Nature Feature

Featuring plant or animal species that calls Koekais Guest Farm home


October 2018 - Composed by Nadia van Zyl

Suricata suricatta

  • Meerkats are carnivores, belonging to the mongoose family.
  • They are insectivores, meaning they eat mainly bugs and grubs. They supplement their diet with other small animals like reptiles, arachnids, eggs, small mammals and even small birds. Meerkats will also eat plants and fungi.
  • Meerkats are immune to certain kinds of venom from scorpions and snakes.
  • They live to be around 12 to 14 years old in captivity, and about half that age in the wild.
  • A group of Meerkats is called a clan, a mob or a gang. 
  • Meerkat clans consist of about 20 individuals on average, but can have as many as 50 members.
  • Like fingerprints, the stripe patterns on the back of a Meerkat are unique on each individual. They have no patterns and sparse hair on their belly, where you can see the black skin underneath the hair. This dark patch is used to absorb heat while standing on their back legs, facing the sun. 
  • When Meerkats are out and about, they have a sentry who stands guard to look for danger. When the sentry spots a predator or other danger, it will bark or whistle to alert the others to run for cover.
  • Meerkats have 6 different, distinct calls. One set for aerial danger, with a call for low, medium and high urgency. The second set is for terrestrial danger, also in three degrees of urgency.
  • They have babysitters who tend to the young while the others are foraging. The babysitter lactates to feed the babies, even if she has never had pups of her own before.
  • Young Meerkats learn by mimicking the grown-ups, but are also tutored by the older Meerkats. One such example is when they are taught how to kill more venomous scorpions. The older Meerkat will bite the stinger off to render the scorpion harmless, and then let the young learn to deal with the prey.
  • Meerkats live in burrows, and are known to share their burrows with Ground Squirrels and Yellow Mongoose.




By Charles J Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37060511

By Schnobby - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19154142

By Basile Morin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71215717

September 2018 - Composed by Nadia van Zyl

Warthog / Vlakvark
Scientific Name: Phacochoerus africanus

  • Warthogs are in the same family as domestic pigs.
  • They eat grasses and other plants, also using their tusks and snouts to root up bulbs and roots. Other foods include berries, bark, fungi and even carrion.
  • Warthogs often stand on their knees when grazing. This is because they have relatively long legs, but short necks. They have special kneepads to protect their knees when doing this.
  • They prefer flight over fight and will rather run and hide if faced with a threat.
  • Warthogs use abandoned Aardvark holes to hide in and rear their young. They enter the den backside first, to be able to use their tusks at the entrance as protection from attackers.
  • They are fast! They can run at speeds of 55 km/h.
  • Warthog males (boars) weigh between 60 kg and 150 kg. Females (sows) weigh between 45 kg and 75 kg.
  • They can survive for months without water in the dry season. When available, they will also submerge themselves in the water to cool down. Warthogs also bathe themselves in mud pools, both for cooling down and to help keep insects at bay.
  • The protrusions at the sides of their heads are called warts, they are protective bumps.
  • Lions, Hyenas and Leopards are some of the natural predators of Warthogs. 

References and sources:

National Geographic -
Switch Zoo -
Wikipedia -


 Augustus 2018 - Composed by Nadia van Zyl

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill / Suidelike Geelbekneushoringvoël
Scientific Name: Tockus leucomelas

  • Also known as the flying banana or piesangbêk (banana mouth) due to the colour and shape of the beak
  • They occur in dry savannah woodlands, both Acacia and broadleaved. Their habitat is widespread and they are common, listed as a species of least concern, but their numbers are declining. 
  • They are omnivorous and eat bugs, grubs, spiders, scorpions and sometimes even snakes, mice and other small animals. They swallow their prey whole, the indigestible parts passing through their digestive system. They also eat berries and fruit to supplement their diets.
  • They are mostly monogamous and live in pairs or small family groups. Their breeding season is from September to March.
  • They nest in holes or cavities in trees, sometimes the abandoned holes of woodpeckers and barbets. They can also nest in cavities in cliffs and earth banks. 
  • The female lays 2 to 6 eggs, and seals herself in the nest by closing the entrance with a substance made from droppings, food remains and saliva. She leaves a small opening through which the male brings her food. Here she stays until the chicks have hatched and are stronger, after which she breaks out and reseals the nest, again only leaving a slit through which to feed the chicks. Once the chicks are old enough to fly, they also break out of the nest.
  • The age they reach in their natural habitat is unknown, but they are known to live up to 20 years in captivity.
  • They are a medium sized bird, 48 to 60cm long, and weighing from 132 to 242 grams. Their very large beaks can account for up to 1/6th of their entire body length. Male beaks average 90mm while female beaks average 74mm.
  • They are active throughout the day, but most so during dusk and dawn. At night they sleep high in the tree tops, to avoid predators.
  • They have also been observed to forage cooperatively with Mongooses, catching runaway bugs escaping the Mongoose while he is foraging. In return, the Hornbills alert the Mongoose to danger from overhead predators.



Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_yellow-billed_hornbill#Reproduction

Sabi Sabi - https://www.sabisabi.com/wildfacts/southern-yellow-billed-hornbil/

OneKindPlanet - https://onekindplanet.org/animal/yellow-billed-hornbill/

July 2018Composed by Nadia van Zyl

Proteles cristata

  • Aardwolf is the Afrikaans name, meaning “Earth Wolf”. Also called Maanhaarjakkals or Civet Hyenas. Their Genus name, Proteles, translates to “complete in front”. This is because they have five toes on their front paws, while they have four toes on their back paws. The species name, cristata, translates to “provided with a comb” because of their manes.
  • An Aardwolf can eat up to 250 000 termites in one night! Now that is some very effective pest control. They eat termites by lapping them up from the ground, as they do not have the specialized claws (like the Anteater and Aardvark) to dig them up. Aardwolves do not eat carrion and do not hunt livestock; they are not a foe to farmers.
  • Their gestation period is 91 days. Aardwolves are socially monogamous and they form mating pairs, although males might mate with fema les from neighbouring territories. Males and females raise their young together, for about the first year of their lives.
  • They weigh around 7.9kg and grow up to 80cm in body length, with a 30cm tail. They stand up to 50cm tall at the shoulders.
  • Their conservation status is of least concern, meaning their population is stable.
  • They are nocturnal animals, staying in underground dens during the day. They usually use old aardvark and porcupine dens.
  • Aardwolves are family to hyenas.
  • They make use of middens, which is a special area within their territory that they use as a toilet.
  • They use their manes in self defense, by raising the hair on their mane to look bigger.
  • Both males and females mark their territory, excreting a black substance from their anal glands, smearing this substance on termite mounds and bushes.

