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Must-know Wildlife Facts for Your Next Game Drive

Must-know Wildlife Facts for Your Next Game Drive

By Carina Borralho

Every South African keeps a special place in their heart for the bush and its wildlife, and despite living in such close proximity to nature; many of us long for and adore a game drive in one of our many national parks.

I recently visited the magnificent Marataba Safari Lodge in the Waterberg region, Limpopo, where I went on two game drives at the hands of Chané Jacobs. Chane is an extraordinarily experienced game ranger, who had some fascinating facts to share.

Did you know?

The Rhino

  • The territorial bull will deposit dung in a demarcated area known as a midden. These areas line the perimeter of its territory, and are constantly added to by the bull.
  • When the rhino bull defecates in this area, he will break up the dung using his hind legs, and in doing so, he will trap small amounts of dung in the cracks of his feet. As he walks around his territory, he then distributes the scent – marking his area.
  • Neighbouring rhinos are free to pass through his territory and make use of valuable resources such as grass and water. They too will contribute to the midden but will refrain from breaking open the dung, in order to show submission. If, however, they do defecate on the midden and break open the dung with their hind legs, they are showing signs of dominance and will inevitably battle the male for that territory.


The Leopard

  • The rosettes of a leopard are disruptive markings, which provide them with highly effective camouflage. This camouflage enables them to get within under 10m of their prey without being detected.
  • Being extremely opportunistic animals, leopards will hunt at any time, despite being regarded as nocturnal animals.
  • Their diet has been said to include up to 92 different food sources, with unusual items including fish, insects, porcupine and even reptiles, to name a few.


The Kudu

  • When kudu horns have spiralled more than two and half times, they are supposedly older than five years of age.
  • Horns grow from a very early age in male antelope and continue growing for the rest of their lives. They consist of bone surrounded by a keratin sheath.
  • Deer grow antlers each year and growth is stimulated by the change in season, resulting in increased testosterone levels in males. The antlers do not contain an internal bone structure and are shed after each mating season, at the onset of winter.


The Zebra

  • The collective noun for zebra is a ‘dazzle’, due to the stripes confusing predators as the herd runs away as a group.
  • The stripes have also been said to deter flies from landing on them, as well as for thermo-regulation.
  • Zebra stripes are unique to each individual animal, much like fingerprints in humans.


The Hippo

  • Hippo skin is seven times more likely to burn than that of any other mammal. For this reason, they spend their days in water, emerging only to eat at night or during overcast conditions or extreme drought.
  • Hippos protect themselves from sunlight by secreting a red fluid from mucous glands on the skin, which acts as sunscreen. This ‘sunscreen’ gives the hippo its pink colouration around its eyes and ears.


The Wildebeest

  • It is said that wildebeest are made up of the body parts of various animals. They are said to have the body shape of a hyena (with a shoulder height higher than the hip height), the stripes of a zebra (elongated hair), the tail of a giraffe, horns of a buffalo and the brain of a Guinea Fowl.
  • The comparison with the bird brain is because a wildebeest will run away from predators and then stop running a short while later to see what’s chasing them.
  • Wildebeest are however, extremely well adapted to their environment and are survivors, as can be seen in the Great Migration.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Giraffe

  • The collective noun for a group of moving giraffe is a journey of giraffe, while the collective noun for a group of giraffe standing still, is a tower.
  • Although they are the tallest land mammal, they still lie down to sleep, but only for about 5 minutes at a time.
  • Females have slender tufted horns (tufted because they do not use them), whereas males horns are stouter and hairless.
  • The giraffe tongue is 45cm long.
  • Giraffe consume around 34kg of foliage each day.
  • Giraffe only drink every two or three days as they acquire most of their moisture from the food they consume.
  • A new-born giraffe weighs 100kg.


The Lion

  • The largest African carnivore, lions are the only social cats in the bushveld.
  • Females do most of the hunting; however, males will assist with large kills, such as giraffe or buffalo.
  • Lions are territorial and roar at dusk and dawn to advertise their territories. The roar can travel up to 5km.
  • Lions have a lifespan of 10- 15 years, with adult males weighing in at up to 260kg, and females weighing up to 130kg.
  • The black tips on their tails and the markings behind their ears are known as ‘follow me’ signs, and are used during hunting for silent communication.


The Buffalo

  • Part of the Big Five (five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot), the old buffalo bulls are usually found alone or in small herds, when they have passed their reproductive peak (usually after 10 years of age).
  • These animals lack the protection from the herd and are thus more susceptible to being predated on. The cumulative result is that they are more temperamental and extremely dangerous to approach on foot.
  • They are well-equipped with massive horns (known as a boss), which cover the skull, protecting the brain from potential damage caused during clashes with other males.

Photo credit: Bloomberg

The Elephant

  • Elephants live in a matriarchal society in which the oldest cow leads the herd.
  • Bulls leave the herd once they reach puberty at 12-15 years of age.
  • The ears of an elephant are used to regulate body temperature due to the lack of sweat glands. Up to 12ℓ of blood is pumped through the ears each minute. By flapping their ears, the blood runs through capillaries close to the surface and gets cooled before it’s sent back into the body.
  • An elephant can pump all of its blood through its ears every 20 minutes.
  • Elephants have a gestation period of 22 months, and a lifespan of up to 60 years.
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