Category Archives: Spotlight: African Animals

Animal Spotlight: The Black Mamba

Arguably the world’s deadliest snake, the black mamba has been the focal point of many exaggerated African legends, making its name feared around the world. Known for its cunning speed, aggressive behavior, and ability to inject potent venom into its prey, the black mamba is not something you’d want to provoke.

Found across the African savannahs and in rocky areas of southern and eastern Africa, the black mamba is a popular snake to witness on an African safari tour. Although they are dangerous, you are extremely safe within your vehicle with your highly knowledgeable and certified guide.

Here are the real facts behind the black mamba:

  • The black mamba is actually grey, but gets its name for the blackish-bluish color inside of its mouth that is displayed during aggression.
  • Reaching up to 14 ft. (4.3 m) in length, the black mamba is Africa’s longest venomous snake.

  • Black mambas are difficult to out-run as they’re one of the fastest snakes in the world—they can reach speeds up to 12 mph to be exact. And surprisingly, they do not use this incredible gift for speed to attack their prey. Instead, they use it to escape threats.
  • Left untreated, the black mamba’s venom has a fatality rate of 100%.
  • The black mamba is so strong that it can raise its 1/3 of its body off of the ground.
  • A black mamba will spend hours on a branch waiting for its prey, which are usually reptiles, amphibians, and rodents.
  • Using its long black tongue to smell, the black mamba will frequently display its tongue when it senses something approaching.
  • Females can lay up to 17 eggs in a nest beneath the ground or in a hollowed tree hole and they will hatch in approximately three months.     

For a closer look at the black mamba and research being performed on it, view this fascinating PBS video.

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Animal Spotlight: The Baboon

babooncarAs the largest and quite possibly the most destructive species of the monkey family, the baboon has made an unfortunate name for itself in Cape Town’s growing suburbs. In the recent months, Cape Town’s suburbs have become more populated and in turn have moved in on the baboon’s territory. Baboons are frequently spotted in these Cape Town suburbs opening windows, car doors, and even refrigerators! 

Aside from their intrusive behavior, baboons are some of the most interesting monkey species in Africa—in both appearance and behavior.

Interesting Baboon Facts:

• Similar to humans, baboons are extremely social beings and take great pride in their friendships. Baboons, however, do differ from humans in the way they express their friendships to one another. Expressing friendship includes grooming, food sharing, and sometimes mating rights.

baboon• Weighing anywhere form 50 – 100 lbs., the baboon’s primary diet consists of grass, berries, seeds, and sometimes meat such as small fish, insects, and other monkey species. 

• Baboons communicate with others using over 30 different types of calls including grunts, screams, and barks. They can also communicate with body language. Non-oral forms of communication include facial expressions, shoulder shrugging, and lip smacking. Not too far off from some humans?

• Living in large troops—up to about 50 members—baboons will spend most of their day socializing and grooming each other.

• Equipped with pouch-like cheeks, baboons store their food when there is a predator in sight or when they simply have too much food in their mouth at once.

baboon teeth• With canine teeth that can grow up to 2 inches long (as long as a lion’s canines), the baboon is an intimidating sight. However, these teeth aren’t primarily used for attacking, rather, they are meant to intimidate other baboons.

• Baboons can live without water for several days at a time. What’s their secret? They lick the dew from their fur during the night to stay hydrated.

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3 Tips for Surviving In the African Savannah—Alone

BearInspired by Bear Grylls, adventurist and host of Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild, I’m going to share with you some tips on surviving in Africa’s wilderness, without becoming dinner. Rest assured, all certified safari excursions are completely safe and you won’t ever need to use these tactics—but just for curiosity’s sake, don’t you want to know how you would go about avoiding the dangers of Africa’s savannah on your own?

Here’s a scenario for you: You’re driving by yourself and your vehicle breaks down. You have no food, no protection from fierce predators and the scorching sun, no water, and no direction on where to go. What do you do?

Here are 3 ways to survive in the African savannah in the most vulnerable state—as prey:

1. Find water: Many times, it won’t rain for weeks or months in the savannah, which is why finding water is such a difficult task. There are several ways to find water sources throughout the savannah. One way to find water is to search for animal tracks and follow their footsteps to see if they lead to water. If you come across a fast moving river, you’re in luck. Streams and rivers that sit without a current can harbor parasites and bacteria, which is why it’s important to find a fast moving river. You should boil the water though, no matter what, to prevent bacteria and organisms from entering your body.

