The safari season is upon us again and that makes me shiver with excitement.
As an introduction to the season I dug up my favourite photo from last year.
Last year while on a safari deep in the central Kalahari we came across a pair of mating lions. When the female is sexually receptive lions will mate every 20 to 40 minutes for several days. They do not hunt or eat during this time and do not move very far. They were close to our camp and as a result we had sightings of them every day and great photographic opportunities. On the last morning that we were there, they had moved almost into our camp and we saw them just after the sun had risen, providing the perfect light for this photograph that also captures something very interesting about lion (and other cat) reproduction.
People watching mating lions are struck by the contrast between the amorous gentle encouragement that the lioness gives prior to mating and the vicious anger after mating. The reason for this is that all male cats have backward-pointing spines on their penis and as they withdraw after mating, these spines rake the vaginal walls of the lioness. It is believed that this is required to stimulate ovulation in the lioness but it is also very painful for her – as is apparent in the photograph.
I’m about to leave on safari and am excited about all the surprises that await me on this adventure.
I promised not to post any more about Great White Sharks, but I didn’t say anything about Mako Sharks. Earlier this week I was privileged to do another ocean trip with my friends Chris & Monique Fallows, and it turned-out to be an absolutely incredible experience.
It’s impossible to decide what was the highlight of the trip. How does one choose between seeing albatrosses, Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Common Dolphins or diving with Bottlenose Dolphins, False Killer Whales, Mako Shark or Blue Shark?
Since I didn’t have my camera with me, Chris kindly provided the pictures that you see below, and that has decided the subject matter of this post. Diving with a Mako Shark was nothing short of incredible.
Sunlight on Mako
Mako Sharks are open water sharks that reach a length of more than 3 metres and there are records of weights of 500 Kg. They are perfectly adapted to their role as predators with a hydro-dynamically efficient bullet-shape powered by a powerful caudal fin that allows them to reach burst speeds of almost 80km/hr and all backed-up with a mouthful of formidable teeth.
Open Ocean Hunter
Like the Great White Shark, the Makos are able to behaviorally increase their body temperature, thereby giving themselves and additional advantage over their prey.
Diving with this beautiful animal with half a kilometre of water below me and thousands of kilometres of sea around me was an awesome experience. It reminded me so much of being on safari. This shark was very inquisitive and kept circling and returning to check on us. It was never aggressive at all but came to within half a metre of us on several occasions.
If you would like the best possible shark experience or open ocean experience when you are next in Cape Town, please let me know and I’ll arrange an Ocean Safari for you with Chris and Monique.
Normally I try to avoid posting two consecutive posts about the same subject, but Pat Verbraecken sent me this incredible photograph that he took on our recent trip with Chris Fallows and I couldn’t resist but show it to everyone. I’ve seen some wonderful photos of Great White Sharks and I’ve even taken some pretty mediocre photos of them myself, but I’ve never seen a picture like this. Great White Sharks amaze some people and they instill fear in others but no-one is neutral about them. The sentiments all revolve around their TEETH and this photo captures those teeth incredibly.
Up close & personal
The teeth of Great Whites are one of the reasons for their incredible success. They have several rows of these teeth and can have as many as 300 teeth in their mouth at any one time. Besides being incredibly sharp these teeth are serrated, so by just taking a bite and shaking their heads these sharks can bite off huge chunks of flesh. They don’t have to be concerned with damage to their teeth because their teeth are replaced if they fall out!
I guess that is why (as you can see above) they don’t bother with flossing !!!
Just the other day I had the good fortune to spend the day with two “great whites” – fellow adventurer Patrick Verbraecken and fellow “great guide” Chris Fallows.
Chris, Steve & Patrick
Chris was guiding us off Gansbaai taking us to see some other “Great Whites”.
Great White Shark
Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are wonderful animals. They are one of the apex predators of the oceans reaching upwards of 6 metres in length and 2,268 kilograms – all accompanied by a mouthful of impressive, replaceable serrated teeth.
These sharks have a remarkable arrangement that allows them to heat their stomachs up to 14 deg C warmer than the surrounding sea water while most of the rest of their body remains at sea temperature. This makes it possible for them to digest food even under the coldest conditions.
