The western grey kangaroo (Macropus filiginosus) is one of four large kangaroos and wallaroos that occur in Western Australia. They are recognisable by the white marks on the forehead as well as their finely haired muzzle. Western grey kangaroos are grazers that feed on grasses and herbs, and like ruminants have micro-organisms breaking down fibrous plant material by fermentation. Most animals move out into the open at dusk to feed from late afternoon till early morning. With plentiful succulent green grass available close encounters such as in Yanchep National Park are pretty easy. Note the little Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) hopping around the roo in order to catch any creatures disturbed by their grazing.
By the sheer number of droppings on the stairs and the penetrating smell of urine underneath the deck of the verandah we should have known we were going to share our Tree Hut with a bunch of possums. Just because of their rather physical presence many people regard those tree-dwelling marsupials as a pest, but because they are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act possums can’t be removed without permission of the State government. Regarding the abundance of wild fruit on our property and the numerous spaces to establish dens, any vacant possum-smelling space would attract new residents in no-time anyway. Apart from their nocturnal ramblings and territorial fights I guess we have started to love our closest neighbours who come out underneath their Jacaranda tree at twilight almost every day; a routine that makes close-up encounters good fun for kids and easy for photographers!
Lately, I came across an entertaining African folktale in which Squirrel asks his brother-in-law Rabbit to borrow him his beautiful fluffy tail. First Rabbit refuses, but after a few days of pleading he consents. Squirrel puts on Rabbit’s tail, promises to bring it back in eight days time and then goes home. Rabbit waits in vain for Squirrel to return his tail, and after eleven days he decides to claim it back. When Squirrel sees Rabbit he quickly jumps in a tree, laughs out loud and challenges Rabbit to climb up into the tree if he ever wants to see his tail again. Ashamed of losing his tail Rabbit goes away and spends the rest of his life living in the tall grass. Look out for these arboreal rodents chasing each other in Kruger’s rest camp trees – and think about how poor lonely Rabbit lost its tail.
The northern part of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve is set amidst the rugged evergreen hills of Zululand, forming a dramatic backdrop to the prolific wildlife in this area. Although the terrain makes up-close game viewing difficult, as opposed to the more open grasslands around the iMfolozi rivers, the mountains can add an interesting perspective to the composition of your photos. We spotted this giraffe struggling with a steep slope near Hilltop Camp, pausing on the ridge to scan the surroundings that made him look so small.
Out of the numerous fascinating features of the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) I find its eyes most intriguing. As a predator hunting by vision rather than scent a cheetah’s eyesight is truly amazing, being able to spot their prey from as far as 5 kilometres away. To protect its eyes from the harsh daylight – unlike other big cats their night vision is so poor they mainly hunt in the morning and afternoon – a tear stain mark runs from each eye to their mouth. These marks are clearly visible in the pictures of this young male taking a late-afternoon rest. He obviously focused on an object in the far distance that we were not able to see, staring right past us and adding an almost condescending air to its handsome appearance. We could only guess what he was looking at.
The red deer rut is a spectacular phenomenon. On our last trip into the OVP (Oostvaardersplassen) we hoped to find the testosterone inflated stags competing for their harems as rutting activity normally reaches its peak when the days shorten. But hinds and stags were still in separate groups, and we therefore knew it was too early to witness the spectacle of roaring and fighting males. Due to abnormally low spring temperatures nature has simply delayed all processes, however, it didn’t stop us from chasing the deer for some nice shots.
The Netherlands is a land of water. The country has been shaped by its force and largely exists due to sound water management. A major example is the Zuiderzee, a large shallow inlet of the North sea consisting of multiple lakes, marshes and channels. As rising sea levels and storms made it bigger over the centuries, surges and floods caused death and disaster. These perilous waters have finally been tamed by closing them off from the open sea in the 1930s, creating a manmade freshwater lake. A big block of land has since been reclaimed for farming, housing and industrial development, but when the drainage of the lowest part was finally concluded in 1968, no one could have foreseen it would become one of Europe’s most important wetlands. Too wet for construction this part was planted with common reed, providing food and shelter for numerous (near) extinct species of waterbirds. Some of these species, as for example the Grey Goose (Anser anser), Great Egret (Ardea alba) and Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea Leucorodia), returned in such numbers that the significance of this area as a major nature …
“I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the giraffe, in their queer inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing” – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa I simply love giraffes, the way they look, eat and walk in all their gracious glory. These were not the first animals we came across on this golden hour morning drive near Orpen: lions and black-backed jackals had crossed our path just five minutes earlier. Although the predators didn’t offer the same photo opportunity, I’ve never had such an exciting start of the day!
Browsing giraffes are a common sight on any safari as they love the tender leaves and twigs of acacia trees. Since a giraffe eats up to 34 kilograms every day in order to sustain its bulk, acacias have developed clever defence mechanisms to avoid being stripped completely. Apart from their big thorns – that can be negotiated by the giraffe’s flexible upper lip and prehensile tongue – acacias charge their leaves with alkaloids, chemical compounds that bind with tannins, rendering the leaves indigestible. As soon as an acacia starts this chemical defence it warns other trees in the vicinity, forcing the giraffe to browse upwind in order to continue his love affair with these thorny trees.
We had seen mum cooling herself down in the mud of the riverbed earlier that afternoon. But when a foul smelling odour of territory-marking secretion reached our tents later on, we knew a den of hyena’s would be nearby. The whole family emerged out of their holes early that night and we had a close encounter with them just outside the gates of Letaba. Its reputation as a craven scavenger is perfectly demonstrated by the fearful, almost ashamed body-language of these six month old cubs, constantly glancing at everything except us.
“Much as I love the lion, elephant, kudu and eland, the animal closest to the earth and with most of the quintessence of Africa in its being is for me the buffalo of the serene marble brow.” – Laurens van der Post Buffalo are one of my favourite subjects. They show an interesting spectrum of behaviour ranging from docile to outright malevolent and offer enough drama for a good photo. This old bull didn’t show much action, but the worn boss of its horns and two diligent red-billed oxpeckers did the trick.
A long stretch of the H1-4 road between Satara and Olifants in the Kruger National Park runs through open savanna, a vast plain of pale yellow grass only sparingly interrupted by trees. This area is prime habitat for grazers as blue wildebeest and zebra, although only elephants came out of the shade to withstand the harsh afternoon sun on this unusual warm winter day. While feeding undisturbed on the few knob thorn trees around him, this impressive lone bachelor made his way towards the camera slow but sure, constantly keeping an eye on us. Being in the presence of such a display of power always evokes a sense of fear and excitement that makes me respect and appreciate the natural order of things.
Since our first visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park ten years ago (then called the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) this place has undergone a real transformation: many new animals have been (re)introduced – notably elephant, white and black rhinoceros – while the vegetation on the coastal wetland savannah on the eastern shore has become more natural, especially in the southern part near the entrance gate. Apart from the already large populations of hippo, buffalo and waterbuck, we were delighted to spot the magnificent herds of greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepciceros) again, one of the crown jewels of iSimangaliso in my opinion. Especially the adult males with their sweeping, curving horns are outright spectacular!