The Spotted Hyaena

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Some people refer to Hyaenas as one of the “ugly 5” and vicious, but they are rather amazing carnivores and unique in a special way.
Most people will describe them as a dog-like creature adapted to cranking bones! Evolution does not support this statement because ancient forms of Hyaenas were more like modern mongooses with no specialised teeth. Taxonomically, Hyaenas belong to the sub-Order Feliformis (Cat-like) and family Hyaeninidae. This implies they are more closely related to cats than dogs! Four species are recognised: Spotted, Brown, Striped and the Aardwolf. Spotted Hyaenas are the most abundant carnivores in Africa and exhibit a wide habitat tolerance.

They are known to have very large home ranges and being superpredators, a breeding clan will have adverse effects on the prey base and consequently on other predators like Leopards and Cheetahs. Inter-specific (different species) competition is more likely to be tense in the presence of a breeding clan in a closed ecosystem.
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They are mainly nocturnal animals as they spend most of the warm days sleeping in thick bushes. They are distinguished from other mammalian carnivores by having a suite of cranio-dental features (heavy skull weighing up to 3 kgs), bone elements in the middle ear and specific characteristics of the deciduous teeth that are slender and not specialised. When hungry, Spotted Hyaenas can consume up to 18 kgs of meat quickly and females do not regurgitate meat for the young ones, like the Brown Hyaena. Spotted Hyaenas’ social organisation is based on a matriarchal system in which females are dominant over males; even the lowest ranking female is higher than the highest ranking male.

Hyaenas are misunderstood by most cultures, but unless we start to view them as cute, they will be soon gone! Some of the myths and contentions about Hyaenas include being hermaphrodites. Various true hermaphrodites like the Giant African Land Snail, and various invertebrates, are well known but the Hyaena is not one of them. Female vaginal labia look like scrotum and they have a pseudopenis.

Some believe they only eat carrion. Yes, Brown Hyaenas eat more carrion whereas Spotted Hyaenas hunt quite often and usually kill by disembowelling. Hyaenas are believed to commonly prey on livestock. Spotted Hyaenas will from time to time, but Brown and Striped Hyaenas usually feed on carrion, fruits, insects, eggs etc. They are usually accused of stock-raiding and hence persecuted. In northern parts of Africa, some people believe Hyaenas can make good pets whereas being seen with a Hyaena in the south means witchcraft. Either way these beliefs do not save them. Where they are potential pets, they are muzzled to avoid bites, implying an unhappy animal. Where they are associated with witchcraft, they are often persecuted.

The IUCN categorises Spotted Hyaenas as Least Concern, world populations being between 27 000- 47 000 (2008), but decreasing rapidly. Populations in protected areas are stable but outside, the main threats include persecution for livestock raiding, beliefs and at times fear or shooting for fun and target practice. Numbers shot for sport hunting are very low because they are not considered to be an attractive species.
It is time we do something to save these fascinating creatures. Get involved in local projects to conserve them and their habitat, or join us on one of our safaris in Southern Africa to learn more about these animals and see them in their natural habitat.

Get in touch with us at info@naturetravelafrica.com or visit www.naturetravelafrica.com for more information.

Madagascar

Madagascar, off Africa’s eastern coast in the Indian Ocean, is the world’s fourth largest island and sits at the top of many nature lovers’ bucket list of places to visit on the planet. The combination of unique wildlife, stunning reefs and pristine beaches, fascinating culture, over 100 endemic bird species, delicious local cuisine, amazing scenic diversity, 750 species of endemic orchids, some of the best chocolate in the world and of course, the famous Lemurs, makes Madagascar an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Following the breakup of the super-continent Gondwana, Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing the fauna and flora to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on earth! The island boasts a remarkable array of endemic flora, reptiles, frogs, birds and mammals, the famous Lemurs and two thirds of the world’s chameleons. This is the reason Madagascar has often been called an “alternate world” or “a world apart”, or even the “Eighth Continent”.

Geographically, Madagascar can be divided into five geographical regions: the east coast with its lowlands, the Tsaratanana Massif in the north, the central highlands with its prominent rift valley running north to south, the west coast that contains deep bays and well-protected harbours, and the southwest that contains the Mahafaly Plateau and the desert region. The Tsaratanana Massif region at the north end has the highest mountain on the island namely Mount Maromokotro, at 2,876 metres (9,436 ft) above sea level.

The diversity of Madagascar’s peoples, its incomparable natural beauty, its unbelievable fauna and flora and other major attractions will undeniably leave an indelible mark on each and every visitor for the rest of their lives.

