Biodiversity is a buzzword here at Londolozi and the rangers and trackers strive to illustrate the complexity of this wild system. Matter of fact the rangers’ mission statement is to “Showcase more than simply the Big Five”. Easier said than done however and in with the advent of digital cameras, editing programmes such as Lightroom and an industry that certificates guests after they’ve ticked off the Big Five it can be difficult to draw attention to the unheralded small things that actually prop the whole system up
With that in mind it’s not surprising that there is an encyclopedia of interesting stuff that is missed and unidentified out there. Sometimes a bushveld day is not long enough to get to it all, more likely it is indifference on our parts but just as often it’s because we can’t see the darn things. Take for example all the weird and wonderful things that lurk beneath the surface of the Sand River and pans of Londolozi. Not too many scientists would cheerfully volunteer, net in hand to wade waist deep through the croc and hippo infested waters and so for the most part what goes on down there is anybody’s’ guess.
Jerry, my tracker at Londolozi, assures me that the waters of the Lowveld contain leeches. Turns out he has had some experience of this as a child and explained that to get rid of them you simply punch the affected area until the leech gets the message that it has picked a bad spot. No scraping gently with a butter knife and certainly no burning! Intrigued I did a quick internet search and was astonished to find that the leeches of the muddy waters of the Sabi Sands are not entirely unknown. Of the 500 or so leeches in the world Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi is truly the most unique in that it spends its entire life jealously attached to one and only one host – the hippopotamus.
It occurred to me that in the photograph of these two hippo bulls doing their best to kill each other, that there were some unlikely supporters on each hippo cheering their gladiator on. Not that the cheering would have been heard as this unusual bloodsucker spends its entire life cosily tucked into the last 10 cm of a hippopotamus’s rectum. Hello? We all thought that hippo flicked their tails to spread their dung: turns out that maybe they are trying to bat away the proverbial pain in the butt.
Who found the parasite and what they were doing down there is another story, but in the struggle to survive in the battlefield of Africa, Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi could have done worse. With a life expectancy of 2.6 years if they had picked an impala chances are that they would frequent a felines’ digestive system all too often.
Anyway it turns out that scientists in the Kruger are having a closer look at this lithe creature and next time I head in there I might visit the scientific services to find out a bit more. Then again maybe this human condition of having to get to the bottom of everything is a bit overwhelming and knowing just a little bit and celebrating the fact that the truth is often stranger than fiction is enough.
Written by: Tom Imrie.