The Stories Behind Chameleons in African Culture and Folk Tales

This is the best time of a year where we see a lot of chameleons. They are found throughout almost all of southern and central Africa, with the northern limits of its range extending from Nigeria and Cameroon in the west, to Somalia and Ethiopia in the east. They are also common in Kapama. Some chameleons are known to grow up to 35cm, with their colouring ranges through various shades of green, yellow, and brown. On some of them, there is usually a pale stripe on the lower flanks and one to three pale patches higher on the flanks. They mainly eat grasshoppers, butterflies and flies. Their short mating season is the only time when females will allow males to approach them without conflict. After mating, the female will once again become aggressive towards the males, turning black and butting heads with any male that approaches. After a gestation period of around one month, she will lay between 25 to 50 eggs in a hole that she has dug in soil, which is covered over again by the female.
They are known to be related to witchcraft in many cultures around Africa. In this particular case, let’s look at the Swazi speaking people. They believe it is being used by the witch doctors to send bad spirits to families because it changes the colour. People say that it could transform good luck to bad luck, or if it bites you, it can transform you from being a man to woman or the other way around. Zulu people believe that if it bites someone, they will have a wound that will never heal until they die. Some people also believe if it bites you, you will immediately start laughing to death. The Tsonga people say that if it bites you, you will automatically become infertile and it is also believed that if a chameleon dies, the bones will produce baby chameleons which is quite a funny concept because when you read scientific books, they have found that they lay up to 50 eggs that will hatch. Try telling that to my grandmother and she will think that you’re crazy!

Story by Nelson (River Lodge)

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Rain Frogs (Breviceps sp.)

One of the most wonderful sounds after a good rain in the African bush is the sound of all the amphibians, singing their songs, and trying to attract a mate. There are notes that are high pitched, ones that are a low rumble, ones that sound like the frog has a bit of a cold and ones that croak in acapella. My favourite of all the frogs calls, is made by a very unique species, called a rain frog.
There are 15 species of rain frogs, 14 of which occur within southern Africa. To me, these frogs look quite grumpy as they have distinctive flattened faces, with narrow, downturned mouths. They have a globose body, making them look like little balloons if they are startled or as they hop out of your way. Their limbs are shortened, and they don’t have the usual webbing, like their fellow amphibians. Rain frogs occur in both summer and winter rainfall areas, but are more seen in our reserve in the summertime.
These frogs are so called as they seem to respond to the changes in the atmospheric pressure. Males are usually the ones to call, releasing a sound that emanates from the mouth of a burrow or under a pile of leaves. They prefer to remain hidden as they are quite shy and don’t like the limelight too much.
Copulation usually occurs right at the beginning of the rainy season, and once the female is ready to lay her eggs, the breeding pair with construct a chamber where the female will lay her eggs. Each clutch can contain between 20 to 50 eggs, each encased in a jelly capsule for protection. Either of the pair shall remain near the nest until the clutch has hatched.
Within Kapama, we have 3 distinct species: the Bushveld Rain Frog (Breviceps adspersus), Mozambique Rain Frog (Breviceps mossambicus), and the very rare, Plaintive Rain Frog (Breviceps verrucosus).
As the nights are shortened through summer, the sounds are more prominent, and more vocal. In my opinion, some of the most amazing sounds are made by these precious creatures. Next time you need a pick me up, Google the YouTube video entitled, “Desert Rain Frog” and smile!