The Nature Travel group of companies offer several different options for your perfect Madagascar tour. Our 13 day Wildlife Tour (starting on 17 September 2019) will highlight the absolute best of what this fascinating island country has to offer, while our 14 day Birding Tour (starting on 19 October 2019) will visit the south and east of Madagascar focusing on different types of habitat, especially the rainforests, wetlands and spine forests, in order to see as many of the endemic bird species as possible.

Visit www.naturetravelafrica.com or www.naturetravelexpeditions.com or www.naturetravelbirding.com for more information on these magical Madagascar tours, or enquire directly at info@naturetravelafrica.com

Liwonde National Park, Malawi

Located at the southern tip of Lake Malombe in the the African country of Malawi, Liwonde National Park is truly a national treasure worth experiencing.
While Malawi is not as well known for the big game as other African countries, Liwonde National Park, although only 220 sq miles (580 sq km) in size, is brimming with wildlife that is literally on your doorstep. It is a must-see attraction for anyone wishing to make the most of their time in the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.

Liwonde National Park was proclaimed in 1973 after Chief Liwonde championed for its recognition as an area of importance for Malawian wildlife heritage. After many years of disarray, African Parks took over management of Liwonde in 2015. After restoring security to the park, they began to re-establish Liwonde’s predator population. Cheetahs were reintroduced in 2017, bringing the species back to the park after 100 years. A founder population of 10 lions was also reintroduced in 2018. Wildlife populations are on the rise, and so are the number of people who are coming to the park to witness the revival. The number of tourists has increased by 25 percent and revenue has increased by 70 percent since 2016. In just the last few years, Liwonde has been given a second chance and it is being restored and transformed for the benefit of the wildlife, and for the people who live here.
Game viewing in Liwonde is enhanced because the River Shire flows along its western border, allowing boat safaris as well as the usual ones on foot or in 4x4s. A 30-minute boat ride up the river will top your list of must-dos; it gives tourists a unique opportunity to see wildlife up close. Visitors who choose to stay at Mvuu Wilderness Lodge and Camp while visiting the park will find their lodgings right on the banks of a lagoon, where they will have prime viewing of animals such as Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodiles and African Elephants. While on safari in the park, other animals that tourists are lucky enough to encounter are Sable Antelope, Impala, Waterbuck, Reedbuck, Warthog, Kudu, Yellow Baboon, Pangolin, Leopard, and Vervet Monkeys.

DSCN0524-2.jpgLiwonde is also a bird lover’s paradise and reportedly has the best year-round bird watching in Central and Southern Africa. This is not only due to the sheer number of species found at the park, but also because “specials” such as Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Spur-winged Lapwing, Lillian’s Lovebird and the rare Brown-breasted Barbet can easily be spotted. Other species that are often seen are Bohm’s Bee-eater, African Skimmer, Palm-nut Vulture, White-backed Night Heron and Dickinson’s Kestrel. Over 380 of Malawi’s 650 bird species can be seen in Liwonde National Park!

The landscape of Liwonde is highly diverse with dry Mopani woodlands covering the eastern half of the park interspersed with Candelabra trees. Areas of Miombo woodland can be found on a few hill slopes in the south and east, while Palm Savannah and Baobabs (one of Africa’s most well known and beloved trees) are found on the extensive floodplains of the river, which have a more tropical feel due to the dense vegetation along the river banks. This all make Liwonde National Park a photographer’s dream, and it’s not hard to understand how Liwonde has acquired such diversity in animal and bird life through conservation and restoration.

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Join us on a Nature Travel Africa safari in this wonderful park and the rest of Malawi!

Enquire at info@naturetravelafrica.com or visit www.naturetravelafrica.com for more information.

African Wild Dog

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African Wild Dogs (Lyacon pictus) are roughly the size of a domestic German Shepard with long legs and a bushy tail. Their bodies are irregularly blotched black, white, brown and yellowish-brown with no two individuals marked the same. They are highly social living in packs of between 10 and 15 Dogs on average with a pack consisting of several related adult males and one or more related adult female. Only the dominant female will raise a litter of pups with the rest of the pack assisting with protection and feeding her and the pups with regurgitated meat. Hunting is done by several members of the pack and after the prey animal is selected a long distance chase will follow that can last for several kilometres. The prey animals range from small Steenbok to larger Antelopes like Kudu and Blue Wildebeest and are killed by being disembowelled and ripped apart. They are considered to be one of the most efficient and successful hunters on the continent with a hunting success rate of more than 70%.

