No single game drive is the same, and that’s one of the reasons we as guides and many of you reading this daily blog, come back again and again. Our understanding of animal behaviour, genetics, and evolution is constantly advancing and staying on top of every discovery is almost impossible. So here is an opportunity to pit your knowledge against a list of safari myths:
1. Hyenas Are Purely Scavengers
In many areas hyenas are solitary scavengers, relying on misappropriating the kills of smaller predators such as leopards, and cheetahs or waiting for the leftovers from lions. But where game is more numerous, hyenas are perfectly capable hunters and will regularly band together to make their own kills – they are a genuine hunting force.
2. Male Lions Do Not Hunt
Female lions are both leaner and faster than males and thus more suited to the task of hunting, so as a rule the males will leave the hunting to the females. But when some extra muscle is needed, it is the big males that turn step in to lend a hand.
And don’t forget that male lions, before becoming pride males, may spend a number of years as nomads, hunting for themselves or with their coalition brothers. They are extremely capable hunters – no question.
3. Elephants get drunk eating marula fruits
This is a simple no. Without doing too much maths, the sheer number of marula fruit an elephant would have to consume in order to become intoxicated is staggering. The average human body weight is 70 kg, while elephant males can weigh between 5000 and 6000 kg. For a human to get intoxicated, they need to consume 90ml of 100 per cent ethanol.
If this is extrapolated to elephants then elephants must consume 3800ml of 100 percent ethanol to get intoxicated. Ethanol is never pure in nature, and in marulas the alcohol content is never more than seven per cent, meaning that an elephant must consume 55 litres of marula juice to obtain the equivalent amount of alcohol.
This translates to 27 litres of marula juice. Using the unlikely assumption that each marula would have fermented to contain exactly seven per cent alcohol, an elephant would have to eat about 1500 fermented marulas to get drunk. Now add in a digestion system of 19 hours, and this is just impossible
4. Porcupines Shoot Their Quills at Their Attackers
A porcupine’s quills usually lie flat against its body, but if danger threatens, the porcupine raises and spreads them, making them appear larger and should the threat persist then they reverse towards the threat. Lions and other attackers risk getting quills embedded in their faces or paw – not because it ‘shoots’ its quills!
However, the sharp tips of the quills contain overlapping scales or barbs that make them difficult to remove, and once stuck in the skin of another animal, the quills do detach easily from the porcupine. The good news is that porcupines are able to grow new quills to replace the ones they have lost.
5. Crocodiles Store Their Prey Underwater
This is merely a fanciful tale to send shivers down your spine! In reality, other crocodiles and fish would soon steal any food ‘stashed’ underwater. They probably would if they could, but in fact, they don’t.
6. Ostriches ‘Bury Their Heads in the Sand’
Ostriches pick up and chew on (or even swallow) small stones (to aid digestion). But bury their heads in the sand – absolutely not, there’s no reason to! Perhaps where this myth comes from a little-known behavioural trait. If you are lucky you might find an ostrich looking as if it has its head in the sand, but not because it’s scared. Ostriches dig shallow holes in the sand to serve as nests for their eggs. The ostrich will use its beak several times a day to turn the eggs in the nest, creating the illusion of burying its head in the sand.
7. Female Hyena Always Rank higher than Males In The Clan
Yes, it is true that a hyena clan is almost always led by a formidable matriarch figure and that their societies are predominantly matriarchal. But the familiar adage that even the lowest-ranked female outranks the highest-ranked male is nonsense. Rank is inherited. So, the son of a high-ranking female will outrank any of the females below his mother in the hierarchy (and even his older female siblings).
While most male hyenas will eventually disperse to a different clan, a few opt not to sell their birthright and instead stay within their natal clan. Research shows that this tactic pays off, and these males land up siring just as many offspring as those that leave.
8. Impalas can delay the birth of their offspring for several weeks
Animals are very much creatures of habit and it is the interface between animals and their environment that will often determine their behaviour. Impala are synchronous breeders. Simply put, they usually breed at a certain time of the year. With synchronised breeding comes synchronised births. Young impala lambs are usually born around early-mid November, which usually coincides with the start of the wet season.
But what happens if the rains don’t come, or come late? For as long as I can remember, I have heard people speak about the ability of Impala to delay giving birth for up to a month until the first rains arrive. This widely held belief is most likely a fallacy as impala don’t always get it right.
Despite low rainfall, impala lambs are often born into sparse bushveld which leads to a high mortality rate for the youngsters. Late rains may also affect the condition of the ewes and poor conditions may cause them to reabsorb or abandon the fetus, or they may simply be eaten by predators. With this in mind, together with the fact that they are often hidden very well, it is most likely that these young lambs born early in the season are never seen. The young lambs that are seen and successfully raised later on in the season, after the first rains, were probably those conceived later in the breeding season. This may give the impression that females have delayed their births in response to the late onset of the rain.
However, impalas most likely do not have as much control over their physiology as we may think and are unlikely to delay their birth in anticipation of impending rain. Late rains may result in a slight delay in lambing as a result of poor nutritional conditions, just as optimal conditions may result in slightly earlier lambing.
9. Giraffes form no social bonds over their lifetime
I can’t explain the new research into the fascinating world of giraffe social structures any better than Roybn’s blog here: We’ve Got Giraffe All Wrong! Needless to say, this is all wrong and they do in fact form strong bonds.
10. There is a “best” time for a safari
South African seasons are not exactly what I would call ‘rigid’, and neither is the bush. But we do get the normal summer rains, chilly winters and a lot of sunshine. Just like we expect mother nature to play by her own rules, so does the element of beauty that we see in each season.
No two days are the same, and that goes for our wildlife sightings and game drives too. As the sights, the smells and wildlife interactions differ from day to day, it all adds to the mysterious beauty of a safari. But of course, there are pros and cons to every season. If you would like to find the best month of the year for you, read this blog: When is the best time to visit Londolozi.
Having now sorted through the facts and the fiction, how many of these safari myths caught you out? How many did you already know? Let me know your favourites in the comments section below