Not so long ago, Alex Jordan wrote about the knob thorn tree, and how it fits into the ecosystem at this time of year. It drew my attention to another tree that is quite striking at present – the sausage tree (Kigelia africana).

sausage tree, kigelia africana

A sausage tree showing its characteristic sausage-like fruits. Not so long from now, these fruits will be appearing on the sausage trees around Londolozi.

These trees are also in full bloom at the moment, giving a splash of colour to the dry winter landscape. The flowers are a deep and vivid red, and stand out amongst the bright green leaves. What also draws ones’ attention to this tree is the orchestra of bird calls and hive of animal activity in and around the tree. I sat with a friend under a prominent Kigelia tree yesterday and together we counted at least ten different bird species; we saw bushbuck as we arrived, had nyala approach us and watched giraffe under another sausage tree close by.

sausage tree, kigelia africana, flowers, red

The bright red flowers of Kigelia africana hanging from the tree crown. As these are pollinated by a myriad of species that visit them, the characteristic sausage-like fruits will develop.

sausage tree, flowers, ground, red

Flowers drop to the ground after some time. Note the prominent fine holes on the petals of the nearest flower. These may have been caused by the many birds that grip onto the flower while feeding off nectar, or possibly by bats, who are also believed to be pollinators of this beautiful flower. Once on the ground, these flowers are now accessible to a large number of mammal species.

We began to think about the profound impact this one tree has on the life in this area.
By simply existing on the bank of the Sand River, this tree is stabilizing the soil, ensuring that when the river flows, the soil does not get washed into the river. The cumulative impact of many trees and grasses stabilizing the river’s banks enables the water to be clear and free of too much sediment. This in turn allows for fresh water fish to survive (approximately 37 fish species occur in the Sand River), which in turn provide a source of food to birds such as grey heron. Don’t forget that grey herons hunt by sight thus also benefitting from the clear river water.

londolozi, leopard, sausage tree, land rover, kruger parkJT

The Mashaba female leopard rests in the shade of a sausage tree, much to the delight of the Londolozi guests. Not only does the tree provide forage and nectar for animals, but also shade and resting places. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Leopards make use of the shady canopy to wile away the hot hours of daylight in, sometimes dragging their kills into the sheltering branches. A documentary on one particular leopard in Botswana’s Okavango Delta highlighted that individual’s amazing behaviour of hunting regularly from Sausage trees, hiding amongst the dense leaves then dropping down from heights of up to eight metres onto unsuspecting antelope that had come to feed on the flowers that had fallen to the ground below.

Baboons and monkeys gnaw open the sausages to access the lusher insides, and during times of sparse grazing, hippos will feed on them as well, their powerful jaws able to break open the outer shells that many other animals cannot.

Realising the incredible diversity of life that makes use of the tree, it struck us that we are all connected: soil, water, plants, animals, insects, humans. We are all part of a dynamic system that relies on the presence of each other to exist in harmony.

Connection: a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else

There are countless examples of symbiotic relationships in nature whereby the presence and actions of one individual or population have an impact on the existence of other species and individuals, that would otherwise struggle to survive. In fact, a whole field of study is dedicated to this: ecology.

Myself and guests recently spotted a blacksmith lapwing with three tiny chicks in an open clearing. The birds nest in these open areas around waterholes. It struck me that these chicks are extremely vulnerable to being trampled by the large visitors to the waterhole such as rhino and elephant. However, it turns out that the lapwings most often will use the depression left by a large antelope, elephant or rhino hoof/foot as their nesting site! Thus the presence of the large animals has a direct benefit for the existence of the lapwings.

blacksmith lapwing, chicks, nest

A blacksmith lapwing provides shade for a chick by standing over and fluffing its belly feathers. A second and third chick can be seen behind the adult when one looks carefully. The adult has chosen a depression from an antelope footprint in which to conceal the chick while shading it.

As humans, we sometimes separate ourselves from nature, whereas I do believe that we are very much a part of the ecosystem. At Londolozi we feel almost guilt if we refer to what we do here as work. It is somewhat of a gift though, as we are lucky enough to breathe in the fresh oxygen provided to us by trees like the sausage tree, and step foot in the beach sand provided by millions of years of erosion by the Sand River. Most importantly, we are able to connect with hundreds of interesting people year round and introduce them to this intricate and dynamic system, becoming a part of the animals’ stories together as we set out into the wilderness on a daily basis.

