Londolozi is known for the wild and beautiful animals that frequent watering holes, that hoist kills up Marula trees and that streak across the bushveld in search of prey. What most people (both staff and guests to Londolozi alike) often don’t notice are the small creatures that buzz around us while we drink our morning coffee, looking onto the Sand River from our camp decks, and those that crawl around our feet. These unsung heroes are often overlooked, yet play a major part in affecting the wellbeing of our ecosystem as a whole.
Albert Einstein – arguably one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen- issued this controversial statement: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live”.
How true is this statement, one would ask? We know that bees pollinate about 90 species of fruits, plants and grains- hence playing a vital role in “producing” food for mankind and animals alike. So, whether Einstein’s statement is 100% accurate is actually irrelevant. The mere fact that it was said reiterates the importance of this small insect.
As we all know, honey is an age-old sweet treat for young and old. Your spouse might even go so far as using it as a replacement for sugar in your afternoon tea. What we don’t know about this sweet delight is that honey is the only food that includes all of the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water. A bee colony, home to the makers of our honey, consists of approximately 20,000 to 60,000 bees. These creatures all work extremely hard to produce honey (the food they store to feed on during the colder winter months), and thereby pollinate wherever they acquire their nectar.
We all have stories of being stung by a bee as a youngster. We may even remember the prick of tears after being stung as an adult, many years later. I have quite a few of these memories myself. In one such incident, during a casual game of golf on the 5th hole, a bee stung me on my right hand whilst I was removing the cover on my clubs. This was the first time I had an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and had to hastily get driven to the doctor for an injection or two. Needless to say, I received more than just one sting that day!
So, the next time you hear the buzz of one of these hard working creatures, worry not about the sting. Instead, watch this little meticulous insect work and enjoy the sighting, for they play such an important role and we should really afford them the attention that they deserve.
A visit to Londolozi will not only give you the opportunity to view some of the most amazing animals in the world, but also some of the strangest. None more so than the millipede! The term millipede comes from two latin words- mill meaning thousand, and pede meaning feet. I will never forget when I had the opportunity to visit the Kruger National Park as a young boy and saw this strange snake-like creature. What I didn’t realise back then was how important a role these critters play in the ecosystem. Millipedes are detrivores (meaning they consume dead or decaying material), consuming rotting vegetation and fungi. This is vitally important, as an abundance of these materials will cause the death of various other organisms, which will, in turn, affect the greater eco-system. The millipede is also at the top of the menu, alongside of one of my favourite animals – the civet. Civets absolutely love millipedes and you will frequently find the remains of millipede shells in their dung.
As I mentioned earlier, these millipedes resemble a small snake. One night I was called to one of the rooms in Varty Camp. One of the guests had called having got quite a surprise when he found a “snake” in his bathtub. Can you see where this is going? Hurriedly, I made my way to the room expecting the worst. To my delight, instead of a snake in the bathtub, I found this harmless millipede. In the guests’ defence, this particular specimen was quite big! Needless to say, when I picked up the millipede with my hand, it was met with relief and a blush or two!
In local folklore, when millipedes are out and about and moving frequently it means rain is on the way. They form part of our local meteorologist team, and tend to be much more accurate then myself and Euce (my excellent tracker). So, next time you visit Londolozi, and you notice a lot of millipedes around, remember to grab your rain jacket before you head out on drive!
So much has been written about termites and their importance in the ecosystem. We usually associate termites with massive mounds, which are actually the fungus growing termites which feed on dead or decaying material. The Harvester Termite, on the other hand, feeds on living materials, especially grass. One of my fellow Rangers, Tom Imrie, introduced me to harvester termites. When I was still in training at Londolozi, I went on an exceptional game drive with Tom (which is quite normal with him). He pointed out these termites to the guests and the way he described them left us in awe. From then on I realised how significant smaller creatures are to the ecosystem. Harvester termites can consume more grass than all the herbivores at Londolozi combined. These termites can deplete grassy landscapes quicker than their larger herbivorous counterparts and contribute to soil erosion, but are less effective when grasslands are not overgrazed or disturbed. This might sound like it has a negative effect all together but, over the long term, their decomposing and recycling of plant material contribute to soil fertility and the global cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements.
Harvester termites live in spherical hives constructed near the surface of the top soil. These hives can be quite large, growing up to six meters deep, or more. The hives may be 60 cm wide and are interconnected by galleries. Loose particles of excavated soil are brought to the surface and dumped at various points around the nest which looks like a typical ant’s nest.
Too often we overlook the smaller and less pronounced animals and creatures when we go out on safari. When one has an understanding of the part they play in the circle of life, a deeper appreciation will develop. At Londolozi we believe in the conservation of all species, large or small. They all play a vital role in giving us the opportunity to view these magnificent animals in their natural habitat for decades to come.
What are some of your favourite small creatures? Do you have a story like mine where you mistook one for something more harmful? Let us know in the comments section.
Written by: Werner Breedt