Historically Great White Sharks have been considered to be coastal species, but researchers have found Great Whites diving to a depth of more that 1.2 kilometres and one shark was tracked and found to migrate from South Africa to Australia’s northwest coast and back in less than 9 months. This is a distance of 20,000 kilometres!
Off the coast of Cape Town, when these sharks hunt seals they sometimes reach such a great velocity in their attacks on seals, that they leap up to 3 metres clear of the water at speeds of 40 km/hr. Chris was the first person to photograph this behaviour. He remains one of the most knowledgeable and passionate marine guides off the Cape Coast.
Yes, I know that they are now officially known as Verreaux’s Eagles but I never liked words with too many vowels and anyway I’ve always known them as Black Eagles. Be that as it may, we were walking along enjoying the beauty of the mountains and I had just commented on how it was ages since I last saw a Black Eagle in the area – when they appeared above us.
These magnificent Eagles with their wingspan reaching up to 2.2metres have always been one of my favourites. They occur in hilly and mountainous areas and their favoured prey is the hyrax.
They are magnificent flyers and seem to simply float on the air. They are almost always seen in pairs and it has been a commonly held belief that they pair for life, however Megan Murgatroyd, who has being studying these eagles recently discredited that belief. Have a look at her wonderful blog at: http://www.blackeagleproject.blogspot.com/
About two weeks ago in the Cederberg, I saw a very recently fledged youngster being encouraged by its parents to fly but this pair seemed to be just getting around to building or renovating a nest:
What a day!!!!
What a place!!!!!
Perfect weather, perfect place, perfect walk.
And then . . . we had a heavenly lunch in heaven – more than half a kilometer above the sea.
First I burnt my hand pretty badly, then Kili became very ill and finally I lost someone very very dear to me. Things didn’t feel great, but as you can see both Kili & I are back on top (of Table Mountain) – and so is Meru!
We had a wonderful day ascending through the mist and descending back below the cloud. We saw three iconic plants – The South African National Flower (Protea cynaroides), the Western Cape Provincial Flower (Disa uniflora) as well as the SA National Tree (Podocarpus latifolius).
The mountain is festooned with flowering King Proteas at the moment. Here Ed & Liz familiarise themselves with the National Flower.
And here is a close up of South Africa’s magnificent national flower.
We were very fortunate to see this Red Disa, which appeared to be the last one of the season.
However, for me the botanical highlight of the day was seeing the Guernsey Lilies (Nerine sarniensis). Although these flowers have been cultivated in Guernsey for more than 300 years, they are in fact originally from the Western Cape.
You will notice that all of these flowers are red. In fact so is the red crassula (Crassula coccinea) and the Cluster Disa (Disa ferruginea) that we also saw today and which is pictured below.
The reason for this is that this is the time of year for the Pride of Table Mountain butterfly (Aeropetes tulbaghia) is doing the rounds . . . and in this area this butterfly is obsessed with the colour RED. So it is a good strategy for plants that flower on Table Mountain at this time of year and want to be pollinated to have RED flowers.
Today we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the beautiful Noordhoek beach. The cool weather was a welcome change from yesterday’s heat, and the lack of gradient was equally welcomed.
While Pirjo demonstrated “strong women in Finland”, Risto watched and encouraged her. Meru was totally unaware of all the effort being exerted in order to elevate him!
Just before we ended the hike for the day, we came across this beautiful Haemanthus sanguineus (Blood lily) from the Amaryllis family. The deep red colours of this plant certainly attracted the attention of the taxonomists. The genus name “haemanthus” is derived from the Greek words meaning “blood flower” and the species name “sanguineus” is derived from the latin and means “blood”. I certainly don’t think of blood when I see these flowers! They simply make me happy.
The Cape Town weather is famously unpredictable & variable. Yesterday was wet & cool and today was HOT HOT HOT but beautiful. There was barely a breath of wind and not a cloud in the sky and the air was clean.
We had exquisite views of Hout Bay
The walk took us along cliffs and ledges
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And along the way we came along this handsome cricket sitting on a pincushion Protea. Notice the fine hairs on the leaves of the protea. One theory suggests that these hairs clog the mouthparts of browsing insects and discourage them from eating the leaves.