Koekais Guest Farm / Gasteplaas

Griekwastad, Northern Cape

Nature Feature (New addition every month)


This is an initiative compliments of our Field Guide, Masha de Klerk.

It involves featuring a new plant or animal species that calls Koekais Guest Farm home.


April 2017

Nonnetjie-uil / Common barn owl / Ghost owl

Tyto alba

·         The most widely distributed species of owl. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica.

·         They are monogamous up until the point that one of the pair dies.

·         Barn owls can be a host to a large variety of parasites, which include fleas, feather lice, feather mites, blood-sucking flies,             flukes, tapeworms, round worms, and spiny-headed worms.

·         They don’t hoot, as we might expect from an owl, instead their calls can be described as a drawn out raspy shriek.

·         They have quite short lives, usually dying between their first and second year of life. The oldest recorded wild barn owl lived to       be 34 years old (as of 2014).

·         Owls in general consume their prey whole and regurgitate the indigestible part of their prey, like the bones, in the form of a             pellet. These pellets are unsurprisingly referred to as owl pellets.

·         They fly almost completely silently, which enables them to easily hear potential prey scurrying about. They can also find their         prey in almost complete darkness, this is accredited to both their exceptional sight and hearing.

·         The name ‘ghost owl’ is due to the fact that owls are believed to be a bad omen. In actuality, owls are very good to have                 around as they never interact with humans and get rid of a very hefty amount of vermin around your house. Another plus point         is that they are a lot of fun to look at, with their heart shaped faces and all.


References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_owl

http://www.owlpages.com/owls/species.php?s=10

http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tyto_alba/#b99b0170e29ef87e716b0

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Owl/lifehistory


March 2017

Duiker / Common, grey or bush duiker

Sylvicapra grimmia

·         Found south of the Sahara in the savannah and grasslands. They also prefer hilly areas.

·         The name ‘duiker’ is Afrikaans for ‘diver’ which refers to their tendency to dive under bushes and fences.

·         They feed on leaves, seeds, fruits, insects, roots and even nestling birds. On Koekais they love to eat the kumquats that have       fallen from the tree, sometimes two can be seen grazing under the tree just after dark.

·         They grow to weigh around 20kg, with the ewes growing larger than the rams.

·         Only the rams have horns, which grow to an average length of around 10cm.

·         Lambs are able to run around within the first day of birth, but they are hidden under dense cover until they are strong enough to       fend for themselves.

·         They can live to be around 14 years of age.

·         They are active during the day and the night, but they tend to be more active during the night when they venture closer to               human settlements. 



References:

Common Duiker. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_duiker 28/02/2017

Common Duiker. Kruger National Park – South African Safari. http://www.krugerpark.co.za/africa_common_duiker.html 28/02/2017

February 2017

Bergskilpad / Leopard Tortoise / Mountain Tortoise

Stigmochelys pardalis

·         The fourth largest species of tortoise in the world.

·         Leopard tortoises are a member of the “Little 5”, along with the elephant shrew, red-billed buffalo weaver, ant lion, and the rhino       beetle.

·         Average leopard tortoises can reach around 40 cm in length and weigh about 18 kg. Very large examples can be up to 70 cm         long and weigh up to around 50 kg.

·         As herbivores, they feed mostly on grass, mushrooms, fruit, succulents, and prickly pears. They also eat old bones and lime         from the old quarries on occasion, they do this for the calcium that improves shell condition and the quality of eggshells.

·         When picked up they will release all of their urine and water reserves as a defense. This can cause severe dehydration and             death at any time during the year but is much more likely during the dry season. So please don’t pick them up! If you need any       more of an incentive not to pick them up, they are commonly covered with ticks on the soft flesh underneath their legs, and if         the ticks don’t get you they might just pinch your finger between their legs and shell. That really hurts!

·         They can reach up to 80 – 100 years of age in the wild and up to 75 years in captivity.

·         A group of tortoises are called a creep.

·         The markings on a tortoises shell, not unlike a human fingerprint, is unique to each individual.



