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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

South Africa ~ Moholoholo Mountain View

Dan'l came by this morning to see my sketchbook. He spent an appreciative three hours with it, asking questions and puzzling out conundrums with me (why do Africa's shrubs have such prevalent thorns while American shrubs seldom have them?  What technique do millipedes use to keep from tangling up their many legs? How did the Voortrekker women (South African Dutch pioneers) use termite mounds for bake-ovens without getting bit by the mound defenders?). We always have fun with this kind of stuff, even if we can only speculate.


DAY 1 at Moholoholo
Can you see the twig snake?
Our program, at Moholoholo started on August 3, with a warthog dissection.  Actually, the day started out with the amazing sight of a Twig Snake in a tree, waiting for some sunshine so it could warm up and start moving.  Our ranger/guide Pickett pointed it out to us. It was hard to see, even only two feet above our heads, since it was the same size as the twigs it rested on and its scales almost exactly mimicked the tree bark. You can spot it in the photo because it's head is a bit bigger.  Resting on a branch, its head would blend and you probably wouldn't see it at all.

Pickett trains us in anatomy
Now, as I was saying: warthog dissection.  The Coyote Trails course we're contemplating for next year is a practical one with many survival techniques covered. The female  warthog provided not only an amazing anatomy lesson from Pickett, including parts you could eat raw (the kidney was sweet, slightly chewy) and parts you probably wouldn't want to eat. It's good to know how to survive in the bush, and this was inherent in the course, so we had been expecting it.

We all took part in skinning and preparing it to use as bait later, when we would hang it in a weeping bushwillow tree to lure a leopard to to the wildlife cam. When the dissection was finished, I sketched the head, adding notes (taken from Pickett's comments) about how the curling mustache on a tuskless female resembles the tusks on an adult boar, so that a predator might mistake a defenseless female for a wicked-toothed boar if it got only a glance, and not try to catch it. Not having a toothy boar head to draw, I sketched a nearby warthog boar skull, which tells the tale nicely.
These aren't to scale ~ the boar would be twice that size!

Then we piled onto a game drive truck to go out into Moholoholo Reserve to put the warthog bait in place. We were all eager to see if we could lure the leopard in, and to do that we all took turns dragging bits of warthog along the trails to the tree so the leopard would know it was there.  Since there were leopard tracks right in the road, we figured we had a good chance of success, and the tracks added a thrill to the proceedings.

Sandy records her track notes
We got a chance to study tracks this morning and every day of the course, with comparisons between species, discussion about what the animal was doing to create that particular track, and a great many other things, such as when the track was made, why, how, and even what direction the animal was looking as it stepped along.  My roommate, Sandy, was studying diligently for her tracking certification, and  I was busily sketching every free moment, and well into the night, so we made perfect roommates (each involved in our own pursuits) and became good friends in our free moments.

The female is chewing bones as the dark male watches
The Reserve harbors a wonderful array of wildlife, from white rhinos and kudus to elands, pythons (we smelled one but never saw it) baboons and hippos and MANY other native wildlife.One of my favorite sightings was this giraffe pair. The female, on the left, was busily chewing bones with deep, hollow crunches (they do this regularly ~ to get enough calcium to support all those neck bones, I guess), while the male on the right watches. The male is unusually dark, and I understand that giraffes continue to darken as they age, so perhaps it is very old. 


I have run out of time today.  More tomorrow or the next day.

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