addo, travel, eastern cape, addo elephant national park, wildlife, south africa

My Addo top 5

As I mentioned the other day, my mom and I recently spent a week in the Addo Elephant National Park, just to take a little break from our busy lives.

While we have this long-standing dream of doing the Camino de Santiago together (which I know we will eventually get round to), time and finances haven’t really allowed (just yet), but we both felt like taking a bit of much-needed time out, so decided to do a more manageable local trip instead.

Both avid bush-lovers, we knew we wanted to go somewhere a little wild, but also didn’t want to spend too very many hours on travel… which made Addo the obvious and perfect choice.

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vergenoegd wine estate, stellenbosch, indian runner ducks, ducks, cute, animals, winelands, winter adventures

Snaps: Vergenoegd runner duck parade

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a real weakness for animals. Especially cute ones.

Just dip into the Gypsified archives and you will find plenty of evidence – phantom cat syndrome, alpaca cuddling with Marli, Monday menagerie, sleepy owls, lonely whales and, of course, a Sandokan overload.

So, when Vergenoegd Wine Estate’s daily duck parade started making headline news sometime earlier this year, it wasn’t very long before I developed a serious obsession.

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Monday menagerie: Flamingos

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Let me just start by admitting that I have, rather sadly, never paid flamingos much attention.

I knew about them, of course (I mean, who doesn’t?!): large birds, pink plumage, crooked beaks, like wading around algae-filled lakes, and sometimes the ocean. Pretty ridiculous all in all. Just not ridiculous enough to drag my attention away from elephants and owls. *Sigh*

Maybe it was the trashy trailer park connection that put me off. (But probably not). Or maybe, like with particularly flashy people, I just didn’t really know how to handle their over-the-top gregariousness, so avoided them instead.

Whatever the case may be regarding my former indifference, the fact is I’ve suddenly developed a solid fascination with these jewels of the air and water. And I think I have Karen Blixen to thank (or maybe blame), as it was one of her signature wish-I-could-write-like-that kind of descriptions in Out of Africa that made me sit up and see flamingos for the wildly fantastic creations they are.

The flamingos are the most delicately coloured of all the African birds, pink and red like a flying twig of an oleander bush. They have incredibly long legs and bizarre and recherche curves of their necks and bodies, as if from some exquisite traditional prudery they were making all attitudes and movements in life as difficult as possible…

The noble wader of the Nile, the sister of the lotus, which floats over the landscape like a stray cloud of sunset…

(Don’t you wish you could describe something like that?)

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By Steve from washington, dc, usa – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963547

So, let’s get right to it… Flamingos. A few fun facts:

  • There are six flamingo species: the Greater (found in parts of Africa, southern Europe and southern Asia), the Lesser (found in Africa e.g. the Rift Valley and NW India), the Chilean (temperate South America), James’ flamingo (High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina), Andean flamingo (same as James) and American flamingo (Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and Galapagos) 
  • Flamingos are known to be monogamous (how romantic, right?). They form strong pair bonds of one male and one female, although in larger colonies flamingos sometimes change mates, presumably because there are more mates to choose from (not so romantic, but totally understandable).
  • The pink, orange or red color of a flamingo’s feathers is caused by carotenoid pigments in their food, and a flamingo’s diet includes shrimp, plankton, algae and crustaceans.
  • They don’t only appear to be hugely flamboyant. They actually are that way as well!! They’re gregarious and highly sociable, dwelling in flocks of up to a million or more.
  • In the wild their life expectancy is 20 – 30 years, while they have been known to turn 50 in captivity. That’s really, really old for a bird!
  • Finally, flamingos are fun.

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Pic sources: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Monday Menagerie: Pallas’ Cat

So you think you’re having an identity crisis, do you? Well, today I’d like to introduce you to a creature that is certainly far more confused than you have ever been.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Pallas’ Cat… or the Manul.

While undeniably adorable with all that soft-looking fluffiness and the huge eyes, these little guys are pretty damn weird-looking.

800px-Pallas_Cat

Photo: Wikipedia

I mean, let’s just take a moment to study the above photograph. Firstly, I’d like you to place your hand over the lower half of its face. What do you see? A monkey, right? Or maybe a teddy bear on a caffeine buzz.

Now, place your hand over the upper half of its face. What do you see now? A slightly grumpy kitty, no? Maybe a Dr. Seuss character on the loose then.

Okay, now, let’s move on to this next picture.

600px-Manoel

Photo: Wikipedia

Place your hand over its head and look at that body. What is that?! Some strange sort of marsupial (but aren’t all marsupials slightly strange? I hear you ask. Yes, yes they are), a misplaced soft toy?