References:

-   Leopard Tortoise Facts. SoftSchools.com. 

    www.softschools.com/facts/animals/leopard_tortoise_facts/2605/ Accessed: 31-Jan-2017

            

-   10 interesting facts about the leopard tortoise. Ecotraining.

    www.ecotraining.co.za/blog/2015/10-interesting-facts-about-the-leopard-tortoise Accessed: 31-Jan-2017

January 2017

Termiet / Rysmier / Northern Harvester Termite

Hodotermes mossambicus

·         There are different members to this same species, contributing to the astonishing nature of these creatures.

·         The workers are between 8 and 13mm in length, the soldiers about 15mm and the queens 25mm. There are also snow 

      white workers, called nymphs, that care for the eggs.

·         The soldiers and workers are sterile and only the kings and queens are capable of reproducing.

·         Northern harvesters don’t build the iconic termite mounds like their southern counterparts, but instead they build underground 

      nests of about 1m in diameter and 8m deep. In large infestations these nests will interconnect to form one enormous colony.

·         They harvest living and dead plant material and do not infest wood or furniture.

·         They are a very important food source of bat-eared foxes, aardvarks, and aardwolves.

·         The queen can lay up to 25 000 eggs per day, and the aardvark can eat about 20 000 termites per night.

·         After sufficient rain, flying termites will swarm from their nests in the warm evening and fly a suitable distance from their 

      parent nest, thereafter they shake off their wings and find a mate. The couple will then make a small burrow and the female will

      lay her first eggs a week later. After about four months the first workers will be sent to the surface.

·         If you are as interested in these fascinating creatures as I am, and you are fond of reading, I recommend that you read Eugene

      N. Marais’ masterpiece, Die Siel van Die Mier (The Soul of the White Ant). This was so well written after ten years of 

      painstaking research in the veld that in 1926 a Belgian Nobel Prize winner, Maurice Maeterlinck (Maurice Polydore Marie 

      Bernard Maeterlinck), simply translated Marais’ work after seeing it in the Huisgenoot and published it as his own. For shame. 

      But it is really worth a read!




References:

30/06/2016. Hodotermitidae. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hodotermitidae Accessed: 29/12/2016 

Matthew K. 25/05/2010. What You Need to Know about Harvester Termites. Blogger. http://matthewjhb.blogspot.co.za/2010/05/what-you-need-to-know-about-harvester.html Accessed: 29/12/2016 

23/12/2016. Maurice Maeterlinck. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Maeterlinck Accessed: 29/12/2016 

Picker, M. Griffiths, C. Weaving, A. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. 2004 Edition. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

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December 2016

Gewone Tarentaal / Helmeted Guineafowl

Numida meleagris

·         The only member of the genus Numida.

·         Only native to Africa (mostly south of the Sahara) but has been widely introduced to the west Indies, Australia and Europe.

·         Their nests consist of scrapes in the ground lined with grass, twigs, leaves and feathers. It is hidden very well amongst the 

      other vegetation.

·         They can walk up to 10 km per day in search of food.

·         They prefer walking but can fly short distances (around 100m) when threatened.

·         Males will attack if anything threatens their young.

·         Guineafowl chicks are called keets.

·         They avoid very arid regions and rain forests. Despite many sources stating that guineafowl are rare in the Northern Cape, we 

      have no shortage on Koekais.

·         The hard protrusions on their heads are made of bone!

·         They can live up to 12 years.

·         They spend their nights in trees or on telephone poles to avoid ground dwelling predators.

·         They are considered as vermin because they can cause serious accidents when crossing the road.

·         They eat large amounts of ticks on their daily rounds, so farmers and hikers alike  should love them.

·         Breeding season in this area is between October and March so we are expecting some keets pretty soon!



References:

Chittenden, H. 2009. Roberts Voëlgids. Cape Town: John Voelcker Voëlboekfonds.

Riddles, R. 2015. Helmeted Guineafowl. SANBI. Available: http://www.sanbi.org/creature/helmeted-guineafowl 02-11-2016

Numida meleagris. Biodiversity Explorer. 

Available: http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/birds/numididae/numida_meleagris.htm 02-11-2016

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November 2016

Likkewaan / Leguaan / White throated monitor lizard / Rock monitor lizard

Varanus albigularis

·        Call it what you may, this is the second longest lizard species in Southern Africa (just after the water monitor                        (Varanus niloticus). They average at about one and a half metres but can grow to be longer. Their tails tend to be just           a little bit longer than their bodies.