If you don’t find a river, it’s time to dig. Many times, water will be beneath the surface of a dried up river bed. Before committing to digging a hole that could take up to 10 minutes to dig, it’s important to find the lowest part of the river bed (water will collect here). If you do happen to strike water, use a piece of clothing to act as a sponge and trickle the water into your mouth.

fruit2. Find Food: Finding food can be just as difficult as finding water, but if you do find water, chances are there will be food in the area as well. Throughout the vicinity you may find some berries and fruit, but before eating them, it’s crucial that you check to see if they’re poisonous. Here are a few tips to test a fruit or berry:

• The smell of the fruit plays a large role in detecting whether it is poisonous or not. First, cut the fruit open. If it smells like peaches or almonds, it’s poisonous.

• If the fruit passes the scent test, it’s time to place the fleshy part of the fruit on your skin. Rub this part of the fruit up and down your forearm and wait a minute to see if it produces a rash on your skin. If so, it’s poisonous.

• If the fruit passes the above tests, it’s time to bring the fruit to your lips. If you feel a burning sensation on your lips, the fruit is not safe to eat. If not, move the fruit to your tongue, but don’t swallow. If the fruit doesn’t agitate your tongue, take a bite of the fruit and wait several hours to see if you become sick. If not, the fruit is edible.

3. Protect yourself against predators: When walking through the African bush, it’s crucial to keep your attention on every element around you. Being observant will help you to avoid unwanted “surprises.” Depending on which animal you see in the bush, you want to know different tactics and movements to avoid becoming their dinner.

If you see a lion, keep your distance, remain calm, don’t turn your back, and don’t run. Move your arms, head, and feet around, and clap your hands together to avoid them coming closer. Slowly back away from the lions while continuing to face them.

BuffaloAlthough lions can be extremely intimidating to see in the wild, especially if you’re by yourself and lost, there are a variety of other animals to be careful of including buffalos and black rhinos. Both species need their space, which is why it’s important to always keep your eyes open and stay clear of these animals. Rhinos have a fantastic sense of smell and hearing, which makes up for their lack of good eyesight. Because of their keen sense of smell and hearing, it’s important to be extremely quiet and know the direction of the wind to prevent your scent from lingering in their direction.

Do you have any other tips for surviving in the African savannah? If so, we’d love to hear them in our comments section.

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Animal Spotlight: The Ostrich

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Photo provided by Dave and Naomi Estment

Can an ostrich fly if it weighs 350 lbs and is 9 ft. tall? The answer is no—not unless it has jet engines strapped to its wings. But, the ostrich does have one airplane capability working for it—the ostrich can use its wings to direct its course when running and help the animal to keep balance.

What ostriches can’t do in the air they make up for in their great running speed. Running in sudden bursts at speeds slightly more than 40 miles per hour (70 kilometers per hour), the ostrich can move across large distances without tiring. The ostrich cannot maintain this speed for long periods of time though, so, on average, it runs 30 mph (50 kph) and has the ability take 10 – 15 ft. (3 – 5 meter) strides. 

What else makes the ostrich one of the most unique birds in the world?

• Built for running, the ostrich’s legs are long and each foot has two toes. These toes enable the creature to run faster.  

• Ostriches can be life-threatening if they feel they are being attacked. If the force of their powerful kick doesn’t kill a large animal, its 4 inch (10 centimeter) claw on each foot will probably do the trick. 

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Photo provided by Dave and Naomi Estment

• On average, the ostrich can live up to 30 – 40 years of age and is only found in select areas of central Africa and southern Africa.

• Not only is the ostrich the biggest and heaviest bird, it also has the largest eye out of any other land animal. Ostriches also have excellent vision, which makes it easier for them to see predators in the distance. 

• On average, herds of ostriches reach up to 10 members and consist of an alpha male and a dominant hen, as well as several other hens. During breeding season, the alpha male will mate with the dominant female and sometimes with other hens in the group. All other hens in the group must place their eggs in the dominant hen’s nest. The dominant hen’s eggs get the most attention and are in the center of the nest.  

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Photo provided by Dave and Naomi Estment

• Ostriches’ main diet consists of plants, roots, and seeds, but also includes insects, lizards, and other small creatures found throughout their territory. Because ostriches eat so much vegetation, their main source of hydration comes from plants and not from large sources of water. When an ostrich eats, it collects food in the back of its throat until there is a substantial chunk of food, at which time they will swallow.

The beautiful photographs in this post are provided by Dave Estment a well-known South African photographer and are copyrighted by Dave Estment.  To see more of Dave’s gorgeous work, please visit http://www.naomiestment.wordpress.com.  Thank you very much Dave & Naomi for sharing your work with us and everyone wanting to Live the Magic of Africa.

Animal Spotlight: The South African Fur Seal

It doesn’t get much more adorable than the South African fur seal. With big brown eyes, thick whiskers, and a furry little face, the South African fur seal is one of the most precious animals to observe on the coast of South Africa.

