Diary entry 3 8 Dec 2011
The previous entry was incomplete, because I saw two more events on my walk. The first was sad and made me angry, while the anther made me appreciate this amazing and wonderful landscape I am exploring.
On my way back I literally stumbled upon an Nguni herd in the thick mist. They were ruminating on the sand at a small river mouth about 2km from Qolora Mouth. Once again I wish I could find the connection between beast and beach. Why would the Nguni spend so much time on the beach, especially at night? The explanation that was given to me was quit logical. The cattle will come down to the sandy areas on the beach to get away from flies and tics that are pestering the herds on the open grasslands.
To me it sounds logical to a point; because there is some nasty flees and flies on the beach also. Ask me, small bloodsuckers are under every grain of sand and being in the tidal zones for long periods of time do have its itches. I decided that there have to be a better or more explanations for the Nguni’s behavior.
I must admit there are very few flies among the cattle when they are on the beach and flies do not fly at night. Meaning the cattle can stay on the hills at night. Previous trail showed many tracks in the sand and it almost looked like the Nguni was taking part in some kind of ritual. There was a new moon present and I calculated the time they were on the beach to be around 3 in the morning. Taking the tides in consideration one can quickly work out the time the tracks was laid down. If you check when last there was a high tide and there are two high tides in a day, you can be sure if the tracks were laid down while the tide was pushing towards the high mark the track would be washed away.
The following picture was taken 7h00 in the morning and the last high tide was at 1h00.
My imagination ran wild and it looked like the Nguni was moving in circles, or were they doing something else. I have been reading stories of herdsman spurring their beloved beast into stampeding down the coast for miles. The Nguni would show off their muscled bodies to their masters and the winning bull will be glorified with poems that are recited around campfires for many years afterwards.
How I wish I could be witness to a spectacle of this magnitude, hundreds of free roaming cattle charging down the beach and glorification to the winning contestant. Luckily the Nguni that I met today was relaxed and once the herd was used to my presence, I was moving freely among them.
This cow is called, “Inala” the one with abundant colors.
This bull is in peak form and one can clearly see the diagnostic black hoofs and snout. This color pattern is called, Amasomi, the bull has reddish-brown flanks like the rufous wing bars of the Redwing Starling.
It was time to head back to the ferry, the motorized float is operating till 19h00 and if you miss the last ride you are stuck for the night in paradise. The mist disappears like only it can before the sun and the sand was starting to heat soles of my feet. I was happy and was absorbing all the beauty around. Being a super predator I became used the fact that all animals will rather flee than fight when approached by humans. I was fast approaching a Swift Tern sitting on a rock close to the water’s edge and for some reason it was just sitting, almost not afraid of my close proximity. It was then that I saw a fisherman’s hook and swiveled line embedded in the poor bird’s neck.
I through my gear down and lounged for it in an attempt to help the poor bird, but to no prevail. There was still too much life in the tern and I was crushed to think that the birds suffering is only in the beginning stage of a long and miserable death. Two more attempts brought me close to tears and I decided that my attempts are futile.
Something so small like a hook and swivel can kill indiscriminately if left unattended. All that I could do was to watch the bird constantly pulling on the source that gives it so much pain. I then decided to make pledge to that bird. On every trail I do, with or without guest, I will pick up every hook, line and swivel that I can find. Maybe I can start a collection point in Kei Mouth that could act as an example for others.
So much happened on the walking trail and I cannot wait for the next excursion in the former Transkei. Life and death acted their age-old play right in front of my eyes, unforgiving yet loving. I am so proud to say I am an African born to this continent and that is why I would strife to protect the land and its creatures and to safeguard those that swim in the surrounding seas. Rangerriaan
Diary entry 2 7 Dec 2011
Location: Coastline Kei Mouth – Qolora Mouth
The aim of today’s walk was to spend time with the Nguni’s and to take photos of different color patterns. It is misty, yet humid and excitement was crawling down my spine. Silhouettes sprang from the mist and I thought it was herd upon herd of Nguni’s, African icon and free roaming beast.
The majority of Nguni cattle have pigmented hides and dark, if not black, hooves and muzzles. The coat shows a variety of colors which may appear as whole colors, mixed colors or as specific color patterns. Six whole coat colors under which white (Umhlope), black (Mnyama), Brown (Emfusi), Red (Embomvu), Dun (Mdaka) and Yellow (Mpofu) exist in Nguni cattle, while eight color patterns occur.
Theoretical there can be only be 48 different color patterns, although the Zulu and Swazi named 72 patterns to ease the task of identification. Herdsmen are known to identify lost cattle by name out of a herd of 500 heads. The names are derived from color patterns the herdsman sees in nature. Nguni’s with uniform brown and blotched white coats are called, “Ilunga”, the Fiscal Shrike.
