A lot has been written about the drought which the Lowveld – and indeed South Africa – is currently going through, but if we cut to the core of it, without these prolonged dry conditions, the miracle of the Ostrich saga would, at least in my opinion, never have taken place.
Let’s explore this for a moment…
Ostriches are birds of the open plains. Being flightless, they rely on their speed and a vicious kick to keep them out of danger. In order to see predators approaching, they tend to inhabit more sparsely vegetated ecosystems in which they can see far and run inhibited should they need to. This is one of the main reasons that we don’t see many ostriches at Londolozi and in the surrounding reserves; the bush on the whole is just too thick, and can easily conceal predators that would turn an ostrich into an easy meal. The ostriches that do wander in from time to time either get eaten or return to where they came from.
Enter the female Ostrich, circa 2013. She was the exception rather than the rule, and as many will know, found relative safety in the open grasslands in the south west, deciding to stay to take advantage of the ample food supply and lower predator density.
Three years later and with seemingly no hope of companionship for the lone female, the drought really began to take its toll on the region, and areas previously covered in dense bush were now far more open; leafless, grassless and bare, maybe, but with that change came much greater visibility.
I am convinced that this was the major contributing factor to the arrival of the two males a few months ago. Had the bush been in its usual state, they would doubtless have never braved the extensive thickets to forge a way through to the open grasslands, and their meeting with the female would never have occurred.
In fact, the dry and open conditions have almost certainly been the reason why we have had six chicks hatch successfully and go wandering off with their parents.
Open conditions have meant:
- The males could make their way through dangerous terrain onto Londolozi soil to meet up with the female.
- A nest could be scraped out in an area in which visibility is high enough to see danger coming, so that adequate protection for the nest could be provided.
- The adults, currently on the move with the chicks, will hopefully be sticking to open areas in which an adequate defense can be mounted should anything threaten their brood.
The period the chicks are now entering is, unfortunately, by far their most vulnerable. At least when they were still in eggs the adults had one point to defend, but now an attack by a predator could result in chicks scattering all over the place in panic, creating a much more difficult defensive prospect for the parents.
The fact that six chicks have made it this far is nothing short of incredible. Let’s just hope the open conditions persist just long enough to get them through to sub-adulthood, in which they will present a far more difficult target for any predators in the area.