References and sources:

Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wi ki/Aardwolf

Mary Bates, Science Writer - http://marybatessciencewriter.com/2015/09/03/the-creature-feature-10-fun-facts-about-the-aardwolf/

Dr. How’s Science Wows - http://sciencewows.ie/blog/mystery-creature-revealed-aardwolf/

InterestingFactsFun - http://www.interestingfactsfun.com/some-crazy-facts-about-aardwolf/


June 2018 - Composed by Nadia van Zyl

Steenbok / Steenbuck

Raphicerus campestris

  • They reach the age of 10 to 12 years.
  • They are a very small antelope, reaching weights between 7kg and 16kg when mature.
  • Their shoulder height is only 45-60cm.
  • Males have horns, 7-19cm long.
  • Steenbok lambs are born throughout the year and are capable of standing up and walking just minutes after being born.
  • The Steenbok ewe hides her lamb in bushes for the first few weeks of its life, after that the lamb starts to follow the ewe around.
  • Steenbok appear to live in monogamous pairs, but they only meet up to breed.
  • They almost never drink water; instead they live from the moisture contained in their food.
  • Steenbok are highly territorial and can have territories as small as 30mx30m or as big as 100ha.
  • They have very polite toilet manners, they dig a hole to urinate and defecate in. Actually, the reason for this is to retain the moisture for longer, leaving a longer lasting scent mark.


Steenbok / Steenbuck


Ultimate Ungulate

Sabi Sabi Website:


Ultimate Ungulates

African Sky

November 2017

Geelslang / Koperkapel / Kaapse kobra / Cape cobra / Yellow cobra

Naja nivea

  • A medium sized, highly venomous, diurnal snake.
  • Even though they are diurnal, during very hot days they will be more active during dawn and dusk. It is highly unlikely that you will stumble upon one at night.
  • They live in the abandoned burrows of rodents and termites, as well as in rock crevices.
  • They are known for robbing the nests of sociable weavers (Philetairus socius).
  • They vary very widely in colouration, from yellow or golden brown to dark brown and even black.
  • The younger snakes look very similar to the rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), a spitting cobra, due to their black throats. This colouration is lost between their first and second year.
  • They will raise their bodies off of the ground and hiss very loudly when threatened. If the thing (or person) threatening them does not move, it will try to escape as quickly as possible.
  • Cape cobras don’t always spread their hoods, and when they don’t they are commonly mistaken for the non-venomous mole snake (Pseudaspis cana), which can be a very dangerous mistake!
  • Antivenom is not always required when someone is bitten, but one should get treatment as soon as possible as death can occur between 1 and 10 hours after being bitten. Treatment usually consists of respiratory support and other symptom management.
  • Cape cobra venom is a neurotoxin which affects the nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
  • They are the most aggressive during their mating season, which is between September and October. So be on the lookout!
Geelslang / Cape Cobra


Stemmer Ngalo. March 2016. Cape cobra. SANBI. https://www.sanbi.org/creature/cape-cobra Accessed: October 25 2017

Photo credits:

K. Hopkins, J. Measey, K. Tolley.

Mark de Wet

Peter Chadwick

September 2017

Hadida / Hadeda ibis

Bostrychia hagedash

  • The name comes from the characteristic “haa haa hadeda” call that they make.
  • They eat mainly earthworms but will also eat insects, spiders and small reptiles.
  • They prefer living around water as the moist soil makes it easier to probe for food.
  • They are very widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Their flocks usually consist of around 5 to 20 birds.
  • In Nigeria they are hunted and traded for use in traditional medicine.
  • They were buried with some ancient Egyptians as gifts to their gods.
  • They use their long, curved beaks to feel for food rather than looking for it.
  • The parents of the eggs take turns to incubate them.
  • In urban areas they are known as being ruthless pet food thieves.
  • They have a lifespan of around 20 years, which is very long for birds.
  • Members of the ibis family are notoriously mute, but the hadida is a very, very loud bird that can send a shiver down your spine if you’re not familiar with them.
  • Some people claim that hadidas call out because they are afraid of heights since they only call when in flight and they often do so in unison.

Hadida / Hadeda ibis


Bostrychia hagedash. Biodiversity Explorer. http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/birds/threskiornithidae/bostrychia_hagedash.htm 01/09/2017

23/06/2010. Hadeda Ibis. Birds of Eden. http://www.birdsofeden.co.za/hadeda-ibis_article_op_view_id_191 01/09/2017

Eva Melusine Thieme. 07/03/2012. Moving to South Africa? Beware of the Hadeda! Joburg Expat. http://www.joburgexpat.com/2012/03/moving-to-south-africa-beware-of-hadeda.html 01/09/2017

July 2017

Aardvark / Erdvark / Ant bear

Orycteropus afer

  • The name aardvark comes from the Afrikaans for “earth pig”
  • They feed almost exclusively on ants and termites. During times of desperation they might eat some of the other softer insects.
  • They rarely need to drink water as they get most of their moisture from their food.
  • They are nocturnal, solitary animals and will only get together during the breeding season.
  • They can walk between 10 and 30 kilometers in one night, traversing a familiar path in a zigzag pattern. They will stop frequently and press their snouts to the ground.
  • They can close their nostrils off to keep dust and insects out.
  • Aardvarks don’t chew their food, instead the food gets ground up in their lower stomachs.
  • They can dig up to around half a meter in 15 seconds. If they get attacked in their burrows they can close off the tunnel behind them very quickly, or otherwise fight the predator with their strong claws.
  • They look very similar to anteaters, and they do eat ants, but they are not related.
  • They have very poor eyesight, but that is more than made up for by their extraordinary sense of smell and hearing.
  • They are very difficult to spot, having lived on this farm for 19 years I have only ever seen one. This is why the Maasai believe that seeing an aardvark is a sign of good fortune.
  • Grown aardvarks weigh around 65kg.
  • Their feet and claws look wonderfully shovel like. This makes them the perfect little organic digging machines.


