For almost three years now what has seemed to us to be the loneliest creature on Londolozi has been the only representative of the biggest species of bird in the world.
The female ostrich that has become resident down in the south-west of the Sabi Sands has undergone a radical change in temperament during her tenure in the reserve, due entirely to the fact that she has had no ostrich contemporaries with which to associate. From being a relatively skittish bird when she first wandered in from what we can only presume was the Kruger National Park, she has swung to the other extreme of being almost over-familiar.
Whether it’s a latent curiosity of the species or a simple longing for some kind of companionship from this particular individual (I strongly suspect the latter), she has been known to approach a vehicle in order to investigate its occupants, maybe in the hope of finding some male company. Sadly, however, her hopes have always been dashed.
A few days ago, word came over the wire that two male ostriches had been seen in the grasslands in the far south west of Londolozi. Naturally, the guiding team was highly sceptical, scarcely daring to believe that what we had been waiting for for over 1000 days had finally come to pass. Just imagine how intently the female ostrich has been waiting!
A few of the rangers headed down into the area that evening to see if they could substantiate the reports of these two birds, and lo and behold, they did indeed find two male ostriches, right in the middle of the area in which the female is most commonly found. As bad luck would have it, the female herself was miles away at the time, but as dusk lowered itself onto the bush, she was seen heading in the right direction to intercept the two males.
Late the next morning ranger Melvin Sambo was on his way home to camp when he spotted the female ostrich emerging onto the road just in front of him. To his surprise and excitement, there in front of her was one of the males (males are black whilst females are dark brown). The female seemed in ardent pursuit of the male, who was a little less relaxed with the Land Rover near than the female, which is not at all surprising since the males presumably also originated in the Kruger Park, an area in which they would have had less exposure to game drive vehicles. Melvin gave the pair some distance and the male ostrich relaxed visibly.
Hearing this report over the radio from back at camp, we leapt into a vehicle and headed out to try and capture some footage, but just as we arrived on the scene, the second male arrived and chaos erupted. The males began chasing each other in ever widening circles, presumably in competition over the female, while she was desperately trying to keep up, not wanting to let this potential mating opportunity disappear. I know ostriches can run fast, but when two males are aggressively going after each other and a female is effortlessly running at about 40kmh behind them, across some of the rockiest ground in Londolozi, you get a proper appreciation for the kind of running they are truly capable of.
Needless to say we were unable to keep up with the trio as they disappeared over a hill, and we had to return to camp with only a few snippets of shaky footage. Efforts to try and relocate the birds that evening were fruitless.
The next morning however the female was found again, in company with only one of the males, miles from the grasslands but thankfully close to the Londolozi camps, so it was a simple matter to head out again to capture some slightly better footage. Although one of the rangers had seen a bit of interaction between the pair in the morning (with the red skin on the male’s shins clear proof of his readiness to mate), we didn’t see any interaction while we were there, and decided to leave after only 15 minutes in case our presence was disturbing the male.
We don’t know if the male(s) will stick around for long enough to mate properly with the female. The hope is obviously that her eggs are fertilized, she lays a clutch and has chicks, although this is certainly not the most hospitable environment for an ostrich to try and raise a number of small, flightless offspring!
None of the ostriches were sighted this morning, but we await events…