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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.