Alina Bradford. 29/06/2016. Facts About Aardvarks. https://www.livescience.com/55241-aardvark-facts.html Accessed: 28/06/2017

11/04/2017. Aardvark. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/aardvark Accessed: 28/06/2017

Aardvark. https://onekindplanet.org/animal/aardvark/ Accessed: 28/06/2017

Porini Camps. 28/08/2015. Africa Geographic. https://africageographic.com/blog/facts-about-aardvarks/ Accessed: 28/06/2017

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May 2017

Dassie / Klipdassie / Rock hyrax / Rock badger

Procavia capensis

  • The rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their home in the cliffs. – Proverbs 30:26
  • Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
  • They are the only living species of the genus Procavia.
  • The closest living relatives to the dassie are the elephant and sirenia (sea cows), this is deduced by the similarities between their feet and teeth.
  • Like elephants and humans, dassies have flat toenails on the tops of their toes. They do however have a “grooming claw” on their inside rear toes. Dassies also have sharp, tusk-like incisors, similar to those of elephants.
  • Dassies have at least 21 different vocalizations. Males sing complex songs lasting for several minutes, these songs serve a territorial purpose. Researchers found that these songs are formed by putting syllables together in a specific order, and that dassies from different regions use different dialects in their songs. It is as if they are exceedingly human teddy bears.
  • They are herbivores and prefer grass but will feed on pretty much any vegetation.
  • They are not ruminants, but have a three-chambered stomach filled with symbiotic bacteria essential to the digestion of plant    material. The bacteria is passed on through the generations by means of the pups eating their parents dung.
  • Dassies are the only non-humans that have been observed following the social strategy of “the friend of my friend is my friend.”
  • Dassie colonies use a common latrine, kind of like an out house, where they produce large amounts of something called hyraceum, which is a mixture of dung and urine.
  • A folk remedy for epilepsy and convulsions is hyraceum infused tea. It is also used in the production of perfume, because of its natural animal musk.
  • The pads of their feet are black and rubbery, constantly being moistened by sweat. This along with the suction cup like abilities of the feet give them a great amount of traction on rock faces.


Koren, L. and Geffen, E. “Complex call in male rock hyrax (Procavia capensis): a multi-information distributing channel.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 63.4 (2009 Feb): p. 581–590. doi: 10.1007/s00265-008-0693-2.

Linderman, E. (2011). “Procavia capensis” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 20, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Procavia_capensis/.

Kershenbaum, A.,  Ilany, A., Blaustein, L., and Geffen, E. (2012). Syntactic structure and geographical dialects in the songs of male rock hyraxes. Proc. R. Soc. B. 279: 2974-2981. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.0322.

Khoza, T. and Hamer, M. October 2013. Dassie. South African National Biodiversity Institute (online). https://www.sanbi.org/creature/dassie 01/05/2017

April 2017

Nonnetjie-uil / Common barn owl / Ghost owl

Tyto alba

  • The most widely distributed species of owl. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica.
  • They are monogamous up until the point that one of the pair dies.
  • Barn owls can be a host to a large variety of parasites, which include fleas, feather lice, feather mites, blood-sucking flies, flukes, tapeworms, round worms, and spiny-headed worms.
  • They don’t hoot, as we might expect from an owl, instead their calls can be described as a drawn out raspy shriek.
  • They have quite short lives, usually dying between their first and second year of life. The oldest recorded wild barn owl lived to be 34 years old (as of 2014).
  • Owls in general consume their prey whole and regurgitate the indigestible part of their prey, like the bones, in the form of a pellet. These pellets are unsurprisingly referred to as owl pellets.
  • They fly almost completely silently, which enables them to easily hear potential prey scurrying about. They can also find their prey in almost complete darkness, this is accredited to both their exceptional sight and hearing.
  • The name ‘ghost owl’ is due to the fact that owls are believed to be a bad omen. In actuality, owls are very good to have around as they never interact with humans and get rid of a very hefty amount of vermin around your house. Another plus point  is that they are a lot of fun to look at, with their heart shaped faces and all.






March 2017

Duiker / Common, grey or bush duiker

Sylvicapra grimmia

  • Found south of the Sahara in the savannah and grasslands. They also prefer hilly areas.
  • The name ‘duiker’ is Afrikaans for ‘diver’ which refers to their tendency to dive under bushes and fences.
  • They feed on leaves, seeds, fruits, insects, roots and even nestling birds. On Koekais they love to eat the kumquats that have  fallen from the tree, sometimes two can be seen grazing under the tree just after dark.
  • They grow to weigh around 20kg, with the ewes growing larger than the rams.
  • Only the rams have horns, which grow to an average length of around 10cm.
  • Lambs are able to run around within the first day of birth, but they are hidden under dense cover until they are strong enough to  fend for themselves.
  • They can live to be around 14 years of age.
  • They are active during the day and the night, but they tend to be more active during the night when they venture closer to human settlements. 


