When you think of a Hyena, what comes to mind? A scavenger, the creepy laugh that fills the bush after the sun has set? Or the bad guy from the Lion King? But, they are not the lazy creatures that documentaries and animated stories make them out to be. Yes, they steal food from other animals, but most of their meals come from their hunting.
Hyenas often hunt in groups and can take down a wide range of animals such as wildebeest, zebra and other species of antelope. Other snacks on the menu include snakes, birds, fish, lizards as well as insects. They sure make the most of their meals and eat every part of the animal, except the horns. Yes, that’s rights they even eat the bones. They are equipped with super-strong jaws and teeth that can crunch through anything.
The family of Hyaenidae has four members. The Spotted Hyena, the Brown Hyena, the Side-stripped Hyena and the Aardwolf. Of all the above species the Spotted Hyena is the biggest and most common. They are very social animals and live in a group called a clan that can reach up to 80. There’s a strict hierarchy where the females rank higher than the males and the clan is led by a powerful alpha female. The females are also about 25% bigger than the males!
A female Hyena can give birth to one or two cubs a year, which she will nurse in a den. When they grow up the males will often leave to join a different clan, but the females will stay with the same clan for the rest of their lives. Hyenas have an interesting behaviour known as siblicide between the youngsters. If the female has two of the same sex cubs, she will make them fight one another so one will kill the other to eliminate competition in the clan.
Hyenas are one of my favourite animals to see on Kapama Game Reserve. Recently we have been very lucky to come across 3 different den sites situated in the northwestern part of the reserve. One of the dens is not too far from Kapama River Lodge. One afternoon my guests and I were treated to one female Hyena lying outside the den. She eventually stood up to have a look around. Suddenly out came her curious cub which was about less than a month old. So small, still black and just as curious. But this little fella was not that brave yet and stood between moms two front legs as if to say “I’m brave but moms braver”.
A few weeks later I went back to the den site and found the mother laying outside the den again, as it was a very hot day. After a while, what I thought was only one cub, became two cubs. They were as playful as any very young animal that is learning and exploring its new environment. They were running up and down, all-around mom and of course all over mom’s head and body, as if she was a jungle gym. Now and again she would let them know they are overstepping their boundary. This playful act soon became a tackling game but because their legs are still short and unfamiliar, they would clumsily fall over a stick or even something as simple as grass.
It was such a treat to see a different side of Hyenas and my guests left with a changed sense of what these creatures are.
Story by River Lodge Ranger Lisa – Photos by Lisa and Ben
THE – WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHY & HOW
The 15th February is World Pangolin Day. Not too many of us are familiar with these shy and elusive animals so we would like to take this opportunity to give a bit more insight into these amazing creatures.
What exactly is a Pangolin? Many people think of this animal as a reptile, because its whole body is covered in hard scales, but it is, in fact, a mammal. It uses these hard sharp-edged scales to defend itself by curling into a tight ball when threatened. It is the only mammal to be fully covered in hard scales which are comprised of keratin (the same substance as our hair and fingernails) which start soft when a baby pangolin is born and harden within a day or two.
Female Pangolins give birth to a single baby. These babies nurse for 3-4 months, although they do start eating insects at around a month old. During the early stages of life, they ride around on moms’ tail.
Pangolins are often referred to as scaly anteaters, due to the fact their diet consists primarily of ants, termites and their larvae, Pangolins are insectivores and do not have any teeth so they use their long sticky tongues to slurp up insects!
It is believed that a single pangolin can consume up to 70 000 000 insects in a year, the majority of that being ants and termites! 70 million!! That equates to around 191 781 per day!
Pangolins have very poor vision, but a great sense of smell which they use to help locate food. They have strong feet for digging open termite mounds with five toes, each containing claws, these claws also help them to climb trees, Pangolins are also very capable swimmers.
Who is the biggest threat to Pangolins? Sadly, the answer to this is Humans, Pangolins are the second most trafficked mammal in the world next to humans!
