboti, you are likely to end up with severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and vomiting. And sometimes death.

I regret nothing! Those sosatis were delicious!

I regret nothing! Those sosatis were delicious!

You can’t even use it to warm your house, since you will get the same effects from inhaling the smoke. You would think that this would protect the Tamboti from interference by man. No such luck. We apparently enjoy a bit of a challenge. Traditionally, it was used as a fish poison. Throw a bit of the sap into a pool and you can collect the stoned fish at your leisure. And then make sure not to eat the gills, because they can kill you.

Like many poisonous plants, it is also used in traditional medicine. It’s used, bizarrely enough, to cure stomach ailments. Which is a bit silly, since if you get the dosage wrong, you can damage your internal organs. Or die. Which will, I suppose, relieve the pain. It’s also used for curing toothache. You dribble a little of the sap on the sore spot and pray that you’re not going to die. Which will, at the very least, take your mind off the pain from the tooth.

“It hurts so bad I wish I was dead!” “I think I may be able to help.”

“It hurts so bad I wish I was dead!” “I think I may be able to help.”

Using Tamboti for medicine is not really all that surprising. Almost all medicinal plants are poisonous. It’s just a matter of getting the dosage right. What is a little more surprising is that the Tamboti is highly sought after for its wood. So much so that in some countries it is a protected species. The rich, dark, sweetly scented wood is used to make walking sticks and luxury furniture.

Which sounds reasonable. It’s not. Working with Tamboti is no simple task. When you cut into the wood, you are turning a solid chunk of toxic material into fine, floating sawdust. You can breathe it in and get sick. It can get in your eyes and blind you. It can land on your skin and bring you up in a painful rash. To work with it you need to cover yourself up like Michael Jackson using a public toilet. I’m sure it’s all worth it, though. There’s nothing like a good walking stick, and you can even use it as a cane should you have gone blind.

It is vaguely attractive though. Totally worth it.

It is vaguely attractive though. Totally worth it.

There is one thing about Tamboti wood that makes it stand out. It’s an insect repellent. If you use it to build your house and make your furniture, your house will be free from flying pests. People make coat hangers from it to keep moths away from their clothes. Which is definitely something that I would risk blindness for.

Its poison doesn’t save the Tamboti from animals, either. Most of the other trees down in the Lowveld have a mortal enemy. These;

Who, me?

Who, me?

And they really are a problem. They do this;

Sorry.

Sorry.

Luckily, the Tamboti is safe from the attention of the Elephants. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own problems. They, too, have a mortal enemy. These;

Who, me?

Who, me?

Porcupines are crazy about Tamboti bark, to the extent that you suspect it must have some sort of narcotic effect on them. You may think that a porcupine is too small to damage something as big as a tree, but their size is actually the problem. The only bark they can reach is the bottom few inches. And they do this;

Sorry.

Sorry.

The bark is the part of the tree that carries all its nutrients. Ringbark a tree and it will die. And ringbarking Tambotis is what porcupines do. A 10 kg rat with a punk haircut can kill a 20m tall tree in a night. That’s one of the odd things about the Tamboti. Its poison doesn’t seem to be a particularly good defence. Birds eat the fruit. Kudus and other buck eat the leaves, and when people in Tamboti areas hunt them, they have to be very careful to keep the stomach contents away from the meat. Black rhinos actively seek them out, and eat the branches as well as the leaves.

So there you have it. There is a tree growing down in the Lowveld that is so poisonous that it was used to poison arrows, and almost everything around it, including us, has chosen to ignore its efforts and give it a hard time anyway.

Oh, I almost forgot those jumping seeds. They really do jump around, like popcorn. Look;

If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you probably already know why they do that, since the Tambotis have a cousin there that does the same thing. The Tamboti has small, hard, lobed fruits. As they dry out once they ripen, they set up an internal tension which breaks with an audible pop, scattering the seeds beneath the tree. Where some of the seeds proceed to hop around like fleas on a dirty dog blanket.

The Tamboti is the host plant of a small grey moth that lays its eggs in the fruits. The eggs hatch, and each larva sets up home in a parasitized seed. When they fall to the ground, they escape the heat of the sun by flicking their tails, causing the seeds to shoot up into the air, hopefully towards a shadier spot.

It’s a charming little trick, and children love it. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to keep them around. What does a bout or two of stomach wrenching nausea and possible death matter when you can sit in the shade and watch a carpet of seeds spring to life and dance into the shadows.

Posted in African Wildlife, humor, long reads, nature, plants, South Africa, trees, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Bushbabies.

There are few things in this world quite as cool as going on a night-drive in the bush. You bundle into an open vehicle with hand-held spotlights and set off into a world completely different to the one you left as the sun went down.

If you pay a little extra for the premium package, your hosts might even take you out in a vehicle with a door.

If you pay a little extra for the premium package, your hosts might even take you out in a vehicle with a door.

Continue reading

Posted in African Wildlife, humor, long reads, mammals, nature, South Africa, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Sausage Tree.

Today, I’m going to write about real magic. Just as soon as I’m done telling you about Sausage Trees. This is a Sausage Tree.

We do, believe it or not, have a bacon tree as well...

We do, believe it or not, have a bacon tree as well…

Its proper name is kigelia africana. It grows down in the Lowveld. It’s one of the bigger trees down there, about twenty metres tall, with a spreading canopy of thick green leaves that provide a dense, cool spot of shade. It has bright red flowers that look like they should be carnivorous. They’re pollinated by bats. Continue reading

Posted in African Wildlife, flowers, humor, long reads, nature, plants, South Africa, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Creatures of the Night.

The night has always been a time of terror for us. We are not built for it. We can’t see. We swapped our night vision for the ability to see all the bright, shiny colours that fill our days. When we were new in this world, we must have spent our nights huddled together in frightened little groups, hiding from the monsters that haunted the dark, praying to see another dawn, wondering if it was all worth it just to be able to see a really vivid shade of blue.

Seems like a reasonable trade-off.

Seems like a reasonable trade-off.

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Posted in African Wildlife, humor, long reads, mammals, nature, South Africa, wildlife | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Learning to read

I can read. I can read “Fun with Dick and Jane”.

I used to work in a bookshop with a specialist children’s section. I had a colleague who really knew her stuff. Every now and then, she would talk about children being “reading ready”. Apparently, there is a phase that kids go through when they are primed to learn to read. Start teaching them too early, and they just won’t get it. Start teaching them too late and you waste valuable time.

Too early.

Too early.

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Posted in African Wildlife, long reads, nature, South Africa, wildlife | Tagged , , | 7 Comments