Common Duiker. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_duiker 28/02/2017

Common Duiker. Kruger National Park – South African Safari. http://www.krugerpark.co.za/africa_common_duiker.html 28/02/2017

February 2017

Bergskilpad / Leopard Tortoise / Mountain Tortoise

Stigmochelys pardalis

  • The fourth largest species of tortoise in the world.
  • Leopard tortoises are a member of the “Little 5”, along with the elephant shrew, red-billed buffalo weaver, ant lion, and the rhino  beetle.
  • Average leopard tortoises can reach around 40 cm in length and weigh about 18 kg. Very large examples can be up to 70 cm  long and weigh up to around 50 kg.As herbivores, they feed mostly on grass, mushrooms, fruit, succulents, and prickly pears. They also eat old bones and lime from the old quarries on occasion, they do this for the calcium that improves shell condition and the quality of eggshells.
  • When picked up they will release all of their urine and water reserves as a defense. This can cause severe dehydration and death at any time during the year but is much more likely during the dry season. So please don’t pick them up! If you need any more of an incentive not to pick them up, they are commonly covered with ticks on the soft flesh underneath their legs, and if the ticks don’t get you they might just pinch your finger between their legs and shell. That really hurts!
  • They can reach up to 80 – 100 years of age in the wild and up to 75 years in captivity.
  •  A group of tortoises are called a creep.
  • The markings on a tortoises shell, not unlike a human fingerprint, is unique to each individual.


Leopard Tortoise Facts. SoftSchools.com. 

www.softschools.com/facts/animals/leopard_tortoise_facts/2605/ Accessed: 31-Jan-2017


10 interesting facts about the leopard tortoise. Ecotraining.

www.ecotraining.co.za/blog/2015/10-interesting-facts-about-the-leopard-tortoise Accessed: 31-Jan-2017

January 2017

Termiet / Rysmier / Northern Harvester Termite

Hodotermes mossambicus

  • There are different members to this same species, contributing to the astonishing nature of these creatures.
  • The workers are between 8 and 13mm in length, the soldiers about 15mm and the queens 25mm. There are also snow white workers, called nymphs, that care for the eggs.
  • The soldiers and workers are sterile and only the kings and queens are capable of reproducing.
  • Northern harvesters don’t build the iconic termite mounds like their southern counterparts, but instead they build underground   nests of about 1m in diameter and 8m deep. In large infestations these nests will interconnect to form one enormous colony.
  • They harvest living and dead plant material and do not infest wood or furniture.
  • They are a very important food source of bat-eared foxes, aardvarks, and aardwolves.
  • The queen can lay up to 25 000 eggs per day, and the aardvark can eat about 20 000 termites per night.
  • After sufficient rain, flying termites will swarm from their nests in the warm evening and fly a suitable distance from their parent nest, thereafter they shake off their wings and find a mate. The couple will then make a small burrow and the female will lay her first eggs a week later. After about four months the first workers will be sent to the surface.
  • If you are as interested in these fascinating creatures as I am, and you are fond of reading, I recommend that you read Eugene N. Marais’ masterpiece, Die Siel van Die Mier (The Soul of the White Ant). This was so well written after ten years of painstaking research in the veld that in 1926 a Belgian Nobel Prize winner, Maurice Maeterlinck (Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck), simply translated Marais’ work after seeing it in the Huisgenoot and published it as his own. For shame.  But it is really worth a read!


30/06/2016. Hodotermitidae. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hodotermitidae Accessed: 29/12/2016 

Matthew K. 25/05/2010. What You Need to Know about Harvester Termites. Blogger. http://matthewjhb.blogspot.co.za/2010/05/what-you-need-to-know-about-harvester.html Accessed: 29/12/2016 

23/12/2016. Maurice Maeterlinck. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Maeterlinck Accessed: 29/12/2016 

Picker, M. Griffiths, C. Weaving, A. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. 2004 Edition. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

December 2016

Gewone Tarentaal / Helmeted Guineafowl

Numida meleagris

  • The only member of the genus Numida.
  • Only native to Africa (mostly south of the Sahara) but has been widely introduced to the west Indies, Australia and Europe.
  • Their nests consist of scrapes in the ground lined with grass, twigs, leaves and feathers. It is hidden very well amongst the other vegetation.
  • They can walk up to 10 km per day in search of food.
  • They prefer walking but can fly short distances (around 100m) when threatened.
  • Males will attack if anything threatens their young.
  • Guineafowl chicks are called keets.
  • They avoid very arid regions and rain forests. Despite many sources stating that guineafowl are rare in the Northern Cape, we have no shortage on Koekais.
  • The hard protrusions on their heads are made of bone!
  • They can live up to 12 years.
  • They spend their nights in trees or on telephone poles to avoid ground dwelling predators.
  • They are considered as vermin because they can cause serious accidents when crossing the road.
  • They eat large amounts of ticks on their daily rounds, so farmers and hikers alike  should love them.
  • Breeding season in this area is between October and March so we are expecting some keets pretty soon!


Chittenden, H. 2009. Roberts Voëlgids. Cape Town: John Voelcker Voëlboekfonds.

Riddles, R. 2015. Helmeted Guineafowl. SANBI. Available: http://www.sanbi.org/creature/helmeted-guineafowl 02-11-2016

Numida meleagris. Biodiversity Explorer. 

Available: http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/birds/numididae/numida_meleagris.htm 02-11-2016

November 2016

Likkewaan / Leguaan / White throated monitor lizard / Rock monitor lizard

Varanus albigul

  • Call it what you may, this is the second longest lizard species in Southern Africa (just after the water monitor (Varanus niloticus). They average at about one and a half metres but can grow to be longer. Their tails tend to be just a little bit longer than their bodies.
  • They feed on insects, small animals and eggs.
  • For their lairs they will make use of abandoned burrows, holes in large trees or large cracks in rock formations. In these they will hibernate through the winter.
  • If they are threatened they will attempt to defend themselves by puffing out their throats, hissing loudly, biting, scratching, lashing their powerful tails or feigning death if all else fails. I’ve seen this many times, do not get too close or attempt to move them if they suddenly look this calm because they are most assuredly not calm at all.
  • If they manage to bite you they will not let go easily. They are not venomous but their mouths are filled with bacteria that could cause some nasty infections. A good bite is alleged to cause rapid swelling within minutes, localized disruption of blood clotting and a shooting pain around the bite. Keep in mind that they will usually only attempt to bite if you are giving them no other choice (so will most humans!) so it’s best to just back away so that nobody gets hurt.
  • In Uganda some people infected with HIV will inject themselves with the blood of a leguaan in an attempt to cure the virus. This is hugely adding to the amount of these majestic (already threatened) animals being killed.
  • While they can commonly be found lounging on rocks on a warm summers day, they are very likely to be found clinging to many a rough surface such as exposed brick (next to our front door), trees and chicken wire.



