Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kenyan Safari: The world's tallest mammal

If you have been following this series on the African wildlife Experience and what to expect in your Kenyan safari then here is some more great stuff for you. Our nature series this season was features on an informative yet interesting coverage on the Leopard, but a Cranston, a photographer whose love for nature is unending, had a wonderful time in Lake Nakuru and Amboseli national parks heightened us differently.

Right now as I speak, I am in Kenya, a country that is perceived as; a wonderland of treasures, the cradle of mankind and the land of contrasts. The greatest wonder of the world is now on as I had told you earlier in the migration update and many visitors from all over the world are streaming to Maasai Mara to have the first-hand glimpse. Am talking about, the wildebeest migration.

I know you might be wondering why I have to say all this stuff instead of going directly to my point. Well! If I were a psychiatrist, I would have told you "……… this is important as well" of which it is. But my main point here is to prepare you on what to expect when in a safari.
If your expectation of seeing the big five or monster lizard or even some specific species of birds are met, there is always more to see and to learn. Kenya as I said offers a diversity of attractions. That’s what this series is about, so that you can know what Kenya and its diversity has to offer.

This time we will talk about what's interesting about the world's tallest living mammal encoutered a lot on safaris in Kenya.
The giraffe is the world’s tallest terrestrial animal. It's one of the most amazing animals especially because of the long neck that makes it sometimes cumbersome and prone to a couple of problems that we shall see as we proceed.

These African ruminant mammals, Giraffa Camelopardalis, live in open savannahs south of the Sahara and have only one family member, the Okapi. The reticulated giraffes are handsomely patterned in golden browns, with a coarsely netted (reticulated) pattern mainly quadrangular in shape. Males and females have stiff manes along their necks and both sexes have horn-like structures called ossicones on top of their heads between their ears. These ossicones are present at birth in the form of small knobs of cartilage covered with skin and hair which becomes bony nodules with age, and fuse to the skull with time.

Giraffes are widely spread in Africa and Kenya in particular. As Cranston witnessed, it's easy to spot the three species of giraffes in this part of the world.
It amazes to know that giraffes despite being the tallest mammal have seven vertebrae in their neck, the same with man and most other mammals. Only that the vertebrae are much bigger. The tail measures up to one yard with a terminal tuft of stiff, black hair.
They have long tongues that measure 18-21 inches long. The inner part of the tongue is pink in color, and then changes to a purplish-black color for the last 6 inches that are commonly visible. ……… I wish you see them browse on the acacias.

A quick look at the adaptations of the Giraffe
Giraffes have long legs and neck, long, tough, prehensile tongue, and leathery mouth for food gathering. Their coloration is protective. They are tall with good eyesight for watchfulness. Giraffes have high blood pressure (240/160) for pumping blood to the brain. Herds are small and loosely constructed of 5-15 individuals, consisting of one bull with females and young. Other bulls are solitary or in pairs.

Another interesting thing about the giraffe is that they usually sleep standing up for only 1-12 minutes. Going for a month without water is also possible as an adaptation to long drought periods in their native areas.
Giraffe is browsing ruminant that eats regularly throughout the day, they prefer young leaves and shoots at tops of acacia trees which sometimes ends up shaping the regularly visited trees. During a safari in Kenya, from Mid morning to around 16.00 hrs, they are seen standing, chewing the cud. They prefer to drink regularly, but can go without water for several days and can run up to 35 mph. Predators are leopards (prey on young), lions, and man. Giraffes kick with their hooves and slam with their heads.

Off springs.....
Giraffes are non-seasonal breeders, usually producing one calf after a gestation period of 14-15 months. Newborn giraffe calves begin their lives by falling up to about 6 feet to the ground, and weight 87-107 lbs. They become sexually mature between 3 and 4 years of age and have a life span of about 25 years and up to 30 in captivity. Full body size is not reached until five years of age.

It is interesting to note that...
The carotid artery that carries blood from the heart to the head is thick, muscular and elastic, ballooning when the giraffe stoops to absorb increase in pressure. When the giraffe raises its head, a series of check valves in the inch-wide jugular vein prevents a sudden back flow from the head, emptying the brain. They are most vulnerable to predators when drinking or lying down. They may see red-orange, yellow-green, purple, green and blue as colors. Their scientific name means "camel-leopard-like one who walks swiftly." Their spot patterns are as individual as fingerprints. They are among the very few mammals that cannot swim at all.
Head/shoulder length is approximately 13' for the male. Shoulder height is 8-12', overall height 15-19' and Weight is 1,100-2,800 lbs.

Giraffe’s have a variety of sounds but they are rarely heard. They may grunt of snort when alarmed, females may whistle to call their young, and calves can bleat
There are more to learn and see in the giraffe especially the walking style but, I won't tell you now until you make arrangements to see them. Almost every large park and reserve in Kenya has at least one species. But for you, I would recommend you take a safari to Samburu and see the most beautiful of the three and then proceed to Lake Nakuru and see the largest of the three yet the most endangered. From there you can voyage to Amboseli or Mara and take pleasure in the look of the Kenyan named Maasai giraffe. An extension to the coastal beaches of Kenya is fare as well…….