Well, the truth is the manul is generally accepted to belong to the cat family. Not sure how the other felines feel about this, but guess it gives old Pallas’ Cat some feeling of belonging… if you can ignore those round pupils and the koala-like ears.

pallas

Photo: Zooborns

They are found in the grasslands and montane steppe of Central Asia and have been classified as near-threatened by IUCN since 2002, due to habitat degradation, prey base decline, and hunting.

Here are a few fun facts:

  • The species was first described in 1776 by the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas.
  • Pallas’s cats are solitary. 

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Photo: Wikipedia

  • They spend the day in caves, rock crevices, or marmot burrows, and emerge in the late afternoon to begin hunting. 
  • They are not fast runners, and hunt primarily by ambush or stalking, using low vegetation and rocky terrain for cover.
  • They feed largely on diurnally active prey species such as gerbilspikasvoles and Chukar partridges, and sometimes catch young marmots.

401px-WhfPallasCat

Photo: Wikipedia

Sound like all-round pleasant little blokes to me! Your best bet of ever seeing one, would probably be in a North American zoo. Not sure if there are any in the Joburg Zoo or the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria (let me know if there are – would love to see them!)

Alternatively, take a trip to the mountainous regions of KyrgyzstanPakistanKazakhstanMongoliaKashmir or the Tibetan Plateau… if you dare!

Menagerie: Snow Monkeys

I know Menagerie is supposed to happen strictly on Mondays, but I came across an animal so crazy and cute that I couldn’t resist doing a post today. Sure it will serve as a good mid-week boost, no? (Came across it on my friend’s Facebook cover pic of all places!)

So, introducing to you the Snow Monkey also known as the Japanese macaque or the Nihonzaru.

They live at latitudes of 41° to 31° north of the equator, making them the northernmost primates in the world – with the exception of humans of course and can often be seen chilling in hot springs, carrying snowballs and having snowball fights.

Despite obviously having quite fun lives, they seem to be a rather miserable, or maybe serious, bunch. Just google image search them a bit… or follow this link.

True story.

Burrowing Owls

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Yes, yes, another post about owls, but jeepers these little fellows are so cute it would be wrong not to have them in the Monday Menagerie.

Burrowing Owls are tiny, long-legged, humongous-eyed birds that nest and roost in – wait for it – burrows. They are found throughout the open landscapes of North and South America and prefer open, dry areas with low vegetation such as grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, and deserts.

Unlike most other owls, they are particularly active during the day, only sticking to their burrows during the worst of the midday heat. However, they prefer hunting from dusk till dawn, like other owls. So, heaven knows what they do in those active hours during the day. From pictures it seems like they just hang around in ridiculously cute groups outside their burrows.

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The Burrowing Owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA.

What actually brought my attention to these adorbs little creatures, was a picture I spotted on the Telegraph’s Daily Photo gallery sometime last week.

The caption reads:

Two orphaned baby burrowing owls, nicknamed Linford and Christie, have moved into the home of their keeper Jimmy Robinson. The owlets were hatched in an incubator at Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire, and are now being hand-reared by Jimmy. The native American birds, which get their name from living in small burrows in the wild, can find plenty of nooks and crannys about his flat to hide. “Tea cups and bookcases are a particular favourite,” says Jimmy, “but it’s good to see them developing their natural behaviour and they always seem to find me at meal times.” Read the full story at Daily Mail

So, if you’re wondering what to give me as a house warming gift (I’m moving into my new flat on Saturday), I have a lot of books and some tea cups. Think a Burrowing Owl will be perfect. Thanks.

Cry at the sloths

800px-SlothDWA

By Sergiodelgado – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6559888

Okay, so anyone who doesn’t know what a sloth is has clearly been living under some rock… in the desert… since the dawn of YouTube. Maybe it was that Syd from Ice Age who first brought these sweet and slow creatures to our attention, maybe it was Cute Overload, or perhaps ZooBorns. Whatever the case may be, smiley-faced sloths have been giving Maru and the LOL Cats a good run for their money.

So much so that I’ve even been dreaming about them. Okay, I only had one dream, but it was very vivid and involved a tiny, tiny sloth hiding under a leaf… right here in South Africa. Somewhere.

Anyway, I told my cousin, Tanee, about it and she in turn told me about this crazy interview she had seen on the Ellen Degeneres Show with Kristen Bell (of Heroes, Veronica Mars and Gossip Girl narrator fame) who was getting all emotional about a sloth named Melon her boyfriend had hired to attend her recent birthday party. Weird, I know! But, hey, I wouldn’t say no to that either.