Roddy Smith. Monitor Lizards – Fearsome Predators on Land and Water. Wildlife Pictures Online. Available: http://www.wildlife-pictures-online.com/monitor-lizards.html 22/October/2016

Photo credit to Martin Harvey, Joe McDonald, Pete Oxford and James Warwick (sorted alphabetically) found on www.arkive.org

October 2016

Soetdoring / Sweet Thorn

Acacia karroo

  • One of the fastest growing trees in South Africa, it is abundant all over the country.
  • It is easily recognized by its blackish-grey to black bark and round, bright yellow flowers at the ends of the branches. It also has long, flat, sickle shaped pods that are green when young but discolours to brown.
  • The bark of the younger trees have an orange tinge to it.
  • The long, strong thorns are known to have been used as sewing needles and was also used by early naturalists to pin their collected insects.
  • The gum from this tree is edible and has a sweet taste, it also makes up an important part of the Mohol Bushbaby’s diet.
  • The gum is collected and exported as “Cape gum” to be used in the production of confectionary, among others.
  • The tree makes for very nutritional fodder to browsing animals.
  • Inflorescences (from where the flowers grow) are often transformed into roundish galls by a rust fungus called Ravenelia macowaniana. These galls can have a variety of colours but are commonly grayish-black of yellowish-brown.
  • The crown of the tree is typically rounded.





Van Wyk, B. van Wyk, P. 2013. Field Guide to the Trees of Southern Africa. Second edition, fully revised. Page 586. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Aubrey, A. Reynolds, Y. January 2002. Acacia karroo Hayne. Plantzafrica. www.plantzafrica.com/plantab/acaciakar.htm. 01/October/2016.  

September 2016

Ietermago / Ietermagog / Common Ground Pangolin

Manis temmincki

  • Also known as Scaly Anteaters, the pangolin cannot be mistaken for any other animal. They are covered in large brown overlapping scales everywhere except for the face, the belly and the insides of the legs.
  • The name pangolin is derived from the Malay word “pengguling” which translates to “roller”. This is because the pangolin will roll up into a tight almost impenetrable ball when threatened.
  • They have long claws that are used to dig for termites and formicid ants, they are very picky eaters and will only eat very specific species of the above mentioned.
  • Their strong hind legs are used for walking, while the short front legs are held off the ground and used primarily for digging.
  • The jagged ends of the scales are sharp in the younger animals and blunt in older animals.
  • Pangolins are largely free from predation, but they are largely threatened by humans. They are killed indirectly by electrical fences and are directly hunted for their scales and other body parts.
  • They are strict nocturnal foragers and will rarely be seen in the light of day. They are much more likely to come out during cold winters days.
  • It is not unheard of for them to dig their own burrows, but they much prefer taking over other species’ abandoned burrows or just curling up in dense vegetation.
  • The tongues root attachment is in the pelvic region near the animals kidneys. The total length of the tongue can exceed 50 cm, whereas the total length of the animal is between 70 and 140 cm.


Sarah Pappin. 18/02/2012. 25 Facts About Pangolins! Pangolins. Available: http://www.pangolins.org/2012/02/18/25-facts-about-pangolins/ Date accessed: 03/09/2016

Carnaby, T. 2012. Beat About The Bush Mammals. Updated edition. Pages 273-276. Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana Publishers.

Stuart, C. Stuart, T. 2007. Field Guide To Mammals Of Southern Africa. Fourth edition. Pages 86-87. Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Nature

August 2016

Bloukopkoggelmander / Southern Rock Agama

Agama atra

  • Probably the best known lizard in South Africa, because it’s so widely spread throughout the country.
  • During the breeding season (January to February – October to November), the males heads and upper legs will turn   somewhere between a bright and faint blue colour, hence the Afrikaans name that translates to “blue headed agama”.
  • The females are mainly of a greyish-brown colour, which means they blend beautifully with the lichen covered rocks.
  • They are diurnal animals, lounging in the sun on top of large rocks during the day.
  • Agamas are from the family Agamidae, which consists of a very diverse group of so called “dragons” found in Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East and Australia.
  • They are thought to be highly venomous, though this is not the case. They can however inflict a very painful bite with its two fang-like upper teeth.
  • These agamas have long tails that do not grow back if they’re lost.
  • They are insectivorous animals and their diet consists of mainly ants and termites. They will also eat larger insects as they can grow to around 15cm or in some cases even longer in length.