Pangolins are in huge demand in the Asian market, especially countries like China and Vietnam, where their meat is considered a delicacy. Their scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies while their nails are used to make jewellery and ornaments.
Where do Pangolins naturally occur in the wild?
There are 8 species of Pangolin worldwide, they can be found in China, India, South East Asia and Africa.
Pangolins are nocturnal (active at night) solitary animals and they live in burrows in the ground. This makes them difficult to see, and sightings are very rare.
Why is it important to raise awareness about these unique creatures?
The truth of the matter is the Pangolin is considered vulnerable and they stand the chance of going extinct in the years to come, should poaching continue at the rate it’s at.
Because of their specialised diet, they form a major part of “pest control”, and by digging looking for food with their long nails, they turn, mix and aerate the soil. This improves the nutrient quality of the soil and aids decomposition.
Although it may seem a minimal loss to some, the more naturally occurring parts you remove from a system the closer you get to total system collapse, and we are inching closer day by day to losing the Pangolin forever.
You might be thinking to yourself what you can do to help raise awareness about these fascinating and unique creatures?
This Pangolin day join us in raising awareness by
> Liking and sharing this blog article, or our Instagram post on https://www.instagram.com/kapamaprivategamereserve/ or our tweet on Twitter – https://twitter.com/KapamaReserve or our Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/kapamaprivategamereserve/
> Use the hashtag #WorldPangolinDay
> Spreading the word of why they get poached and dispel myths of local medicine
Report any activity of people dealing or trading with any pangolin parts
Tim was an enormous bull elephant, with massive tusks that touched the ground. His fame catalysed many conservation programs, and he was a popular photographic subject for safari tourists, who would travel from across the world to see him. He is Africa’s most photographed elephant.
‘Tim was, without a doubt, mischievous’. During the first year, he made 183 attempts to enter farmlands and raid crops. The monitoring team were able to stop around 50% of these from going any further, Save the Elephants said. In February last year, Tim nearly died after he became trapped in a muddy swamp. However was later rescued by KWS and animal protection groups. Former Save the Elephants field assistant Ryan Wilkie said: “Tim was a special elephant – not just to me but to hundreds, thousands of people who would flock to Amboseli just for the chance to see him.
“He was so incredibly intelligent, mischievous, yes, but also a truly gentle giant and in that way a real ambassador for his species.”
Tim captured the hearts of people around the world because of his gentle demeanor. He is an ambassador for his species, as his legend will live on.
We celebrate his life with these images, which were submitted by entrants to our Photographer of the Year.
The magnificent elephant bull, nicknamed “Julian”, was believed to be well over 50 years old, had lived out his life in the Rukinga region of Kenya that lies between Tsavo West and East National Parks and was a sight to behold should you you have come across him on a safari game drive. He was well known to conservationists of the area and his enormous tusks that brushed the ground as he walked made him instantly recognizable. His carcass was found on 14th January 2020 after it was spotted by a gyrocopter pilot who reported it to authorities. We reported last week that the famous tusker ‘Tim’ died last week, also of natural causes.
A tusker is the description given to an elephant with tusks that touch the ground, and there are very few remaining tuskers in Africa – some estimates suggest that there may be less than 40 individuals remaining on the entire continent. Their numbers have been decimated through decades of indiscriminate hunting and ivory poaching. The Tsavo area is known for its spectacular big tuskers.
The announcement was made by Wildlife Works – a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) project development and management company responsible for establishing the Kasigau Corridor in the Rukinga region. Julian was regularly seen within the project area, and officials estimated him to be approximately 50 years old. Wildlife Works aerial surveillance team started to officially keep an eye on him during the Kenya poaching crisis in 2014 when he was the second-largest resident bull. The only bull larger than Julian died during the 2017 drought in Tsavo.