·         They feed on insects, small animals and eggs.

·         For their lairs they will make use of abandoned burrows, holes in large trees or large cracks in rock formations. In                 these they will hibernate through the winter.

·         If they are threatened they will attempt to defend themselves by puffing out their throats, hissing loudly, biting,                     scratching, lashing their powerful tails or feigning death if all else fails. I’ve seen this many times, do not get too                   close or attempt to move them if they suddenly look this calm because they are most assuredly not calm at all.

·         If they manage to bite you they will not let go easily. They are not venomous but their mouths are filled with bacteria             that could cause some nasty infections. A good bite is alleged to cause rapid swelling within minutes, localized                     disruption of blood clotting and a shooting pain around the bite. Keep in mind that they will usually only attempt to               bite if you are giving them no other choice (so will most humans!) so it’s best to just back away so that nobody gets             hurt.

·         In Uganda some people infected with HIV will inject themselves with the blood of a leguaan in an attempt to cure the             virus. This is hugely adding to the amount of these majestic (already threatened) animals being killed.

·         While they can commonly be found lounging on rocks on a warm summers day, they are very likely to be found                     clinging to many a rough surface such as exposed brick (next to our front door), trees and chicken wire.


 


References:

Roddy Smith. Monitor Lizards – Fearsome Predators on Land and Water. Wildlife Pictures Online. Available: http://www.wildlife-pictures-online.com/monitor-lizards.html 22/October/2016

Photo credit to Martin Harvey, Joe McDonald, Pete Oxford and James Warwick (sorted alphabetically) found on www.arkive.org

October 2016

Soetdoring / Sweet Thorn

Acacia karroo

  • One of the fastest growing trees in South Africa, it is abundant all over the country.
  • It is easily recognized by its blackish-grey to black bark and round, bright yellow flowers at the ends of the branches. It also has long, flat, sickle shaped pods that are green when young but discolours to brown.
  • The bark of the younger trees have an orange tinge to it.
  • The long, strong thorns are known to have been used as sewing needles and was also used by early naturalists to pin their collected insects.
  • The gum from this tree is edible and has a sweet taste, it also makes up an important part of the Mohol Bushbaby’s diet.
  • The gum is collected and exported as “Cape gum” to be used in the production of confectionary, among others.
  • The tree makes for very nutritional fodder to browsing animals.
  • Inflorescences (from where the flowers grow) are often transformed into roundish galls by a rust fungus called Ravenelia macowaniana. These galls can have a variety of colours but are commonly grayish-black of yellowish-brown.
  • The crown of the tree is typically rounded.

 

 

      

References:

Van Wyk, B. van Wyk, P. 2013. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa. Second edition, fully revised. Page 586. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Aubrey, A. Reynolds, Y. January 2002. Acacia karroo Hayne. Plantzafrica. www.plantzafrica.com/plantab/acaciakar.htm. 01/October/2016.  

September 2016 :

Ietermago / Ietermagog / Common Ground Pangolin

Manis temmincki

  • Also known as Scaly Anteaters, the pangolin cannot be mistaken for any other animal. They are covered in large brown overlapping scales everywhere except for the face, the belly and the insides of the legs.
  • The name pangolin is derived from the Malay word “pengguling” which translates to “roller”. This is because the pangolin will roll up into a tight almost impenetrable ball when threatened.
  • They have long claws that are used to dig for termites and formicid ants, they are very picky eaters and will only eat very specific species of the above mentioned.
  • Their strong hind legs are used for walking, while the short front legs are held off the ground and used primarily for digging.
  • The jagged ends of the scales are sharp in the younger animals and blunt in older animals.
  • Pangolins are largely free from predation, but they are largely threatened by humans. They are killed indirectly by electrical fences and are directly hunted for their scales and other body parts.
  • They are strict nocturnal foragers and will rarely be seen in the light of day. They are much more likely to come out during cold winters days.
  • It is not unheard of for them to dig their own burrows, but they much prefer taking over other species’ abandoned burrows or just curling up in dense vegetation.
  • The tongues root attachment is in the pelvic region near the animals kidneys. The total length of the tongue can exceed 50 cm, whereas the total length of the animal is between 70 and 140 cm.