South African Fur Seal, photograph courtesy of BBC

South African Fur Seal, photograph courtesy of BBC

Found on the coast of Namibia, Africa and parts of South Africa, the current, estimated population size of the South African fur seal is approximately 1.5 to 2 million individuals—nearly 1,000,000 more than its sister species, the Australian fur seal. Observing this creature in its natural habitat is a treat for anyone, as this species is only found in one region of the world, southern Africa.

African Fur Seals photographs courtesy of Nel Shedden (www.neilshedden.com)

African Fur Seals photographs courtesy of Nel Shedden (www.neilshedden.com)

Interesting South African Fur Seal Facts:

• There are two subspecies of this particular seal, the South African fur seal and the Australian fur seal. These two species are almost identical in appearance with the only different being a slight variation in skull characteristics (and obviously their geographical locations).

• The South African fur seal can live up to 25 years of age and can grow up to 2.3 m (7.5 ft.) in length and weigh anywhere from 35 – 110 kg (77 – 242 lbs).

African Fur Seals photographs courtesy of Nel Shedden (www.neilshedden.com)

African Fur Seals photographs courtesy of Nel Shedden (www.neilshedden.com)

• The South African fur seal’s primary diet consists of sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and some types of crustaceans and cephalopods, which they catch nearly 180 km (112 miles) away from shore. These animals have also been known to snack on other furry friends including penguins and Cape gannets (a sea bird).

• As expert divers, the South African fur seal can dive up to an astonishing 400 m (1,300 ft.) beneath the surface! Compared to expert PADI divers who can usually only dive up to 60 m (200 ft.) these animals are truly magnificent.

African Fur Seals photographs courtesy of Nel Shedden (www.neilshedden.com)

African Fur Seals photographs courtesy of Nel Shedden (www.neilshedden.com)

• The primary predators that feast on the South African fur seal in the water are sharks and killer whales, and on land the main predators are the black-backed jackal and the brown hyena.

• Females are pregnant for about one full year and give birth the following year in late November to early December.

• When pups are born they have a curly black coat, which is molted in about 5 weeks. Their new coat is gray, which is molted once more, almost a year later, into a silver coat.

• Nearly two months after giving birth, the female seal can be out to sea for up to two weeks in search of food for her pup. When the female returns from sea she lets out a call that attracts all the pups in the territory, but only gives attention to her own.

African Fur Seal

• During mid October, males come ashore to fight for their breeding grounds. Once breeding grounds are established by the males, the females will come ashore and also fight for their breeding grounds among other females. The female seals always claim their territory within a male’s and will then mate with that male. Males have been known to have up to 50 females in their territory. That’s a lot of female mates for one male!

Do you enjoy the African Fur Seal?  Please share your favorite photographs and experiences with us.

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Frogging Safari: Discover Africa’s Delicate Creatures

Impressionable mediums such as Hollywood and novels have positioned Africa as a continent synonymous with fierce game, adventurous safaris, and stunning wildlife. But Africa embodies much more than its traditional stereotype as a game-viewing safari destination. Although game-drives are the perfect way to observe the Big Five and other large African animals, it’s impossible to immerse yourself in the minute details of the African bush, where vehicles are forbidden.

Teeming with some of the world’s most intriguing flora, peculiar insects, stunning nocturnal creatures, and mysterious wilderness, Africa is abundant with hidden treasures and unspoiled terrain that make walking safaris a must. There are a variety of walking safaris to choose from, depending on your personal preference. Many travelers enjoy the niche-oriented walking safaris such as those that focus specifically on birding, plants, or lions. But one of those most interesting niche-oriented walking safaris is a frogging safari.

Frogging Safaris at The Dunes Country House

It may sound odd, but a frogging safari is a unique way to observe some of Africa’s endangered amphibian species, and is highly adventurous as it does encourage some detective work on your part. One of South Africa’s most reputable places to enjoy a frogging safari is the Dunes Country House in St. Francis Bay, South Africa. Here, extremely knowledgeable safari guide, Warren, who specializes in frogs, educates you on the unique lifestyle, behavior, and habits of frogs and opens your eyes to peculiar frog species that are endemic to the area.

Frogging Safaris at Dunes Country House, St Francis Bay

With nearly 100 species of frog found throughout Southern Africa, approximately 47% of which are only found in the South African region, a frogging safari in St. Francis Bay opens your eyes to some of the world’s most rare and mesmerizing amphibians. The decrease in the African frog population can be correlated with indirect human influences such as pollution and deforestation.

As wildlife preservation supporters, Dunes Country House is diligently working to help preserve the fragile South African wilderness and give every last frog species the power to live on. One of their greatest conservation projects is the alien eradication program, which helps preserve the area’s drying wetlands and a specific frog species known as the Sand Toad. Dunes Country House’s alien eradication program works to remove any non-indigenous vegetation from the area and prevent human destruction of the wetlands.