It is said that “Inkunzi ayahlaba ngokumisa” or, loosely translated, one should not judge a bull by his horns and some humorous names have been given to different horn configurations. Cows with forward facing horns and a slight upwards slope are called,” Mfazi wa lahlega icxala ”. Like a woman who lost a court case and through her arms in the air, because of despair.
Where the Nguni herdsman got the connection is obvious, luckily the cows lost their court cases but are spared the horrible western practice of dehorning. The old Nguni people saw the necessity of allowing natural horn growth for two reasons. Firstly the cattle could defend themselves against Africa’s many beasts and secondly they could be turned into stampeding battle oxen.
With the wild coast surf breaking at my feet I can imagine thunderous hoofs racing down the beach. It was in 1510 that a Portuguese war party, after stealing the children of local Khoikhoi people, was all but wiped out by angry, yet well controlled battle oxen. Survivor’s of this incident recalled how herdsman with a series of whistles direct the cattle like modern-day tanks, catching the well equipped Portuguese soldiers off guard and retrieved every last stolen child.
The mist is still thick and there is no sign of cattle on the beach. Many tracks suggest plenty activity last night or early morning and I had high hopes in taking photos of beast on the beach covered in thick mist. I decided to focus on the second aspect of what I plan to share with guest on my tours. Birding and conservation of the wild coast marine wilderness will be activity pursued by me while I am doing the trail. Guest and nature lovers can join in following natural signs to birds nest and other coastal creature’s broods and burrows. The different sites will be logged and shared with local authorities and conservationist to establish a record of the state of health the coastline is in at this present day.
Abundance is everywhere and if you know how and where to look nature will open up her splendor. The only problem is that we are not supposed to see these wonders, being super predators our fellow earthlings are petrified of humans. Who can blame the lesser creatures for their fear; we are killing them for thousands of years and constantly threaten other species survival.
Contemplating these things, while walking on the beach I looked down and discovered a broken egg-shell. My heart started to race, the egg was still red and wet inside and that meant hatchlings where close by.
About fifty meters ahead I saw two African Black Oystercatchers and my senses kicked into tracking gear. The Oystercatcher’s will plug the egg-shell from the new hatched chick and will carry it away from the nesting area. The birds do not need tell-tale signs of vulnerable chicks and try their best to conceal the already well camouflaged chicks. First I marked the spot where I saw one oystercatcher kneeling through my binoculars. The bino’s gives me an unfair advantage and the vigilant birds were fooled into my exact distance. I walked straight to the imaginary mark and on arrival the birds flew upwards with loud calls of protest. They were upset for two reasons, firstly I had to be close to their nest and secondly they knew they left something behind. Their claw prints will lead me to their nest and not much they can do about that. Everything on land will leave some kind of track, may it be seen or unseen, claw or slime, and there will always be a trail to follow. The oystercatchers were still pelting me with insults when I saw two fluff balls appear in front of me in the sand.
The parent’s tracks were clear directions to the newly hatched chicks.
Such a joyful site: chicks of the threatened African Black Oystercatcher.
It feels so good when you know you are watching something special, you are part of a natural event that are seen by the few and it is my and every other souls responsibility to care for our natural environment, especially the young and new generations. Although my tour is called Nguni trails and focus allot on the wild coast cattle, it is events like these that I want to share with my guest.
The first action I took was to urinate close to the nest, sounds weird and that is why I would do it. Super predators pee even smells dangerous and the idea is to mark the site with my own urine in the hope it will deter other predators like otters or genets. Things need to happen fast and I did not want to spend too much time at the nesting site. Photos were taken and the exact spot was marked on my GPS, information that will be shared with other nature lovers.
Then it was time to say goodbye to the chicks and leave their nesting area, the nest will be gone tomorrow and hopefully they survive their first day on the wild coast. The chicks will be able to run and hide from predators in the next 24 hours and the next time it will be close to impossible to get close to them again.
Abundance was what I experience every time I do a walk on this wild and wonderful beach and so many things can happen when you are having fun. Examples of glorious life are everywhere, but sadly death is also visible. I discovered this common dolphin skull and was sad to witness the end of a creature that is so majestic and free. Pictures came in to my mind of bays in the east where dolphin killing is the norm, horrible and disgusting methods of slaughter and blood coloring the water deep red. Still one need to have a clear understanding that all earthlings needs to die and if we could allow animals to die of natural causes the cycle of live and death can commend for many more ages.
Thank you for reading this entry and please join me again for another entry in this diary. Rangerriaan.
