Childhood dreams consist of possessing magical superpowers. The lure of being able to don a cape and perform incredible feats became an obsession to me as a kid. The only power I wanted as a child was to be able to speak to animals, and BraveStarr was one of my favourite cartoon characters; a Native American marshal in a futuristic space town who could summon the powers of spirit animals, enabling him to perform incredible feats.
As I got older and sadly discovered that these dreams were not a reality, my dream powers turned rather into a fascination. It was at this time however, that I noticed how many animals have special powers of their own, but unlike Marshal BraveStarr, are in constant possession of them…
Hyenas have the ability to smell a carcass from several kilometres away. They follow a trail of scent that is completely obvious to them but is imperceptible to us. In a Land Rover I once followed a spotted hyena for well over three kilometres and watched it as it smelt the ground and then the air as it ran. It took us straight to a leopard that had recently killed an impala. Studies have shown that hyenas will actively follow the scent of leopards for this exact reason; knowing the leopard may have a kill stashed away somewhere.
Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land mammals. Once a cheetah has scanned its surrounds for any prey like impala, using its spotted coat that blends into the tall grass it will burst into a speedy chase and is able to make rapid turns with the help of its long thick tail that provides balance. Cheetahs can hit speeds of up to 60 miles/hour (roughly 100km/h) in only three seconds; the world record for a 100m sprint by a cheetah was 5.95 seconds at speeds of 61 miles per an hour or 98 kilometres per hour. To put this into perspective, Usain Bolt’s world record for a 100m sprint was 9.58 seconds: much slower. Usain’s fastest recorded speed is a paltry 44.7km/h! This speed is also used as a defence mechanism to get away quickly from any threats like a lion or leopard.
As the dusk turns into twilight, the darkness lights up with a mesmerizing dance of tiny sparkles of life. The next species that has amazing “powers” to me are fireflies or glow-worms. They have the ability to create their own form of living light called bioluminescence, which is the most efficient form of light known to man. It’s a type of cold light as there is no energy lost in the form of heat and no infrared or ultraviolet. Fireflies produce this light via a chemical reaction in which oxygen is breathed in and then combined with a substance called luciferin. Their bodies light up to perform a mating display and these magical displays often seen around the Sand River just in front of camp, and particularly down near the Causeway.
Humans are still unable to replicate this incredible light-without-heat reaction!
Leopards have the power of being unseen, becoming almost ghostlike in thick riparian vegetation. Black and brown rosettes break up their outline, rendering them practically invisible the moment they stop moving in the undergrowth. Leopards prefer to hunt in the dark of the night, and are aided significantly by long, hypersensitive whiskers that are constantly feeding them information about their immediate surroundings. They hunt alone and rely on their stealth. There is almost nothing in nature that can disappear as effectively as a leopard. We can sometimes be following one at Londolozi, glance away for 5 seconds, and when we look back it has simply vanished.
“All life is an accident of fate shaped by many forces, some random, some chaotic, but to lose a world where elephants roam free and the spotted hyena’s song coyly calls in the night would be to lose something infinitely precious.”
Shaping Kruger by Mitch Reardon.
Each animal’s power facilitates its place in the world and allows the natural cycle of life and ecological flow. I find it captivating how every species in nature is so well adapted and how each species’ role fits in perfectly into the cycle.
There are many more super powers that animals possess nature and the above are just a few that I find impressive. Can you think of anymore “powers” that you can relate to in an animal?