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By Christian Mehlführer, User:Chmehl – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3340774

Anyway, as things go on the web, the interview – which you can watch a little snippet of on Cape Town Girl’s blog – of course turned into a funky little tune by the Gregory Brothers, the people behind Antoine Dodson’s legendary Bed Intruder song and that guy enraptured by the double rainbow, that can’t not be watched.

Check it out below:

So, in the light of all this, I’ve decided to add them to the Monday Menagerie. 

And before I go, a few funky sloth facts:

1. Their closest relatives are armidillos and anteaters who have similar sets of claws to sloths.

2. They live in trees in the jungles of Central and South America

3. Names for the animals used by tribes in Ecuador include Ritto, Rit and Ridette, mostly forms of the word “sleep”, “eat” and “dirty” from Tagaeri tribe of Huaorani.

4. Which brings me to the point that sloths may be super cute, but they’re also a bit gross. If you really want to read more about the 2-toed sloth’s habit of climbing into outside toilets and eating their contents, check out this article.

5. At least their own toilet behaviour is somewhat more civilized, as they “go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week, digging a hole and covering it afterwards.” This makes them particularly vulnerable to predators.

The loneliest whale in the world

Imagine wandering around the world talking and talking, calling and calling, singing, screaming, whispering… and never getting a response. Never even crossing paths with anyone vaguely similar to you. (Okay, emo kids, it may FEEL that way to you at times, but it simply isn’t true.)

Deep in the ocean, lives a whale with this tragic fate.

Her name is 52 Hertz, she is an unknown species of baleen whale, sings a melancholy song no other whale will answer and travels the ocean alone. As in completely alone – no family to enjoy a meal with now and then, no mate to hook up with every few years, not even one fellow Cetacean friend.

According to a New York Times article from 2004 :

The animal is called the 52 hertz whale because it makes a distinctive stream of sounds at around that basso profundo frequency, just above the lowest note on a tuba. [Other baleen whales sing at a frequency of between 15 and 25 Hertz]

 

Its sonic signature is clearly that of a whale, but nothing like the normal voice of the giant blue or the next biggest species, the fin, or any other whale for that matter, said Mary Ann Daher, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod.

 

She was first discovered by the US Navy in 1992, when they picked up her sad solo on their classified array of hydrophones used to monitor enemy submarines. Soon after they discovered that this poor creature was way off track – travelling a route that no other whales follow.

Since then, she’s caught the attention of various marine biologists and captured the imagination of cryptozoologists and animal lovers alike. But so far no one’s been able to figure out for sure why she is what she is.

The cryptozoologist Oll Lewis speculates that the lonely whale might be “a deformed hybrid between two different species of whale,” or even “the last surviving member of an unknown species.”

You can listen to 52 Hertz’s unanswered song here and the songs of other whales here.

Now, check out the Sometimes Zoo where I first came across this sad, but strangely magical story. 

 

Monday Menagerie: Okapi

Okapi2

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47647

With the elongated head of a giraffe, complete with little horns and lolling tongue, the stripey derriere of a zebra, and a chocolate brownish middle bit, it’s no surprise that the Okapi, along with creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti, was dismissed as a cryptid by European scientists for the longest time.

Being naturally elusive creatures with a distribution limited to the Ituri Rainforest in Northeastern Congo, the Okapi was actually not even a speck on the European radar until brave explorers started taking on the dark continent and sending home reports about the strange creatures they encountered, of course including these.

Press reports covering one, Henry Morton Stanley’s journeys first brought the mythical creature to Western attention sometime during 1887, but it wasn’t until Harry Johnston, an adventurer and colonial administrator, got involved that the Okapi became a real thing.

Okapi_tongue

By kaelin – Flickr: okapi tongue, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31922540

He started by sending skins and skulls to scientists, and finally got some funding to further his research. His lucky break came with the discovery of a carcass. Yes, a carcass, that he unceremoniously shipped off to England to be dissected and then probably displayed in 1901.

Of course it took the capture of a live specimen to banish the last bit of skepticism and the Okapia johnstonia, commonly known as the Okapi was declared a real, live, tangible animal soon after.

Wikipedia says: Today there are approximately 10,000–20,000 in the wild and as of 2011, 42 different institutions display them worldwide

okapi. artistinafrica.wordpress.com

An Okapi and a man. Check how big it is! From: okapi. artistinafrica.wordpress.com

Okapis in popular culture    

Although I have seen quite a few Zoo Borns posts on Okapis, the most interesting reference I’ve come across was in the first chapter Barbara Kingsolver’s heart rending book, Poisonwood Bible

Here’s the extract:

She is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn’t. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest’s shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs splay out to the sides like stilts, for he’s been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water’s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves.

 

…That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it.