References:

Sarah Pappin. 18/02/2012. 25 Facts About Pangolins! Pangolins. Available: http://www.pangolins.org/2012/02/18/25-facts-about-pangolins/ Date accessed: 03/09/2016

Carnaby, T. 2012. Beat About The Bush Mammals. Updated edition. Pages 273-276. Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana Publishers.

Stuart, C. Stuart, T. 2007. Field Guide To Mammals Of Southern Africa. Fourth edition. Pages 86-87. Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Nature

For August 2016 :

Bloukopkoggelmander / Southern Rock Agama

Agama atra

  • Probably the best known lizard in South Africa, because it’s so widely spread throughout the country.
  • During the breeding season (January to February – October to November), the males heads and upper legs will turn   somewhere between a bright and faint blue colour, hence the Afrikaans name that translates to “blue headed            agama”.
  • The females are mainly of a greyish-brown colour, which means they blend beautifully with the lichen covered rocks.
  • They are diurnal animals, lounging in the sun on top of large rocks during the day.
  • Agamas are from the family Agamidae, which consists of a very diverse group of so called “dragons” found in Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East and Australia.
  • They are thought to be highly venomous, though this is not the case. They can however inflict a very painful bite with its two fang-like upper teeth.
  • These agamas have long tails that do not grow back if they’re lost.
  • They are insectivorous animals and their diet consists of mainly ants and termites. They will also eat larger insects as they can grow to around 15cm or in some cases even longer in length.

 

References:

Renier Delport. 21 March 2015. Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra). Bearded Dragons. http://www.beardeddragons.co.za/southern-rock-agama-bloukop-koggelmander/ Date accessed: 30 July 2016

14 April 2008. Southern Rock Agama. SCARCE. http://academic.sun.ac.za/capeherp/cederberg/rockagama.htm Date accessed: 30 July 2016 


For July 2016 :

Kori Bustard / Gompou / Kgori

Ardeotis kori kori

·         There are two subspecies to this species, namely kori and struthiunculus. Today I’m covering the subspecies kori,             as it is the one found in this area.

·         The Kori Bustard is the heaviest flying bird on the planet. Weighing as much as 20kg, but averaging at about 17kg.             Only the males become this large, the females grow to about half that size.

·         Despite their size, they are strong fliers. However, they will only fly if pressed to do so.

·         They reach just under a meter in height, and about 1,2 meters in length.

·         These are strictly terrestrial birds that are partial to wide open grasslands and lightly wooded savanna.

·         They prefer shorter grass, in order to have a clear view of their surrounding area.

·         The Kori Bustards are not migratory in nature, and will only make a move if the food supply or lack of rainfall forces         it.

·         They are omnivorous birds, eating anything from snakes to small mammals and berries. However, the majority of             their diet consists out of insects. They are widely known for eating the gum from Acacia trees. There is a controversy         about whether they are actually eating the gum, or eating the insects that are attracted to the gum. The Afrikaans                 name, Gompou (Gum Peacock), is derived from this habit.

·         Kori Bustards are one of the few species of bird that drink water by sucking, rather than scooping.

·         The kori subspecies have been decreasing in numbers over the last few years. Some organizations have begun n               breeding them in zoos in an attempt to prevent extinction. They can live up to 30 years in captivity, though this is no         reason to keep them captive.

·         References:

https://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Birds/Facts/fact-koribustard.cfm

The series for June 2016 :

Blou-Aap / Vervet Monkey / Tumbili

Chlorocebus pygerythrus / Cercopithecus pygerythrus

·         The name “Cercopithecus” means “long-tailed monkey”, and “Chlorocebus” means “green monkey”.

·         Vervets are not the largest of monkeys, weighing between 3 and 8 kg when they’re grown.

·         They have been listed as being of least concern as they don’t have too many natural predators. They’re abundant               throughout the southern half of Africa and they are extremely adaptable little animals. They can thrive in anything from       densely wooded areas, to areas with sparse vegetation.

·         They live in troops ranging between 10 and 70 individuals.

·         Although they live and sleep in trees, they will come to the ground  to forage for food and occasionally, but rarely,             drink water.

·         Vervets are omnivorous and will eat fruit, leaves, flowers, insects, rodents, eggs, chicks and even hares.

