Ongava Research Centre Blog...

2015 - Week 16
- (Added 19. Apr. 2015 - 11:00)

I can hear the complaints now. Yet another Photoshop manipulation… Absolutely not! I think we seriously underestimate how high these animals can jump, even when we see them in action. The reason this kudu looks a little unnatural in flight is that the camera has captured the peak of the jump as the animals alters its angle to land on its front legs. The interesting thing here is that none of the other animals appear to be about to rush off into the distance – it is likely that the kudu was ‘encouraged’ to leave the immediate vicinity of the waterhole by a more aggressive individual, here probably a mountain zebra.

2015 - Week 15
- (Added 12. Apr. 2015 - 11:00)

Here we see ‘The Russians’, the three-male coalition from our central lion pride. One of the males has a significantly shorter tail, probably an injury picked up as a cub – he arrived on Ongava some three years ago minus the last two-thirds of his tail. The image shows the GPS tracking collar on one of them (‘Tolstoy’) so that we can monitor where this coalition moves relative to the females in the pride, and also relative to our other male coalition. We are always surprised by the results from tracking collars – last week this group of males toured the entire home range of our other pride! Since we also have a tracking collar on one male in that coalition we could see that these two sets of males were very near to each other for a few hours. No signs of any injuries so perhaps just a preliminary sortie to assess the strength of the western pride…

2015 - Week 14
- (Added 5. Apr. 2015 - 11:00)

I was reviewing some of late last year’s camera trap shots of our elephants, and was taken by how well-matched the colour of the mud and the skin colour of the elephant are in this shot. We know that elephants spray themselves with water and mud in order to help with protection from both the elements and skin parasites. In doing this they take on the colours of the soil. This can be very well seen in Etosha National Park, where the so-called ‘white ghosts’ are elephants that spray themselves from a water source that has a pale clay as its surrounding soil base. Whatever the colour, elephants always seem to enjoy the experience…

2015 - Week 13
- (Added 29. Mar. 2015 - 11:00)

Last year we showed some examples of melanistic and leucistic animals (a dark gabar goshawk and a pale kudu). In both conditions, the cells that make skin colour express pigment in a way that is different from normal. In general terms, being a different colour than others individuals of the same species is bad news, since coat colours for most animals have evolved to be optimum for their habitats. Hence whether you are predator or prey, then you will be more conspicuous, and likely to be less successful. In some cases however, the defect might be advantageous, in which case it is called ‘adaptive’… hence evolution! Here we see another melanistic individual on Ongava, in this case a rock hyrax. I’d say this coat colour is unlikely to give much advantage; hyraxes are the preferred prey species for Verraux’s eagles…

Photo credit: William Novell, Ongava Lodge

2015 - Week 12
- (Added 22. Mar. 2015 - 11:00)

Vigilance is crucial for the survival of species that are potential prey. Groups of antelope are particularly alert when drinking – the flight response for animals that have their heads down may be delayed by a few milliseconds, and that may mean the difference between escape and capture. Often we will see that not all the animals in a group drink at the same time, at least some are on the lookout. However, when an alert is sounded, the group acts as one, as the gemsbok below. Hence the term ‘safety in numbers’, since predator hunting success is found to be significantly higher for lone prey. One species will also react to warning calls from other species – a well-known example is that of warning calls made by monkeys and baboons being interpreted by other species. Interestingly, we see that species appear to have different ‘credibility’ ratings – for example, repeated alarm calls from a lone wildebeest male seem to be ignored, while the merest snort from a kudu send the entire drinking ensemble off into the hills.

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