Kudu bulls with their spiralled horns and attractive facial markings are breathtakingly beautiful. Kudu antelope do not have territories and perhaps, for this reason, they exhibit a marked sexual dimorphism. The males typically weigh a lot more than the female. Their corkscrew horns can attain two and a half spirals and are have a wide span. When the kudu lifts his mouth to feed off trees his horns fit perfectly over his broad back. Likewise, when a kudu bull runs through the thick bush of the Kruger Park he needs to lift his head to run under low branches and his horns fit down over his back. Kudu generally walk through the bush slowly and quietly placing the back foot in the track of the front foot- this track -on track gait is typical of the spiral-horned antelope tribe. Quiet movement through the bush allows kudu to hear any danger in the vicinity. Their large rounded ears are highly mobile and can swing around pointing towards the disturbance. The pink lining of the ear is a capillary rich skin that helps cool the animal, rather than sweating.
Kudu are not water-dependent, getting most of their need for moisture from what they eat. However, where water is available, they will drink often. Kudu eat leaves off trees and are required to put their face right into the tree canopy to find the preferred shoots and buds. Accordingly, their eyes are positioned far from the small mouth and on the sides of their face. The pointed face and small mouth allow kudu to be selective about what they eat.
Kudu calves are born in summer when the cow leaves the group to give birth alone. The calves remain hidden in thick bush for 2 months with the mother returning to suckle the calf just once a day! Such discipline ensures survival!
The endearing Dwarf Mongoose is the smallest carnivore in Africa. These diminutive mongooses live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, occurring in packs of 10 odd individuals and moving in a circular route over a two-week period. The group normally spend the nights in the ventilation shafts of termite mounds. Their rotational feeding and semi-nomadic habits prevent the depletion of food in the area and also stop a build-up of pests and parasites in their temporary dens. The size of the territory of any one pack will depend on food availability and is on average about 30 ha.
Dwarf mongoose has an involved social structure where only the alfa pair will breed and the other members of the pack will help rear the young; characteristic of co-operative breeding. The Alpha pair somehow suppress the sexual maturation of the other members attacking them if the show sexual behaviour.
The dominant female will give birth to 4-6 young and apart from sucking her young, she will leave their care to other pack members. She needs to spend a lot of time and effort foraging to maintain her superior size and milk supply. Of the other pack members, both the males and females attend to the young and astonishingly some females even produce milk without ever being pregnant. The babies are carried from den to den as the groups move until at about 4 weeks, they are old enough to keep up. The “baby sitters” are also charged with teaching the youngsters to hunt, teaching by example. The youngsters learn quickly and are fully weaned by 8 weeks.
The strong bonds between pack members are cemented by constant contact and play as well as sleeping together in the den. They methodically mark their territory every morning when they emerge from the den and every time they change the chosen accommodation for the night. Dwarf mongooses have developed a mutualistic relationship with certain hornbill species. The hornbills and mongooses share much of the same prey species and warn one another when a predator is sighted.
All mongoose belong to family Viverridae, a large and diverse group of carnivores also including genets and civets.
Be patient when looking for and watching wildlife. Be aware that the NatGeo and Attenborough wildlife documentaries were put together over some years and not a few days.
Remember to pause and to listen and to use your sense of smell. All your senses will come alive if you are aware of them.
When asking questions, you will gain more and delight your guide if you listen to the answers.
Take joy in the smaller details, the animal tracks, the birds and the interesting landscape and vegetation. It is often when stopping to view something small that a sighting of big game unfolds.
Try to not be afraid of the odd insect or other creepy crawlies. While these creatures might frighten or repulse you, essentially, they have no interest in you. You are not on their menu, only in their space.
Our winter stargazing is truly spectacular, particularly after mid-winter and the solstice. Scorpio is rising, Orion is setting in the south and the magnificent milky way is almost on the meridian.
With Scorpio stretched across the southern sky, the red giant Antares is easily recognisable as the scorpion’s heart, and the massive planet Jupiter visible in the east, directly perpendicular below Antares! We have been blissfully viewing Jupiter all night, all month! Planets are normally only visible during the time when the sun is setting or rising the Sun sets and rises as they need to be in line with the Sun to reflect its rays. Planets have no fuel of their own and don’t “burn” as stars do. Over this period, Jupiter is visible all night as it is closest to the Earth and between the Earth and the Sun.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system is 11 times the size of Earth but nowhere near as dense. In “brightness” or magnitude, it scores -2.6! Second only to Sirius, our brightest star at -1.46. (Our sun not counting). Jupiter has massive storms and swirling clouds that make it fascinating to view through binoculars. One might even see a couple of the four moons that orbit Jupiter.