Renier Delport. 21 March 2015. Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra). Bearded Dragons. http://www.beardeddragons.co.za/southern-rock-agama-bloukop-koggelmander/ Date accessed: 30 July 2016

14 April 2008. Southern Rock Agama. SCARCE. http://academic.sun.ac.za/capeherp/cederberg/rockagama.htm Date accessed: 30 July 2016 

July 2016

Kori Bustard / Gompou / Kgori

Ardeotis kori kori

  • There are two subspecies to this species, namely kori and struthiunculus. Today I’m covering the subspecies kori, as it is the one found in this area.
  • The Kori Bustard is the heaviest flying bird on the planet. Weighing as much as 20kg, but averaging at about 17kg. Only the males become this large, the females grow to about half that size.
  • Despite their size, they are strong fliers. However, they will only fly if pressed to do so.
  • They reach just under a meter in height, and about 1,2 meters in length.
  • These are strictly terrestrial birds that are partial to wide open grasslands and lightly wooded savanna.
  • They prefer shorter grass, in order to have a clear view of their surrounding area.
  • The Kori Bustards are not migratory in nature, and will only make a move if the food supply or lack of rainfall forces it.
  • They are omnivorous birds, eating anything from snakes to small mammals and berries. However, the majority of their diet consists out of insects. They are widely known for eating the gum from Acacia trees. There is a controversy about whether they are actually eating the gum, or eating the insects that are attracted to the gum. The Afrikaans name, Gompou (Gum Peacock), is derived from this habit.
  • Kori Bustards are one of the few species of bird that drink water by sucking, rather than scooping.
  • The kori subspecies have been decreasing in numbers over the last few years. Some organizations have begun breeding them in zoos in an attempt to prevent extinction. They can live up to 30 years in captivity, though this is no reason to keep them captive.



June 2016

Blou-Aap / Vervet Monkey / Tumbili

Chlorocebus pygerythrus / Cercopithecus pygerythrus

  • The name “Cercopithecus” means “long-tailed monkey”, and “Chlorocebus” means “green monkey”.
  • Vervets are not the largest of monkeys, weighing between 3 and 8 kg when they’re grown.
  • They have been listed as being of least concern as they don’t have too many natural predators. They’re abundant throughout the southern half of Africa and they are extremely adaptable little animals. They can thrive in anything from densely wooded areas, to areas with sparse vegetation.
  • They live in troops ranging between 10 and 70 individuals.
  • Although they live and sleep in trees, they will come to the ground  to forage for food and occasionally, but rarely, drink water.
  • Vervets are omnivorous and will eat fruit, leaves, flowers, insects, rodents, eggs, chicks and even hares.
  • They are not exceptionally aggressive animals, but they will attack if provoked. Cornering them, making sudden movements, holding prolonged eye contact and smiling with teeth will be perceived as an act of provocation. They have long, sharp teeth and are capable of doing some nasty damage.
  • Vervets are widely considered as vermin as they can do some massive damage to crops and even houses if they can find a way inside.
  • Some techniques to scare them away from your house:
  1. Put rubber snakes around the house and frequently move them around.
  2. Paint some big eyes on brightly coloured balls and move them around the perimeter of the house. I should add, we have tried the snake technique around the guest house (where they love to be naughty) but they just ended up playing with them.
  3. You should also never feed vervets, if they don’t develop an appetite for your food they will not go out of their way to look for it.
  • Just like humans, vervets are prone to hypertension, anxiety, and social and dependant alcohol use. They obviously don’t frequent liquor stores, but they can get rather intoxicated off of fermented fruit.

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May 2016

Koringkriek / Corn cricket / Armoured bush cricket

Acanthoproctus cervinus / Hetrodes pupus

  • This month I will be doing the feature creature on two creatures instead of one. All the coming facts are applicable to both the above mentioned species. Warning: sit with your feet up, because you’re probably going to feel some imaginary crawling.
  • These little beauties (I mean nasties) are abundant in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. They favour the drier, more arid regions – and they do love their hugs! Yes, we are much more afraid of them than they are of us – they quite enjoy us to be honest!
  • Corn crickets are known for eating pretty much anything. Plants, other insects, each other, animals, and they will even nibble on you if they get the chance!
  • They don’t need many defenses when it comes to humans, as they are so very nasty looking to begin with. But because they are slow, fat little beasts they make for a tasty looking snack to other creatures. Because of this, they have developed the next defenses.
  1. Firstly, they are covered in a thick, hard exoskeleton (this only really serves as an extra crunch).
  2. They are covered in strong, sharp spikes around their heads and on their legs.
  3. If this doesn’t stop you early on, they also have very strong jaws that will deliver a bite that draws blood. It is almost guaranteed that they will attempt to bite when attacked. Caution, do not cuddle!
  4. The males of both species produce a loud, high pitched noise by rubbing their legs to their bodies. This is the sound that makes our blood curdle around Autumn every year.
  5. If you’re both still around after your meeting with the shrieking jaws of death, they will squirt you with their haemolymph yellow-green insect blood, this is fun). Their haemolymph is toxic and will burn your skin if it gets onto you. It is unknown what  is responsible for the toxicity in the corn crickets case, but it is believed that it’s probably due to some or another plant material they ingest. They can squirt their haemolymph up to 6 cm in distance.
  6. If the corn crickets don’t clean themselves thoroughly after squirting the haemolymph, it will attract other corn crickets that will assume they’re injured and eat them as a fast and salty snack.
  7. If all else fails, they will regurgitate their stomach contents, and cover themselves with it. This is usually after they’ve been attacked a good many times and are going to be eaten anyway.
  •  Around this time of the year you should occasionally see one crossing the road. Every now and again, you will run over one. This will cause his buddies to run up and eat him, and they will be run over only to have their buddies run over and eat them. This means there will be some substantial patches of flattened corn cricket on the roads. Be on the look out at the tarred road near you!