Next time we look on the leopard, probably the most beautiful cat ………… Join me then!!

Adventure Travel Crew

Kenya Safari
Natural Track

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

African Safari: The pioneers of Migration

Adventure travel crew
Natural Track Safaris

There are three species of Zebra occurring in Africa today. An Kenyan safari in East Africa reveals two of them . Burchels zebra, (also known as Common or Plains Zebra) is the most widespread in East Africa occurring mainly on the lower part of Equator. The other one is Grevy's Zebra (named for Jules Grevy, a president of France in the 1880s who received one from Abyssinia as a gift). It is the most common in the northern Kenya on the upper side of Equator. The third species, Equus zebra, is the mountain zebra, found in southern and southwestern Africa. The Burchell's (plains) have for along time flagged off one of the new seven wonder of the world in Maasi Mara, Kenya 'The Wildebeest migration'

As one of the great survivors, Zebras have excellent eyesight, a keen sense of smell and are capable of running 40 mph. Every zebra has its own pattern of stripes (which makes it easier for researchers). Zebra belong to the family Equidae, hoofed animals characterized by one toe. This includes all horses and horse-like animals of the world. This single hoof is probably an adaptation for fast motion on hard ground.

The stripes help them confuse predators by making it hard for them to single out any one of them while in motion, a thing that your Kenya wildlife safari guide will not hesitate to demonstrate while on safari. They also interfere with the depth perception of predators. Although there is no color variation between the sexes, plains zebras do vary in color and pattern across their range. Moving from the north to the south of this specie's range, there is a tendency for the stripes on the hindquarters to become less well defined. They have long jaws, so that when they are grazing, their eyes are still high enough to watch for predators. With eyes located on the side of their head, zebras have a much wider field of vision. They require constant water supplies and they need to drink every day.

Zebras inhabit open, grassy plains or well-grassed woodlands. They can also be found on mountain slopes up to 14,500 feet (4,420 m). Existing wild species include the Asian wild horse, Asian and African wild asses, and zebras (found only in Africa). Species of zebra include the Grevy’s zebra the mountain zebra , the extinct quagga zebra and the plains (Damara or Burchell) zebra named after naturalist W. J. Burchell.
Zebras are extremely social animals that share their range with a wide variety of other grazers and browsers, particularly wildebeest, kongoni, gazelles, Oryx and other antelopes. They live throughout eastern and southern Africa. Their home ranges vary in size from 12-240 square miles (31-622 sq. km).
Plains zebra rely almost totally on a variety of grasses, along with some additional browse like leaves and twigs.

In the nature females reach reproduction maturity in 2-4 years. Males are able to compete for mares after they reach about 4 years of age. When gathering females for breeding, rival stallions compete fiercely by kicking and biting. Once a male establishes a harem, ownership of that harem is rarely disputed, unless he is unfit. The gestation period of a zebra is about 12 months. Since a mare may come into estrus within days of giving birth, she can conceive almost yearly.
The female gives birth to usually one foal, as twins are rare. At birth, a foal weighs about 70 pounds (32 kg), can stand almost immediately and run within a day. Although a foal may graze within a week of birth, they continue to suckle for up to 16 months. The average juvenile mortality is about 50%, mostly due to predation by lions and spotted hyena.

Life Cycle..
Plains zebra are social animals. Although they may live alone, they usually form bachelor groups and small families of 5-20 animals, consisting of a dominant male, mares and offspring. These zebras can either be sedentary or migratory; their lifestyle is dependent on the availability of food. Where food is mostly plentiful year-round, such as the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, they lead a sedentary life. In seasonally dry areas like the Serengeti of Tanzania, small families of plains zebra gather to form large herds that migrate in search of food. Staying together as a family group within large herds, they migrate up to 500 miles (805 km) per year during their circular trek to and from the Serengeti Plains. Of interest, it is the responsibility of an adult male (often the oldest), to guide the family as they move from area to area and ensure that they never wander too far from water.Plains zebra are noisy and restless animals, probably because of predators. They have a distinctive call, which may be described as a frequently repeated barking whinny. Their whinny is more similar to a donkey whinny than a horse whinny. At night, families gather together while one family member remains awake to look out for predators
Special note on Grevy's Zebra.

The social organization of the Grevy‘s zebra is very different to that of the Burchell‘s. Grevy‘s follow a territorial system which is adapted to arid environments where resources are patchily distributed. Breeding males stake out territories of between 7-12 square kilometers, containing water and grazing resources which they will defend for up to seven years. As non-lactating females range widely in search of those resources, the male is able to mate with these females as they pass through his territory.

The population of Grevy's zebra has declined a lot and in some area including Ethiopia and Somalia they cannot be found. This is through poaching for their skin and meat till 1977 and overgrazing. Another issue is that only 0.5% of their range is protected. Of the world population (less than 2,300) over 20 % are found on Lewa, Kenya. This is because Lewa is a protected range and there is no competition from grazing.

kenia safary desk
Natural Track Safaris