Story by Angie (River Lodge)

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How the Zebra Got His Stripes

Long ago, when animals were still new on earth, the weather was very hot, and there was little water that remained in pools and pans. One of these pools of little water was guarded by a boisterous baboon, who claimed that he was the ‘lord of the water’ and forbade anyone from drinking at his pool.
When a zebra and his son came down to have a drink, the baboon, who was sitting by his fire, jumped up. ‘Go away, intruders,’ he barked. ‘This is my pool and I am the Lord of the water.’
‘The water is for everyone, not just for you, monkey-face,’ shouted back the zebra’s son.
‘If you want it, you must fight for it,’ returned the baboon in a fine fury, and in a moment, the two were locked in combat. Back and forth they went, until with a mighty kick, the zebra sent the baboon flying high up among the rocks of the cliff behind them. The baboon landed with a smack on his rump, and to this day he carries the bare patch where he landed.
The zebra staggered back through the baboon’s fire, which scorched him, leaving stripes across his white fur. The shock sent the zebra galloping away to the plains, where he has stayed ever since. The baboon and his family, however, remain high up among the rocks where they bark defiance at all strangers, and hold up their tails to ease the smarting of their bald patches.

Story by Rassie (River Lodge)

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Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula)

The Dwarf mongoose is the smallest carnivore found in Africa. Thus they can be called the opposite of lions, who is the biggest. But by no means are they any less interesting.

Fully grown they can weigh between 200 and 350 grams and is about 20 to 30 cm long. They are very social animals that have a very strict hierarchy system. But this system works in a special way as males and females have their own separate hierarchy. Thus the males and the female social status are completely independent. This means that there is an alpha male and an alpha female. These two individuals are normally the oldest members in the group. But even with this complex social structure they still work together taking care of the young. Subordinate females rarely become pregnant and when they do the young also rarely survive. But even so the subordinate females will still produce milk for the young to feed on when the alpha female is out foraging for food. Much like the lion, young males that reached adulthood will leave the group. But where lions will fight to obtain a new territory from existing prides, dwarf mongoose either fight for the control of a new group or just join the new group as subordinate males.

Dwarf Mongoose live in old abandoned termite mounds. They will also mostly bask in the sun early in the morning and defecate in the area. This means that you will find lots of mongoose dung on the eastern side of the termite mound. In this way these small creatures help people to find their sense of direction when they are lost in the vastness of Africa.

Hornbills and dwarf mongoose will often work together while foraging for food. As the mongoose can not always catch all the insects the find, hornbills benefit from that. But the birds also help the mongoose by keeping a lookout for predators in the area that might be a threat to the mongoose. They will eat mostly insects but also eat small lizards, snakes and rodents.

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)

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White Tailed Mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda)

The White-tailed Mongoose is the largest of the mongoose family. They can weigh between 2.5 – 4kg. The body is light brown to grey and the legs are black. So the white of the tail really does stand out and gives the animal its name.

These mongooses are nocturnal (active at night) and will sleep in hollows or abandoned termite mounds. Unlike the dwarf mongoose, they do not have a den site and they do not live in groups. Although females sometimes will live with other females, they do not associate with each other. Both sexes are territorial, but male and female territories will overlap. They will also secrete a foul smelling substance from an anal gland which is mostly used to mark territories. As most other mongoose species will stand on their hind legs for prolonged periods of time and look very curious, the White-tailed mongoose does not do the same.

The youngsters are born after about 60 days after mating and will stay with the mother for the next nine months. After that nine months the have been weaned and will disperse to find new territories. They only become sexually mature at about 2 years of age

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)

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Mud Baths and Night Hunting

The afternoon game drive started with my group and I were going out into the bush to look for some of the wonderful bird life throughout the reserve. As we went along, we saw some beautiful terrestrial birds as well as some spectacular water birds. As we were driving around, we headed towards one of the watering holes with a bird hide. While we were trying to spot some bird life, we came across a rhino mud bathing. This was so nice to see as we hardly see this occurring. We sat there amazed! After watching this great beast for a while, we went to another spot to go have some drinks. As we went along, we come across 2 male elephants, busy feeding. We could not believe our luck! We decided to sit there for a while, and just following the elephants down to the watering hole, watching them drink and playing in the water. This was such a nice sighting as we hadn’t seen either of these majestic beasts. After that, we went to have some drinks and chat about the beautiful animals we had just seen. On our way back to the lodge, we found an African Civit and a Small-spotted Genet, busy hunting for food. This was definitely a drive to remember!

Story by JT (River Lodge)

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