Wildlife Works described Julian as one of the more mobile bulls on the ranches; he would move right down to northern Tanzania’s Mkomazi Game Reserve, and Kenya’s southeastern ranches Koranze and Lungalunga. He would often not be seen for several months at a time, making much of his life a mystery. He would, however, always return to Rukinga ranch to socialize with the large herds, often accompanied by other bulls – almost acting as his bodyguards. Locals say that he would often hide his tusks in bushes when aircraft flew overhead, as if he knew he was a target for poachers.
Julian was not known as an aggressive bull, vehicles or rangers never had to be cautious around him, nor was he known as a crop raider. He had a scar on his right side, a possible attempt on his life from a poisoned arrow of a poacher.
He was found on 14th January 2020 under a tree in the long grass of Rukinga ranch, eyes closed as if he went to sleep peacefully. His death was deemed to be as a result of natural causes.
My guests and I began our morning safari with a sense of excitement and intrigue as we made our way out of Buffalo Camp. I heard from colleagues a pair of male Lions had been spotted earlier that morning not too far away from us. As Lions, especially male Lions, are always high up on our guests’ wish list, we decided to head in their direction. With good tracking from my assistant guide, Ishmael, we hoped to come across a good sighting.
The tracks we followed to one area showed the Lions had moved off. Determined to find them we tried to pick up on their movements. In the distance, we could see several vultures in the air. Slowly one by one they moved down to the ground which is a really good indicator that something was dead. It seemed it was not just us who had noticed the vultures, as Ishmael pointed out the Lion tracks were heading straight towards the birds of prey.
Lions use vultures to find food. They know vultures will only flock in numbers and go to the ground if there is something dead which the Lions use this to their advantage. We looped around straight to the circling vultures hoping we would see some sign of the male Lions. When we got to the location we went to investigate what was causing the flock of vultures to congregate. But we could not see or pinpoint anything as there were so many vultures. Suddenly out of the bushes, the two male Lions we were hunting emerged into view and started to sniff around.
This was a perfect opportunity for us to take some time and enjoy their behavior and interaction with each other and the vultures. Suddenly one of the male Lions started to move quickly past our vehicle. We all turned around to see what caused this sudden reaction. With awe, we watched as the male Lion picked up speed, sprinted then jumped on the trunk of a tree and began to climb. Following his movements I noticed a dead impala hanging quite high up in the tree. It was a kill from a leopard who had chosen this particular tree as its hiding spot for its meal. Unlucky for the leopard, the male Lion had found its prize. The male Lion got higher up in the tree and started to pull on the impala body trying to loosen it from its hiding spot. The more he pulled the more the horn of the impala caught on the branch.
The male Lion took a breather and I could see that he was a bit nervous to be so high up. The fear in his eyes was evident. Normally Lions don’t climb trees as they are too heavy and very uncomfortable to be high up in a tree trying to keep their balance as not to fall.
But this male Lion seemed to put his fears aside and continued to concentrate on getting the impala kill loose. He seemed determined to do anything to get it. With a second attempt, he gripped tighter, and with one more mighty pull managed to dislodge the impala. That was only one part of his mission.
Now he had to still get down. Step by step he tried to move slowly down the tree, then suddenly he slipped and fell straight down. As he hit the ground the other male Lion charged in and grabbed the impala, attempting to steal it. As quickly as he fell he swung around and gripped his prize trying hard not to give it up. A classic tug of war commenced between these two great beasts, each one pulling as hard as possible trying to take the meal for themselves. With this incredible force, the impala split in half and both Lions ran to separate corners, pleased with their winnings.
What an experience this was, not only for my guests but for myself and Ishamel as well. From the tracking of the two Lions to the vultures. From witnessing a Lion climbing a tree to the stealing of the carcass and finally the ultimate tug of war. Such an unexpected and unforgettable sighting of a Big Five. Another terrific ending to our guests’ safari stays at Kapama.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Ben Scheepers