·         They are not exceptionally aggressive animals, but they will attack if provoked. Cornering them, making sudden                 movements, holding prolonged eye contact and smiling with teeth will be perceived as an act of provocation. They             have long, sharp teeth and are capable of doing some nasty damage.

·         Vervets are widely considered as vermin as they can do some massive damage to crops and even houses if they can         find a way inside.

·         Some techniques to scare them away from your house:

    -   Put rubber snakes around the house and frequently move them around.

    -   Paint some big eyes on brightly coloured balls and move them around the perimeter of the house.

    -   I should add, we have tried the snake technique around the guest house (where they love to be naughty) but they              just ended up playing with them.

    -  You should also never feed vervets, if they don’t develop an appetite for your food they will not go out of their way            to look for it.

·         Just like humans, vervets are prone to hypertension, anxiety, and social and dependant alcohol use. They obviously         don’t frequent liquor stores, but they can get rather intoxicated off of fermented fruit.



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References:

http://www.apes.org.za/facts.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vervet_monkey#Behavior

http://www.sanbi.org/creature/vervet-monkey

The series for May 2016 :


Koringkriek / Corn cricket / Armoured bush cricket


Acanthoproctus cervinus / Hetrodes pupus


  • This month I will be doing the feature creature on two creatures instead of one. All the coming facts are applicable to both the above mentioned species. Warning: sit with your feet up, because you’re probably going to feel some imaginary crawling.
  • These little beauties (I mean nasties) are abundant in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. They favour the drier, more arid regions – and they do love their hugs! Yes, we are much more afraid of them than they are of us – they quite enjoy us to be honest!
  • Corn crickets are known for eating pretty much anything. Plants, other insects, each other, animals, and they will even nibble on you if they get the chance!
  • They don’t need many defenses when it comes to humans, as they are so very nasty looking to begin with. But because they are slow, fat little beasts they make for a tasty looking snack to other creatures. Because of this, they have developed the next defenses.

    o        Firstly, they are covered in a thick, hard exoskeleton (this only really serves as an extra crunch).

    o        They are covered in strong, sharp spikes around their heads and on their legs.

    o        If this doesn’t stop you early on, they also have very strong jaws that will deliver a bite that draws blood. It is                     almost guaranteed that they will attempt to bite when attacked. Caution, do not cuddle!

    o        The males of both species produce a loud, high pitched noise by rubbing their legs to their bodies. This is the                    sound that makes our blood curdle around Autumn every year.

    o        If you’re both still around after your meeting with the shrieking jaws of death, they will squirt you with their                       haemolymph (yellow-green insect blood, this is fun). Their haemolymph is toxic and will burn your skin if it gets               onto you. It is unknown what  is responsible for the toxicity in the corn crickets case, but it is believed that it’s                   probably due to some or another plant material they ingest. They can squirt their haemolymph up to 6 cm in                       distance  

              If the corn crickets don’t clean themselves thoroughly after squirting the haemolymph, it will attract other corn                   crickets that will assume they’re injured and eat them as a fast and salty snack.

    o        If all else fails, they will regurgitate their stomach contents, and cover themselves with it. This is usually after                     they’ve been attacked a good many times and are going to be eaten anyway.

  •  Around this time of the year you should occasionally see one crossing the road. Every now and again, you will run over one. This will cause his buddies to run up and eat him, and they will be run over only to have their buddies run over and eat them. This means there will be some substantial patches of flattened corn cricket on the roads. Be on the look out at the tarred road near you!


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·         References: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/creature-feature-10-facts-armoured-bush-cricket/

 


The series for April 2016 :