Location: Same position as previous night. After considerable disturbance by my wife’s shaky lightning procedures the snake abandoned the ambush position and disappeared in to the dark river. Later that night the dogs woke me and lo and behold, there was our new house creature. The only problem with our new acquaintance is that it will bite anything that moves. The python’s bite is well-directed and what follows is certain death to any mediums size animal caught up in its steel like coils.
The greatest asset to the python is the ability to hunt unseen in an environment where all the odds are stacked against its intending prey. The above photo clearly shows how well camouflage the African Rock Python can be in or near water.
They favor the “ambush” hunting tactic and use their cryptic coloration to disappear from sight while waiting to strike prey coming down to drink. With their acute sense of smell the python will choose the exact spot where animals were drinking water through the sent left behind by their saliva.
The snake outside my door is visiting the drinking spot on regular intervals and a real threat is formulating in my mind. My pets are being stalked by a killing machine, with no remorse or regret in swallowing cuddly fur balls for breakfast. I could try to catch the python, but I have to admit that this snake is too big for me. My previous catch and release experiences with pythons give me ample respect for these reptiles and to know where one is a lesser creature can be the decisive factor between life and death. A large agitated rock python in its watery domain is a serious life threatening situation and I decided to act accordingly to my previous observations.
The patience of pythons lying ambush in the well hidden spots near rivers is legendary and one should not be fooled by their immobile state. Close inspection will show that the python is poised and ready to strike at any expected or unexpected prey. Expected prey, because with their highly evolved sense of smell they can detect the exact spot where animals came down to drink through the saliva left behind when the animals drink. The python can detect differences in temperature up to 2 meters away with heat sensitive pits located on the upper lips. This gives the python the ability to see a mammal’s heat profile even in the darkest of night. The python will strike the prey animal by the head or upper body with a gaping mouth filled with 250 razor-sharp fangs. These fangs will lash onto the prey and with powerful backward motions the snake will pull its prey into the water, all the while wrapping its coils around the doomed creature. Constricting the animal will begin and 3 to 4 minutes later the animal will be dead. The coils will contract every time the prey exhale, thus stopping oxygen from reaching the brain and other vital organs, ending in cardiac arrest.
Location: 1 meter from where the dog was killed, 04/03/2011.
Observations: I took a photo with an 18-55 mm Canon lens from 3 meters away. The snake is huge and my estimation stands on close to 4 meters, maybe 4.5 meters.
This is my journal on the snake’s movement and behavior for the past two weeks and updates will be added after confirmed encounters.
Location: Mogol River, Waterberg region, Limpopo Province
Observations: Mickey the dog was killed by a 4 meter African Rock Python. The carcass was retrieved by the snake, but consumption can’t be confirmed. Dog died from suffocation by constricting and puncture wounds was noticed around the facial area.
Living a humble life in the mist of the African bush can have its down side. My house is besieged by a 3 meter African Rock Python and for the first time in my life I am contemplating a horrible act. The chill draft floating around my house was not caused by the sudden arrival of autumn, but rather the chill reminder of the viciousness of Python sebae, the top predator lying outside my front door. The urge to destroy was boiling through my veins when I found the neighbor’s dog crushed to death in our small but beautiful back yard.
His name was Mickey and his love for running up and down the Mogol River was his down fall. The predator that was lurking in the water only had to wait, once in its range the out-come will almost always favor the reptile. Warning bells sounded in my head when I realized the snake came back for his prize, behavior that I had not seen in my previous encounter with Africa’s biggest snake. Even more worry some is that the snake is keeping to its nightly ambush in the river outside our house. Even after taking multiple flash photography shots at the snake it clearly ignored my presence, or should I say decided that my girth was too great for its gaping mouth.
The African Rock Python is widely regarded by snake experts to be very aggressive towards anything that comes to close and if cornered should be treated with outmost care. This snake is literally armed to the teeth with some mind boggling adaptations to kill and to defend its self. Cryptic coloration with highly evolved senses makes the Rock python an effective killer; most victims stand no chance of surviving the lighting attack launched by this super snake. Specimens of 7 meters have been recorded and I have wrestled with a four meter female, something not to do on your own. The power of these snakes is remarkable and in its water domain the snake occupied the top spot in the food chain. Join me in a grim glimpse in the life of an African Rock Python and let’s see if it can be possible to live in peace with a predator that is built for the kill.
Rhino Files: 15/01/2011
Rain and more rain, the Al Nina weather system is creating devastating floods in Australia and also in South Africa. The rhino with its thick skin does not mind the extreme weather and it looks like they are more concern with immediate threads like lion attacks or evil poachers. The star formation is a clever defense mechanism that these rhino’s employed to be on full alert while resting. Each rhino only scan the area it’s facing and collectively they will ensure a 360 degree look-out position.