Did you know baboons have a snake phobia? That hippos mate in the water because they’re too heavy to do the deed on dry land? That zebras, wildebeests, and antelope will not defend their young if they come under attack?
These are just a few of the facts our driver-guides regaled us with as we ventured into the wilds of the plains in southern Africa.
There’s more . . .
• When baboons see a snake, they pass out. (Who knew?)
• No matter how amorous, hippos require an hour to complete the mating process. During that time the female is submerged, bobbing up to catch a breath every 5 minutes or so. (Aren’t we glad we aren’t hippos, girls?)
• Zebras, wildebeests, and antelope will not defend their young because they have no horns and are defenseless themselves. They abandon their young and use their speed to save themselves.
• As long as they stay together in a herd, however, zebras’ distinctive coloration protects them from predators. Lions and leopards go elsewhere for dinner because they can’t distinguish the zebras as individuals to pursue. (In a related vein, we were told by our guides NOT to stand up in the Land Rovers when viewing those dangerous beasts because only then do they see us as individuals who might make a tasty meal. As long as we were all seated, they saw us as one with the vehicle, too large an entity to tackle.)
• In the wild, giraffes munch on the leaves of any given tree for only 5 to 10 minutes before moving on to another. The native trees have adapted to prevent their own demise by producing chemicals which make their leaves unpalatable to the hapless giraffe after a few minutes.
• Nature takes care of its own. The babies of three-toed birds can see and fly at birth; the young of four-toed species are born blind and can’t fly until they’re two weeks old. The reason? Three-toed birds can’t perch in trees and, therefore, must feed on what they find on the ground where they’re vulnerable to predators. Four-toed types can perch in trees where they’re safer.
• Jackals always run in pairs.
• Warthogs can run faster than lions. They take daily mud baths which provide protection from the sun, bugs, and parasites. Their color changes with the soil they bathe in.
• Elephants also take mud baths, primarily to keep their skin from drying out. They typically live from 60 to 120 years. Baby elephants can walk within 30 minutes of birth, but reach their full height only after 20 or 30 years.
• Elephants mourn their dead. After a death, the herd stays near the body for awhile, then moves on; later, after the dead animal’s flesh has been consumed by scavengers, the herd returns and scatters the bones.
• The darker the mane of a male lion, the healthier he is and the more attractive to females.
• Crocodiles grow up to 17 feet long and can stay underwater for up to an hour. They prefer deep water where they can ambush their prey. They lay and incubate their eggs from October to December. If the temperature is high, most of the eggs produce males; if low, most are female. The reverse is true for tortoises.
• When a hippo dies, he lies with his feet in the air.
• The red-billed ox pecker hangs around with the hippos and eats the parasites who live on hippo flesh.
• The dwarf mongoose and the hornbill also like to share space. The mongoose digs up insects for himself and the hornbill, and the hornbill alerts the mongoose to predators.
• Kudu antelope live up to 12 years. The curves in the horns of the male start to appear after a year, and you can estimate their age by counting two years per curve. Females, who have no horns, search for males with large curly ones. In fact (well, maybe only in fiction), according to our guides, this is how the kudu got its name: “When the female finally finds a male who suits her, she says to herself, ‘This one kud do.’” (You may now groan.)
• Leopards are solitary animals; they live 15 to 20 years and often drag their kill up into a tree.
• The pennant-winged nightjar is the most unusual bird we saw. Flying only at night on long floppy wings with appendages dangling from their wing tips, they swoop through the night sky with mouths open as they gather insects out of the air.