A magical moment witnessed by tracker Life Sibuyi as a male leopard seeks cover, pausing next to a Londolozi vehicle. Photograph by James Souchon

A connection (as defined above) is developed with the animals and the plants out here that often results in a photograph of a leopard (for example) being taken home to share with friends. The leopard in the image is now connecting with new people, drawing them closer to the wilderness. In some instances, this may culminate in new guests arriving at Londolozi, contributing to a conservation model that allows for the protection of all living things here, simply by enabling species to exist in a protected nature reserve. Taking this a step further, people from near and far are now provided with an income – thus the leopard in the image has indirectly given a child from a rural community access to education through programs like the Good Work Foundation.

Young learners connecting at a digital learning centre established by Londolozi’s partner, the Good Work Foundation (GWF). See more images of the GWF here.

Without the trees such as the sausage trees and the knob thorns, the river may not flow as well and the fish may not survive. The herons may move on to find other places to feed and the leopards may not have such great places to sleep. Game drives may not provide such incredible sightings and thus guests may not return. Thus income would dwindle and the nature reserves would lack funding for the protection of all species. However, luckily this is not the case! We are all connected and the land is in a marvelous equilibrium.

Let these small examples be a reminder to us all – wherever we are in the world – that the beings of the Earth all rely on each other for their existence. We are one of these beings.

About the Author

Pete Thorpe

Field Guide

Right from his very first bush trip at the age of four, Pete was always enthralled by this environment. Having grown up in the Middle East, Pete’s home-away-from-home has always been a bungalow in the Greater Kruger National Park, where his family had ...

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Marinda Drake

Lovely blog. Reading it bring back so many memories. We also saw a leopard “hiding” in a sausage tree. A baboon eating the fruit. Impala eating the flowers. One of my favourite trees.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Marinda. The sausage tree truly does attract a wide variety of life! I’m glad this brought back some good memories.

Humaira Paruk

Loved this!

Denise Vouri

Great writing. Your blog took me back to when I saw my first “sausage” tree, and marveled at the number of animals that call this tree their nourishment or hiding place. Your concentration on connection and what it means in the bush, and ultimately the carryover to humans is an important thought for all to contemplate. We are not alone and can only survive if we seek and acknowledge our connection to the universe.

Leonie De Young

You are so right Denise. We are not alone and we rely on all forms of beings in order to survive.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Denise and Leonie. Sometimes it takes a few quiet moments out here in the bush, or wherever one is in the World, to become aware of these subtle yet important connections. Thanks for your kind words

Jodi Jacob

I felt this interconnection with nature for the first time in my life on my visit to Londolozi. It has stayed with me since – I view the world differently – and our place within it, as a result. A sense of perspective and gratitude for nature. Thanks Londolozi!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Jodi. That is wonderful to hear. We hope to see you at Londolozi again to refresh that feeling of perspective and gratitude!

Gawie Jordaan

I sit here & look at the leopard sitting next to the vehicle.. imagining its “presence” & wishing i will one day see something special.. Then again.. every small puzzle is unique & part of the bigger puzzle. That is why building puzzles is not for the hasty i guess..

Pete Thorpe

Hi Gawie. We are very privileged to witness moments like the one captured in that image of the leopard next to the vehicle. Keep an eye out every day for those magical moments of joy wherever you may be! Hopefully one day you will be the one sitting in the vehicle in the presence of a majestic leopard

Marlin Jackson

Such an awe-inspiring blog post, love it!

Pete Thorpe

Thanks Marlin!

Leonie De Young

A really beautiful blog Pete. Loved the focus on connectivity. I have never been to Londolozi, but if I ever was able to travel to Africa, I would choose Londolozi to experience the comraderie, the good work you do in protecting your magnificent animals and helping the kids to learn. Sounds to me like heaven on earth. Thank you.

Pete Thorpe

An absolute pleasure, Leonie. Please do come and visit this little ‘heaven on Earth’ one day, so that we can share this all with you!

Callum Evans

A beautiful post that could not be more true! Every day I hear about some way that elements of the natural world interact with each other and how one specific species of orchid can only be pollinated by one bee, or how giant tortoises on the Galapagos create new habitats for plants and insects by flattening vegetation. There are so many lessons that we can learn from nature, we just need to pay attention.

Callum Evans

Also loved that photo of the encounter with the Piva Male, absolutely brilliant!

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