This week's #sofasafari was a new experience as we joined Stuart, Trevor, Brad (on camera) and Freddie on comms on a winter's afternoon bush walk. Stuart had spotted some giraffes earlier from his tracker seat, and could hear some elephants in the distance. He and Trevor began the walk in single file so as not to disturb the wildlife who may consider them threatening, bringing us along with them. Being on foot in the bush is a very different experience to being in a car, so Trevor explained that they have to be incredibly respectful of the animals so as not to be perceived as a threat.
They soon came across a young male giraffe who was very aware of them. The Rangers decided to walk parallel with the giraffe so as not to spook him as he was very curious and keeping an eye on their movements.
Then they come across a bull giraffe who was a bit darker than the one observing them, giraffes generally have a lifespan of 28 - 30 years. To tell the difference between a younger and an older giraffe, take a look at the protuberances on their heads which are called 'ossicones' and are covered in fur, horns on the other hand are keratin. Ossicones almost look like fists which is a good comparison as giraffes use them to fight with (known as 'necking'). We also had a good view of a red-billed oxpecker perched on the giraffe's head. This is a mutually beneficial relationship as these birds clean the ticks and parasites off giraffes. Trevor also drew our attention to some calcified lumps on the giraffe's ossicones which add a huge amount of weight when they're fighting. As we observed this giraffe, the Rangers noted that these animals can also extend their heads almost to 180 degrees to feed and stretch to get those higher and delicious leaves.
The Rangers told us that we always need to be attuned to the sights and smells of the bush; being inquisitive is how they find animals, and always encourage guests on safari to be as curious as possible to learn more and have amazing experiences in the bush. So when you're on safari, it's best to be as inquisitive as possible!
The Ottowa Lion Pride Update
The Ottowa Pride are currently on a giraffe kill which is keeping them occupied. Trev told us about new males that have appeared and are making themsevles known by roaring - it should be an interesting time and we'll make sure to keep you updated.
Buffalo, porcupines and storks
We then switched over to Ryan, Tom, who was tracking, and Brandon on camera. In the distance, they could hear monkeys so they jumped in the jeep and sped off to find them.
We paused at the river to observe a buffalo bull, taking a few minutes to pause and listen to the orchestra of the bush. We then tuned into some squirrels chirping away.
Ryan explained that buffalo bulls are dangerous, this one was by itself and a bit older, his horns were snapped off too from years of fighting and won't grow back because they're made of bone - a good indicator of his age - but that the bull can be scared by an accidental encounter so the Rangers lowered their voices slightly. If the buffalo sees something that he perceives to be an enemy he will react aggressively, it's all about defence and survival not aggression for the pleasure of it. It is important to have respect for these creatures.
An update on the saddle-billed stork
As you might remember, we saw an endangered stork in an earlier episode. These types of storks are endangered because of reduced access to pristine river sources and habitat loss; at Ulusaba we're privileged that we have some out here by the river. The Rangers were pleased to see the stork in its nest with its chick alive and well. It's a striking bird: jet black with a saddle shaped beak. Females have yellow eyes, males have dark red eyes which only adds to their distinction.
Can porcupines shoot their quills at predators?
Ryan discovered the quill of a porcupine, generally we don't see these creatures that often as they come out in the early hours of the morning to feed on roots and bulbs. You can usually see where they gnaw with their massive incisors. Contrary to popular cartoons, porcupines cannot shoot their quills! Quills are actually a modified hair. What porcupines do when threatened is splay out their quills and turn their backs to the predator and try and back themselves into them. Then the quills can actually get stuck in a predator, it's definitely a problem as it can break off in their skin and become infected, and would be especially nasty if the predator got a quill in its mouth. And to answer a burning question: quills get harder as the porcupine gets older, so it's not as unpleasant experience for a female porcupine to give birth to a baby as one might imagine!
Elephants and sunsets
We then re-joined Trev and Stuart in the beautiful, soft sunset where they had found the elephants! We saw the aftermath of their mud bath, with Trevor explaining that the mud had been placed on areas where they generate the most heat - on their legs and groin. We heard a sound which sounded like a stomach grumble which Trevor explained was their mode of communication, known as upper harmonics, and we heard a higher-pitched one from a young elephant having a temper tantrum!
We finished with Rangers spotting some impala having a brutal fight, although it's late in the year to be fighting as the rutting season finished earlier, Stu pondered whether they had a score to settle! One of the impala began to make a noise which Trev remarked was an alarm call. The noise had attracted a hyena which gave chase, although it seemed it was only trying to cause some mischief. Because the impala were so involved in their fight they weren't taking notice of what was going round them meaning that the opportunistic hyena came to investigate.
We haven't been able to track Tlangisa for 3 weeks, in typical leopard fashion her elusiveness has got the better of the team recently! Tune in next week and hopefully the team will have a leopard update for you.
We finished the drive by watching the golden sunset and a reminder from Trev to keep positive in this difficult time. We'll see you next week.
You can watch episode 13 of sofa safari here on our YouTube channel where the whole series is also saved.
See you next Monday at 3pm BST on our Instagram!