Frogging Safaris at Dunes Country House

When you partake in an unforgettable frogging safari, you’re getting more than an educational and adventurous experience, you’re contributing to the preservation of the Southern African frogs’ natural habitat. All frogging safari funds go to the alien eradication program, which is helping to expand the wetlands and give life back to the endangered frogs of this fragile region.

frogging

On the Dunes Country House frogging safari with Warren, you’ll . . .

  • Begin your excursion at sunset and will be equipped with headlamps, nets, and gum boots.
  • Take a Land Rover to Dunes Country House’s private nature reserve, Thula Moya, where you will find a variety of frog species.
  • Hear the beautiful whistles and songs of the resident male frogs. Each male frog looking for a female mate works hard at their music to be the loudest, because in the end, the loudest frog gets the girl.
  • Learn about the frog species in the area and discover what makes these frogs unique creatures. From the soothing sounds to the vibrant colors and hues of these frogs, you’ll discover the purpose of each frog characteristic.
  • Need to keep an eye open in search of colorful frogs. Frogs range in color to bright reds, yellows, and greens, to brown hues with intricate detailed skin.
  • See a variety of frog species including the painted reed frog, cape sand frog, raucous toad, eastern leopard toad, clicking stream frog, bronze caco, and striped stream frog–to name a few.

When you arrive back at the Dunes Country House, you have the opportunity to purchase a hand-beaded frog statue as a souvenir from local crafters. The proceeds from this purchase will further go to the preservation efforts of the area.

Experience the beauty of Africa on a South African family safari or honeymoon safari vacation. Let Hills of Africa Travel create for you a detailed itinerary that is tailored to your every individual preference. Contact us today at 800.940.9344. We’re looking forward to making your dreams come true.

Would you enjoy a frogging safari in Southern Africa?

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Shark Diving And Observing In Gansbaai: A World of Adventure Awaits You

Does your heart pound with envy at the thought of a racecar speeding across a racetrack at 250 mph? Or a skydiver freefalling from thousands of feet above the ground? If so, you may find that shark diving in Gansbaai, Western Cape, South Africa is the perfect solution to satisfy your deep-rooted hunger for adrenaline.

The Great White Shark

With strict preservation laws on great white sharks, Gansbaai is arguably the world’s best place to observe these exceptional creatures in their natural feeding grounds. One of the most popular places to observe the great white shark in Gansbaai is in the channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock—justifiably referred to as shark alley.

Sharks near Dyer IslandFor the more adventurous, you can observe these spectacular creatures up-close from the safety of a specially designed shark diving cage. If you’re on the more conservative side—like myself—you can witness sharks feed from the comfort of the boat. In addition to viewing a variety of shark species, you can see Cape fur seals, whales, and penguins.

Great White Sharks near Dyer Island

In Gansbaai there are a variety of shark dive safari providers and excursions to choose from—some including cages, photography opportunities, manta rays, hammerheads, tiger sharks, and more. Although each shark dive safari provider offers varying itineraries, many supply delicious breakfasts and lunches during your full day of shark viewing and diving.  One of the companies we recommend is Marine Dynamic Tours, which is Fair Trade Certified by the Fair Trade in Tourism company in South Africa.

Below are some things you can see and do in the deep waters surrounding Gansbaai:

Shark Diving Tours in Gansbaai

• Observe a large variety of sharks as you float safely behind the iron bars of a shark cage. Depending on the type of shark dive safari you choose, you can see hammerheads, tiger sharks (the most dangerous shark in the world), great whites, and bull sharks in their natural habitats.
• View shark feedings from the comfort of a boat. Because great whites feed at the surface, it’s not necessary to cage dive if you want to see these magnificent animals. Although it is a completely different experience, you will still be able to see great whites as they come to the surface for food.
• Scuba dive with one of the ocean’s largest and most gentle creatures, the whale shark, or through a handful of wrecks and reefs.
• Photograph enormous manta rays, moray eels, dolphins, colorful reef fish, turtles, seals and wreck sharks.

Seals at Dyer Island

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come face-to-face with one of the world’s most dangerous predators is indescribable and an activity that shouldn’t be missed—even if you are viewing the sharks from the boat! If you’re interested in participating in a shark diving excursion, the best time to enjoy one is from June to September, although many providers do offer shark dive safaris year-round.

Learn more about shark diving safaris today by contacting us at 1.800.940.9344. Our team specializes in creating completely customized itineraries for travelers going on an African family safari or honeymoon safari. Isn’t it time you experienced the African safari trip of a lifetime?

We’d love to hear your feedback on a shark diving safari in our comments section. Let us know if you would ever be up for cage diving.

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