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April 2016

Hoodia / Bitter Ghaap

Hoodia gordonii

  • It grows naturally in Namibia, southern Angola and the Northern Cape province of South Africa. It thrives in the rocky terrain and semi-desert climate.
  • The beautiful, pinkish flowers are a treat to look at, until you go in for a smell. The flowers have a strong, rotting meat smell to them. This is to attract the flies that pollinate it.
  • If you get past the smell of the flowers, the stem can be eaten. You only need to scrape the skin off before eating it. Opinions about the taste differ, but I am not a big fan of the sour, bitter taste that leaves your mouth dry and your spirits low.
  • The plant is described as being thorny, but this is not the case. These so called thorns on the stem are actually quite soft and bendable. As the plant ages, these thorns harden somewhat.
  • The indigenous Khoisan people of southern Africa believe the entire Hoodia genus to have many medicinal properties. It is used for treating minor infections, indigestion, stomach pain, hypertension, diabetes, and suppressing/increasing the appetite. Wait, what? No, I don’t get it either.
  • The Hoodia genus became internationally known after a marketing campaign claimed it to be a miracle supplement for weight loss, due to its ability to suppress the appetite. This has never been scientifically proven, but from experience I can tell you that the rotten smell of the flowers lingers for hours. The nauseating smell could explain the appetite suppression.
  • The ingredient in Hoodia that is speculated to be responsible for the appetite suppression is called P57. This ingredient is very difficult to isolate, and has never been successfully synthesized. Some of the other ingredients that make up the Hoodia plant have been found to have ‘unwanted effects’ on the liver.
  • A US company called Alkemists Pharmaceuticals, a botanical testing lab, found that at least half of the products that claim to contain Hoodia, actually contains none.
  • Despite the international interest in Hoodia, it has not been classified as endangered, but it is at a high risk if harvest and trade is not controlled.

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March 2016

Blinkblaar wag-‘n-bietjie / Buffalo thorn

Ziziphus mucronata

  • The genus name Ziziphus was named after the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was punished by Zeus for his deceitfulness, having to roll a large boulder up a long and steep hill, only to watch it roll back down. This rolling of the boulder was said to keep repeating into eternity.
  • The Afrikaans name, blinkblaar wag-‘n-bietjie means “shiny leaf wait a bit”, it loses something in translation. But nonetheless it refers to the very shiny leaves. I believe the “wait a bit” part comes from the fact that if you get stuck in this tree, you will be there for quite some time as it has some nasty thorns.
  • Historically the Zulu's believed that you should plant a buffalo thorn on the graves of their deceased. Thereafter a family member of the deceased must take a branch from the buffalo thorn, which the spirit of the deceased can hold on to, and travel with it to their homestead. During the transportation of the spirit, the family member must pay for an extra seat on the bus and keep the spirit notified of everything that is going on.
  • In Botswana the people believe that the buffalo thorn is immune to lightning, and that you will always be safe from lighting if you’re hiding underneath one.
  • The small fruits of the tree are edible though not very tasty. The fruits can be mashed and mixed with water to make a nutritious drink.
  • The fruits can also be fermented to make (bad) beer, or otherwise be used as a (poor) coffee substitute.
  • The leaves can be cooked and eaten, it is said that it tastes like spinach, but it really doesn’t.
  • The bark is cut into strips and boiled for an hour to make a drink that is used as a painkiller.
  •  A paste is made from the roots to treat boils, wounds and swollen glands.
  • It is said that buffalo stand with their bottoms to a buffalo thorn when fending off predators, with the tree defending them from behind, they can use their impressive horns to defend themselves from the front.
  • In some cultures a man would propose to a woman using a small buffalo thorn twig. The alternating straight and curved thorns being the reason for this. A friend of the man’s would be sent to present the woman with the twig, is she accepts, she will break off the straight thorn to symbolize the road ahead. If she declines, she will break off the curved thorn to symbolize the past.



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February 2016

Koedoe / Kudu / Greater kudu

Tragelaphus strepsiceros

  •  The scientific name is derived from the Greek words tragos (goat), elaphos (deer), strepho (turn) and keras (horn).
  • Abundant in the northern parts of southern Africa, they are also spread throughout central Africa.
  • They occur in the arid areas of the wooded savanna, with a preference for acacia woodland and rocky hills. 
  • Usually active in the mornings and late afternoons, they take to nocturnal activity when frequently disturbed or hunted.
  • They are known as one of the two highest jumping antelopes, along with the eland (Tragelaphus oryx). They can frequently be seen clearing 2 meter fences with ease, but they are supposedly able to jump as high as 3 meters from standing position.
  • Kudu are predominantly browsers, but are known to graze on occasion. They are considered pests in certain areas due to their love of crops. On Koekais they love spending their nights eating oranges, tangerines, kumquats and grapes around the house. They basically just love eating! Don’t we all?
  •  Kudus make use of a type of camouflage known as disruptive coloration. They are covered in white stripes that breaks up the solid outline of their bodies, making them very difficult to spot when they’re standing still in the veld.
  • During the winter, kudus are known to eat old bones and soil, respectively known as “osteophagia” and “geophagia”. The bones and soil are sources of calcium and phosphorus, two very important elements that are sparsely available in browsing materials during winter.
  • Only the male kudus have horns, the females don’t need horns as they are well hidden from predators most of the time.
  • They have a gestation period of 9 months, and carry only one calve at a time.
  • Kudu dung is great (and gross) for spitting! Kudu pellet spitting is a well known “sport” in South Africa and have played a part in many a formal competition. The world record for spitting a kudu pellet was set at 15.65 meter (about 51 foot) in 2006 by a Mr. Shaun van Rensburg. It is said that the spitting of the pellets began as a way for hunters to curse at a kudu for eluding them for far too long.

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Beat about the bush – mammals. By Trevor Carnaby.     

Field guide to mammals of Southern Africa. By Chris and Tilde Stuart 

January 2016

Witgat boom (Afrikaans) / Shepherd’s tree (English) / Motlopi (Tswana)

Boscia albitrunca

  • Also called the ‘tree of life’.
  • The genus name, Boscia, is named in honours of a French professor of agriculture, Louis Bosc. The species name is derived from the Latin words ‘albus truncus’, meaning ‘white trunk’, referring to the white/whitish-grey colour of the trunk.
  • The root can be pounded to make a porridge, beer, and a treatment for haemorrhoids.
  • An infusion of the leaves can be used to treat eye infections in both humans and cattle.
  • The young roots are roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute. This substitute is quite bitter and strong, locally known as ‘gaat’.
  • It is believed that burning the wood will cause your cows to produce only male calves.
  • Temperatures under the tree can be as much as 21°C cooler than the ambient temperatures that can reach 70°C on the exposed sand surface.
  • The cool sand under the tree is favoured by the sand tampan, also known as the soft tick (Ornithodoros savignyi). This is a dangerous little creature as they are known to cause tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF), the most common symptoms being a very high fever, headaches, nausea, and muscle and joint pain. The symptoms will appear for between 2 and 9 days at a time, the cycle will continue without treatment.
  • The witgat has a hollow trunk that acts as a water reservoir, which can be a very important source of water during drought.
  • The leaves are great for browsing as they have a very high protein and vitamin A content.