Hoodia / Bitter Ghaap

Hoodia gordonii

  • It grows naturally in Namibia, southern Angola and the Northern Cape province of South Africa. It thrives in the rocky terrain and semi-desert climate.
  • The beautiful, pinkish flowers are a treat to look at, until you go in for a smell. The flowers have a strong, rotting meat smell to them. This is to attract the flies that pollinate it.
  • If you get past the smell of the flowers, the stem can be eaten. You only need to scrape the skin off before eating it. Opinions about the taste differ, but I am not a big fan of the sour, bitter taste that leaves your mouth dry and your spirits low.
  • The plant is described as being thorny, but this is not the case. These so called thorns on the stem are actually quite soft and bendable. As the plant ages, these thorns harden somewhat.
  • The indigenous Khoisan people of southern Africa believe the entire Hoodia genus to have many medicinal properties. It is used for treating minor infections, indigestion, stomach pain, hypertension, diabetes, and suppressing/increasing the appetite. Wait, what? No, I don’t get it either.
  • The Hoodia genus became internationally known after a marketing campaign claimed it to be a miracle supplement for weight loss, due to its ability to suppress the appetite. This has never been scientifically proven, but from experience I can tell you that the rotten smell of the flowers lingers for hours. The nauseating smell could explain the appetite suppression.
  • The ingredient in Hoodia that is speculated to be responsible for the appetite suppression is called P57. This ingredient is very difficult to isolate, and has never been successfully synthesized. Some of the other ingredients that make up the Hoodia plant have been found to have ‘unwanted effects’ on the liver.

        A US company called Alkemists Pharmaceuticals, a botanical testing lab, found that at least half of the products that         claim to contain Hoodia, actually contains none.

  • Despite the international interest in Hoodia, it has not been classified as endangered, but it is at a high risk if harvest and trade is not controlled.


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References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoodia_gordonii

http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/plants/apocynaceae/hoodia.htm


The series for March 2016 is the:


Blinkblaar wag-‘n-bietjie / Buffalo thorn

Ziziphus mucronata

  • The genus name Ziziphus was named after the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was punished by Zeus for his deceitfulness, having to roll a large boulder up a long and steep hill, only to watch it roll back down. This rolling of the boulder was said to keep repeating into eternity.
  •  The Afrikaans name, blinkblaar wag-‘n-bietjie means “shiny leaf wait a bit”, it loses something in translation. But nonetheless it refers to the very shiny leaves. I believe the “wait a bit” part comes from the fact that if you get stuck in this tree, you will be there for quite some time as it has some nasty thorns.
  •   Historically the Zulu's believed that you should plant a buffalo thorn on the graves of their deceased. Thereafter a family member of the deceased must take a branch from the buffalo thorn, which the spirit of the deceased can hold on to, and travel with it to their homestead. During the transportation of the spirit, the family member must pay for an extra seat on the bus and keep the spirit notified of everything that is going on.
  • In Botswana the people believe that the buffalo thorn is immune to lightning, and that you will always be safe from lighting if you’re hiding underneath one.
  • The small fruits of the tree are edible though not very tasty. The fruits can be mashed and mixed with water to make a nutritious drink.
  • The fruits can also be fermented to make (bad) beer, or otherwise be used as a (poor) coffee substitute.
  • The leaves can be cooked and eaten, it is said that it tastes like spinach, but it really doesn’t.
  • The bark is cut into strips and boiled for an hour to make a drink that is used as a painkiller.
  •  A paste is made from the roots to treat boils, wounds and swollen glands.
  • It is said that buffalo stand with their bottoms to a buffalo thorn when fending off predators, with the tree defending them from behind, they can use their impressive horns to defend themselves from the front.
  • In some cultures a man would propose to a woman using a small buffalo thorn twig. The alternating straight and curved thorns being the reason for this. A friend of the man’s would be sent to present the woman with the twig, is she accepts, she will break off the straight thorn to symbolize the road ahead. If she declines, she will break off the curved thorn to symbolize the past.

            

 

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References:

https://africaninsight.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/buffalo-thorn-tree-culturally-and-medicinally-extremely-important/  


The series for February 2016 is the:


Koedoe / Kudu / Greater kudu

Tragelaphus strepsiceros

  •  The scientific name is derived from the Greek words tragos (goat), elaphos (deer), strepho (turn) and keras (horn).
  • Abundant in the northern parts of southern Africa, they are also spread throughout central Africa.
  • They occur in the arid areas of the wooded savanna, with a preference for acacia woodland and rocky hills. 
  • Usually active in the mornings and late afternoons, they take to nocturnal activity when frequently disturbed or hunted.
  • They are known as one of the two highest jumping antelopes, along with the eland (Tragelaphus oryx). They can frequently be seen clearing 2 meter fences with ease, but they are supposedly able to jump as high as 3 meters from standing position.
  • Kudu are predominantly browsers, but are known to graze on occasion. They are considered pests in certain areas due to their love of crops. On Koekais they love spending their nights eating oranges, tangerines, kumquats and grapes around the house. They basically just love eating! Don’t we all?
  •  Kudus make use of a type of camouflage known as disruptive coloration. They are covered in white stripes that breaks up the solid outline of their bodies, making them very difficult to spot when they’re standing still in the veld.
  • During the winter, kudus are known to eat old bones and soil, respectively known as “osteophagia” and “geophagia”. The bones and soil are sources of calcium and phosphorus, two very important elements that are sparsely available in browsing materials during winter.
  • Only the male kudus have horns, the females don’t need horns as they are well hidden from predators most of the time.
  • They have a gestation period of 9 months, and carry only one calve at a time.
  • Kudu dung is great (and gross) for spitting! Kudu pellet spitting is a well known “sport” in South Africa and have played a part in many a formal competition. The world record for spitting a kudu pellet was set at 15.65 meter (about 51 foot) in 2006 by a Mr. Shaun van Rensburg. It is said that the spitting of the pellets began as a way for hunters to curse at a kudu for eluding them for far too long.



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References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_kudu

Beat about the bush – mammals. By Trevor Carnaby.     

Field guide to mammals of Southern Africa. By Chris and Tilde Stuart 


The series for January 2016 is the:


Witgat boom (Afrikaans) / Shepherd’s tree (English) / Motlopi (Tswana)

Boscia albitrunca

  • Also called the ‘tree of life’.
  • The genus name, Boscia, is named in honours of a French professor of agriculture, Louis Bosc. The species name is derived from the Latin words ‘albus truncus’, meaning ‘white trunk’, referring to the white/whitish-grey colour of the trunk.
  • The root can be pounded to make a porridge, beer, and a treatment for haemorrhoids.
  • An infusion of the leaves can be used to treat eye infections in both humans and cattle.
  • The young roots are roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute. This substitute is quite bitter and strong, locally known as ‘gaat’.
  • It is believed that burning the wood will cause your cows to produce only male calves.
  • Temperatures under the tree can be as much as 21°C cooler than the ambient temperatures that can reach 70°C on the exposed sand surface.
  • The cool sand under the tree is favoured by the sand tampan, also known as the soft tick (Ornithodoros savignyi). This is a dangerous little creature as they are known to cause tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF), the most common symptoms being a very high fever, headaches, nausea, and muscle and joint pain. The symptoms will appear for between 2 and 9 days at a time, the cycle will continue without treatment.
  • The witgat has a hollow trunk that acts as a water reservoir, which can be a very important source of water during drought.
  • The leaves are great for browsing as they have a very high protein and vitamin A content.


          

References:

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www.cdc.gov

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

www.ecoport.org

www.plantzafrica.com

The series for December 2015 is the:

 

Puff adder (English) / Pofadder (Afrikaans) / iBululu (Zulu; Ndebele; Xhosa)

Bitis arietans

  • The species name ‘arietans’ is derived from the Latin word ‘arieto’ meaning ‘to strike violently’.
  • Arieto also means ‘butt like a ram’ in Latin, but that’s probably irrelevant. Just thought it was worth a mention.
  • They are slow moving, temperamental  snakes that give off a loud puffing hiss when disturbed, hence the common name. Even though they are slow moving and stocky, the can strike at amazing speeds, hence the species name.
  • Though mainly nocturnal (comes out at night), they will lay out in the sun, especially in the rainy season and as the sun rises and sets.
  • Puff adders are viviparous (gives birth to live young) and will give birth to between 20 and 40 neonates from one pregnancy (neonates are newly born/hatched snakes, let’s just call them snakelets from now on). In Kenya, a puff adder was recorded to have given birth to 156 snakelets in one go! She must have looked like a rugby ball.
  • They move in a caterpillar motion that leaves a deep, straight track in the sand.
  • Puff adders have cytotoxic venom, which means their venom attacks and eats away at your tissue. Most deaths from puff adder bites occur after about 24 hours, but less that 10% of bites are fatal (after treatment).
  • They’re widely spread and common throughout the more arid regions of Africa and in the southern Arabian Peninsula, they avoid rain forests and mountain tops.
  • Adults average a length of 90 centimeter (about 35 inches) and can grow up to 1,4 meters (about 55 inches). Lengths of over 1,8 meters (about 71 inches) have been recorded in Kenya.


