When one envisions the perfect African Safari, images of the Big Five tickle the imagination, and for a good reason! The uncanny power of lions and leopards and their fascinating lives, leave us in awe. But behind the scenes a much larger force plays an invaluable role. They might not be as beautiful, majestic or nearly as large as these animals, but their role in the well being of a healthy ecosystem outweighs the Big Five ten fold.
White backed Vultures
“Hawk-eyed” is a byword for excellent vision and observation. “Vulture-eyed” gives new meaning to the word. These phenomenal birds are able to spot a three centimeter object at over a kilometre away. Vultures, like hyenas have been made out to be ‘evil’ for all the wrong reasons. Both feed on carrion or animals on the verge of dying – thereby classifying them as scavengers. They are perfectly adapted to perform these tasks with their exceptional eyesight (second to none), strong bills and ability to utilize thermals (a vortex of warm rising air) to soar high above the ground without expending too much energy in search of food. One of their most important tasks is to control the spread of anthrax. They are able to feed on infected meat, which their extremely corrosive digestive system breaks down. They are able to consume 20% of their bodyweight in one sitting thereby minimising the spread of this deadly disease.
Dung beetles (coprophages, which means feces eaters – although some do feed on mushrooms and rotting vegetation), are principle members of the clean-up crew of the bushveld, able to carry off and scatter a pile of dung in an amazingly short time.
Dung beetles play a remarkable role in the ecological balance of Londolozi. By burying dung (in which they also lay their eggs) they effectively aerate, fertilize and enhance the structure of soils. They also indirectly protect other animals by removing balls of dung which, if left, could provide habitat for various pests, such as flies. Their work results in a healthy environment.
The hyena has traditionally been feared and loathed as the embodiment of evil. Let’s try and change the perception of this astonishing animal. Thanks to its acute eyesight, excellent sense of smell, and also a social way of life, hyenas are one of the most skilful and dangerous predators. They are however more revered for their ability to utilize every last scrap or bone of a carcass. Their jaws and teeth are capable of crunching the densest bone, which they are able to digest (only a handful of other animals are capable of doing this) Thereby taking advantage of proteins and calcium that other animals simply can’t eat.
By having these wonderful olfactory capabilities, hyenas just like the rest of the clean up crew creates a safer, cleaner bush environment for us to enjoy.
Here at Londolozi we pride ourselves in giving guests an experience they will treasure for the rest of their lives. If you happen to be lucky enough to stumble upon one of these beautiful creatures on your next visit, take some time to enjoy them for what they are and their amazing ability to leave nothing to waste.
Written by: Werner Breedt
Which, if any, of the above animals do you admire the most, and why?