It is because of this killing method that they have a really bad reputation of being savage killers that causes a lot of suffering to prey animals before dying. However it has been proven that most prey animals die quicker than being suffocated by the other big cats like Lion and Leopard. Most of the hunting is done during the early morning or late afternoon hours. They are also one of the truly nomadic carnivores with huge home ranges of several hundred km2 but this means that they need massive areas to roam. They also have a tendency to hunt domestic animals when the opportunity arise which led to them being heavily hunted in the past. The result was their becoming endangered with only the Ethiopian Wolf surviving in smaller numbers in Africa.

Currently there are viable populations left only in:

— Botswana

— Namibia

— South Africa

— Zambia

— Zimbabwe

— Mozambique

— Kenya and

— Tanzania

African Wild Dogs are mostly in the larger wildlife conservation areas. Programs like the Painted Dog Conservation Project based in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and N/a’ankusê in Namibia are key to relocation projects and educational campaigns to try and save this incredible animal.

On our safaris over the last few months we had some wonderful sightings across Southern Africa.

While on a breakfast boat cruise on the Okavango River we came across a pack with a fresh warthog kill. We got to spend about an hour with a pack of 18 dogs in Chobe National Park, Botswana on two consecutive days. In Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana we discovered a den site and spend a full afternoon with the dogs until they left to hunt. Join Nature Travel Africa on safari to see these spectacular animals!

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Coming face to face with a Mountain Gorilla in Uganda

On our recent Nature Travel Birding and Primate safari in August 2018 we spent some time trekking the Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The excitement of seeing these amazing creatures had built up through the tour and on the morning we gathered at Ruhija for a briefing and headed into the forest of Bwindi to find the Mukiza Gorilla Group. This was a bucket list animal sighting that our clients have wanted to see for many years.  Walking through this primary forest is in itself a breathtaking experience. The distant call of a Black-billed Turaco and the L’Hoest’s Monkeys looking at us as we trekked through the forest added to our excitement. About 35 minutes into our trekking our guide turns around and says to us that we are 3 minutes away from the Gorilla group. The words from his mouth were not even cold and we could see the scrubs and bracken shaking.

Adrenalin pumping I crouch down and get the camera ready and as I look up, I look straight into the eyes of a pregnant female Gorilla standing about 5 meters away from us. As I turn to our one guest, I just see pure joy and emotion on her face, and before I can say anything one of the other guests points behind me and a mother and baby Gorilla walk out on the path in front of us. The trekkers and guides tell us the baby is about 4 months old. WOW, WOW, WOW what an experience, having a family of gorillas a mere 5 meters away from you in the wild!Gorillias Bwindi. Ruhija Sector. 13Just as we think things can’t get any better, we have the huge adult male silverback Gorilla come by and join his family feeding while we just all watch in silence.  Our hour spent with these large apes was an experience of a lifetime and ranks as one of my ultimate wildlife experiences!Gorillias  Bwindi. Ruhija Sector. 08.jpgIt is a real privilege to see these endangered great apes in the wild. This Mountain race of Gorilla: Gorilla beringei beringei is restricted to a part of the Virunga range, straddling the DR Congo/Uganda and Rwandan borders. The Mountain race is marginally larger than the three lowland forms and the coat is longer. We enjoyed this experience as part of our Birding and Primate Safari in Uganda: https://naturetravelafrica.com/uganda/ and https://naturetravelbirding.com/uganda-birding-safari/

The Gorilla experience was summed up by my guests as one of the best things they have seen in their lives and the slogan of “We came, we trekked, we saw and we conquered” was cheered when we received our Gorilla trekking certificates at our Gorilla graduation after the trekking. Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide) 

The Aardvark

The Aardvark is easily recognised by its long snout, tubular ears ad muscled tail. They have short legs with spade-like nails that is perfect for digging for food. The body is sparsely covered with hair wit the legs often darker than the rest of the body. They are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara except for the equatorial forest belt.
Their diet consists mainly of ants and termites. Once they have opened up the termite mound or nest they use their long, sticky tongues to get to the insects. They are very busy and can open up several mounds or nests each evening. They are excellent diggers and excavate burrows used for sleeping which is other animals that include Wild Dog, Hyena, Jackal, Warthog, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Foxes etc.

They are nocturnal, occasionally crepuscular especially in times of drought when food is scares. They are very shy and one of the more elusive mammals in the African Bush. Although sightings are rare we are fortunate to see them regularly especially in northern Namibia where our night drives have been very successful. They are one of the main attractions or animals that we focus on our Nocturnal Mammal safari we plan to run between June and August each year.