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References:          

’n Volledige gids tot die Slange van Suider-Afrika deur Johan Marais.

The series for November 2015 is the:


Grondeekhoring / Waaierstertmeerkat (Afrikaans)   -  South African Ground Squirrel / Cape Ground Squirrel (English)


Xerus inauris

  • Found throughout South Africa and in the southern African regions such as Namibia and Botswana
  • They prefer the dry environment of the savanna and grassland biomes.

  • They live in burrows that protect them from extreme weather conditions and predators.
  • Known predators

              - Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)

 

  •               - Puff adder (Bitis arietans)

                  - Rock monitor (Varanus albigularis)

 

  • They don't hibernate, in fact, breeding peaks in the winter.
  • The gestation period is between 42 and 49 days, and a litter can vary between 1 and 3 pups.
  • Little is known about the lifespan of SA ground squirrels in the wild, but the longest known lifespan in captivity was 11,5 years.
  • During the hot summer afternoons they alternate between hiding from the heat in their burrows and shading themselves with their tails outside. This repeated escape and emergence is called "shuttling".
  • Females live in social groups of 1 to 4 females with their offspring. These groups share quarters and have no social hierarchy.
  • Males live separately from the females in groups of up to 19 members. Between the males there is a linear hierarchy according to age.
  •  

  • SA ground squirrels have a mutualistic relationship with the meerkats (Suricata suricatta), the meerkats alarm calls warn the squirrels when there is a danger, and the squirrels provide the meerkats with burrows.
  • A baby ground squirrel is calles a "pup, kit or kitten". A female is a "doe" and a male a "buck".


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References:

http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Xerus_inauris/

http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/mammals/Rodentia/Sciuridae/Xerus/Xerus-inauris.html

The series for October 2015 is the:


Swarthaak / Haak bos (Afrikaans)   -   Blackthorn / Hook bush (English)   -   Kikwata (Swahili)


Acacia mellifera

  • Classified as a shrub or small tree.
  • The Latin name is derived from the Latin words:

        'acus' meaning needle, referring to the small, black thorns covering the tree.

        'melli' meaning honey, reerring to the sweet honey-like smell that the flowers give off when in bloom.

  • It flowers between August and September, with second floweriong following heavy rains around March.
  • The wood is termite-resistant and make very effective fencing posts, as the wood is also quite hard and attractive.
  • If ones veld isn't carefully maintained, tree encroachment can occur very easily. If left unattended, the blackthorns form dense, impenetrable thickets that can span hundreds of meters across. This renders the veld uninhabitable and can take decades to be restored once the blackthorns are removed.
  • Twigs from the blackthorn can be frayed and used as toothbrushes. Be sure to remove the thorns first, unless you've been meaning to have that tooth pulled.
  • Medicinal uses:

        A medical study in Kenya suggested that the bark can be used as an appetite enhancer.

        The bark is also used in ethno medicine to treat stomach ailments, sterility, pneumonia and malaria.

  • The blackthorn also make for great browsing, enjoyed a great amount by kudu, black rhino, eland and giraffe. The dried leaves and pods that fall off are also grazed by smaller animals that can't browse the fresh ones.
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References: www.feedipedia.org & www.plantzafrica.com


The first in our series for September 2015 is the:

Vaalbos / Kanferbos / Camphor bush / Tarchonanthus camphoratus

Called Leleshwa in Swahili.The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania use the oil from the leaves to scent themselves.

The Latin name is derived from the Greek words ‘tarchos’ meaning funeral, and ‘anthos’ meaning flower. ‘camphoratus’ comes from the strong camphor smell when the leaves are crushed.

It’s covered in creamy-white flowers, and seed heads that are covered by cotton-like hairs. Between August and September the Koekais veld is covered by the cotton-wool like seed heads falling off.

Medicinal uses:

·         Inhaling the smoke from the burning green leaves is used to relieve blocked sinuses and headaches.

·         Brewing the leaves and drinking the liquid is used to relieve coughing, toothache, abdominal pain and               bronchitis.

·         Boiling the leaves and inhaling the vapor is used as a treatment for asthma.

·         Splinters from the wood are reputed to be poisonous and cause wounds that are slow to heal.


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