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December 2015

Puff adder (English) / Pofadder (Afrikaans) / iBululu (Zulu; Ndebele; Xhosa)

Bitis arietans

  • The species name ‘arietans’ is derived from the Latin word ‘arieto’ meaning ‘to strike violently’.
  • Arieto also means ‘butt like a ram’ in Latin, but that’s probably irrelevant. Just thought it was worth a mention.
  • They are slow moving, temperamental  snakes that give off a loud puffing hiss when disturbed, hence the common name. Even though they are slow moving and stocky, the can strike at amazing speeds, hence the species name.
  • Though mainly nocturnal (comes out at night), they will lay out in the sun, especially in the rainy season and as the sun rises and sets.
  • Puff adders are viviparous (gives birth to live young) and will give birth to between 20 and 40 neonates from one pregnancy (neonates are newly born/hatched snakes, let’s just call them snakelets from now on). In Kenya, a puff adder was recorded to have given birth to 156 snakelets in one go! She must have looked like a rugby ball.
  • They move in a caterpillar motion that leaves a deep, straight track in the sand.
  • Puff adders have cytotoxic venom, which means their venom attacks and eats away at your tissue. Most deaths from puff adder bites occur after about 24 hours, but less that 10% of bites are fatal (after treatment).
  • They’re widely spread and common throughout the more arid regions of Africa and in the southern Arabian Peninsula, they avoid rain forests and mountain tops.
  • Adults average a length of 90 centimeter (about 35 inches) and can grow up to 1,4 meters (about 55 inches). Lengths of over 1,8 meters (about 71 inches) have been recorded in Kenya.

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’n Volledige gids tot die Slange van Suider-Afrika deur Johan Marais.

November 2015

Grondeekhoring / Waaierstertmeerkat / South African Ground Squirrel / Cape Ground Squirrel

Xerus inauris

  • Found throughout South Africa and in the southern African regions such as Namibia and Botswana
  • They prefer the dry environment of the savanna and grassland biomes.

  • They live in burrows that protect them from extreme weather conditions and predators.
  • Known predators
  1.  Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)
  2. Puff adder (Bitis arietans)
  3. Rock monitor (Varanus albigularis)
  • They don't hibernate, in fact, breeding peaks in the winter.
  • The gestation period is between 42 and 49 days, and a litter can vary between 1 and 3 pups.
  • Little is known about the lifespan of SA ground squirrels in the wild, but the longest known lifespan in captivity was 11,5 years.
  • During the hot summer afternoons they alternate between hiding from the heat in their burrows and shading themselves with their tails outside. This repeated escape and emergence is called "shuttling".
  • Females live in social groups of 1 to 4 females with their offspring. These groups share quarters and have no social hierarchy.
  • Males live separately from the females in groups of up to 19 members. Between the males there is a linear hierarchy according to age.
  • SA ground squirrels have a mutualistic relationship with the meerkats (Suricata suricatta), the meerkats alarm calls warn the squirrels when there is a danger, and the squirrels provide the meerkats with burrows.
  • A baby ground squirrel is calles a "pup, kit or kitten". A female is a "doe" and a male a "buck".

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October 2015

Swarthaak / Haak bos (Afrikaans)   -   Blackthorn / Hook bush (English)   -   Kikwata (Swahili)

Acacia mellifera

  • Classified as a shrub or small tree.
  • The Latin name is derived from the Latin words:
  1. 'acus' meaning needle, referring to the small, black thorns covering the tree.
  2. 'melli' meaning honey, reerring to the sweet honey-like smell that the flowers give off when in bloom.
  • It flowers between August and September, with second floweriong following heavy rains around March.
  • The wood is termite-resistant and make very effective fencing posts, as the wood is also quite hard and attractive.
  • If ones veld isn't carefully maintained, tree encroachment can occur very easily. If left unattended, the blackthorns form dense, impenetrable thickets that can span hundreds of meters across. This renders the veld uninhabitable and can take decades to be restored once the blackthorns are removed.
  • Twigs from the blackthorn can be frayed and used as toothbrushes. Be sure to remove the thorns first, unless you've been meaning to have that tooth pulled.
  • Medicinal uses:
  1. A medical study in Kenya suggested that the bark can be used as an appetite enhancer.
  2. The bark is also used in ethno medicine to treat stomach ailments, sterility, pneumonia and malaria.
  • The blackthorn also make for great browsing, enjoyed a great amount by kudu, black rhino, eland and giraffe. The dried leaves and pods that fall off are also grazed by smaller animals that can't browse the fresh ones.
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www.feedipedia.org & www.plantzafrica.com

September 2015

Vaalbos / Kanferbos / Camphor bush

Tarchonanthus camphoratus

  • Called Leleshwa in Swahili.The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania use the oil from the leaves to scent themselves.
  • The Latin name is derived from the Greek words ‘tarchos’ meaning funeral, and ‘anthos’ meaning flower. ‘camphoratus’ comes from the strong camphor smell when the leaves are crushed.
  • It’s covered in creamy-white flowers, and seed heads that are covered by cotton-like hairs. Between August and September the Koekais veld is covered by the cotton-wool like seed heads falling off.
  • Medicinal uses:
  1. Inhaling the smoke from the burning green leaves is used to relieve blocked sinuses and headaches.
  2. Brewing the leaves and drinking the liquid is used to relieve coughing, toothache, abdominal pain and bronchitis.
  3. Boiling the leaves and inhaling the vapor is used as a treatment for asthma.
  4. Splinters from the wood are reputed to be poisonous and cause wounds that are slow to heal.