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Black maned lion
Masai Mara's black-maned lions are reputed to be the largest and most impressive in Africa, and have been the subject of numerous books and documentary films. Mane growth depends on the male hormone testosterone, so the size of the mane impresses females and intimidates rivals. On the open savannah, a lion's mane advertises his maleness from a great distance. To enhance his mane, a lion will do the "lion strut": tip-toeing on front legs, erect body and tail. The mane also protects against claws and teeth in male combat. Aside from that, it has little use and gets in the way of hunting—stalking males have been described as haystacks moving through the grass (which is why females do most of the hunting!). The mane starts growing from age 2, when sons usually get kicked out by the father. It darkens and thickens, peaking at age 5. As lions age they go bald!! Because their testosterone levels fall.
The prides are strongly territorial, occupying and defending specific areas. They mostly eat migratory herbivores such as wildebeest and zebra and live in family groups known as prides, with as many as 20 or 30 individuals and up to three adult males. Lions are quite lazy creatures, and spend as much as 20 hours a day resting! Females do most of the hunting, and often work together in groups. They usually hunt during the day and prey upon mammals like antelope and zebra. The phrase 'the lion's share' comes from the males' habit of eating before the rest of the pride.
Male lions can grow to 3m long and 1m at the shoulder and weigh over 20okg. In the wild they normally live for 15 years or so. Lions will breed at any time of the year, and gestation period is 112 days with the female giving birth to up to six cubs. The cubs are born with spots, but they fade as they get older. Young cubs are extremely vulnerable and only 20% will survive to reach two years old.
Having seen 13 cheetah and 12 lions, we now really wanted to see a leopard. They are of course much less easy to spot, but our guide was eager to find one for us. He looked in all the places where the leopard normally hangs out. No luck. He himself had not seen for for some time, but he was trying really hard to please us.
One day we were driving back from trying to spot rhino, when one of our party asked: "what is that yellow thing in the tree?" It was an impala, the result of the leopard's hunt. Right next to it, was the leopard. We left the road and travelled towards it, but we all got rather carried away, squeeling in delight at having seen a leopard, which frightened him off. But at least we did see him. In a place where the guide had never before seen one.
The leopard is a large cat with a body length of up to five feet and a tail of a further three feet and there are more than 20 subspecies found all over Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Normally a nocturnal hunter, the leopard will stash his prey in a tree (as we saw), to keep it away from lions and hyenas. It takes enormous strength to hoist a prey which sometimes weighs three times the leopard’s own body weight, several feet into a tree. After a gestation period of around 100 days, the leopard will give birth to two cubs, which are born blind. The cubs will remain with their mother for two years. The average life span of a leopard is 17 years. The leopard is listed as an endangered species by CITES (Convention of International Trade and Endangered Species).
Elephants are the largest land mammals alive, weigh up to 5,400 kg and average about 3 m tall at the shoulder. Males are larger than females. African The ears not only hear well, but also help the elephant lose excess heat, as hot blood flows near the surface of the skin. Both male and females have tusks which grow for most of their lives and can indicate age.
Elephants are excellent swimmers, even using their trunks as snorkels. They eat leaves, bark, twigs, roots, flowers and fruit – they have to consume at least 150 kg of food each day. They suck water into the trunk, then squirts it into their mouths. The trunk has two extensions at the tip, which it uses like a hand.
They have very strong social bonds and live in highly organised matriarchal groups. The herd is typically composed of up to ten females and their young. Males beyond the age of maturity are with the herd only during mating.
Elephants use their ears to display, signal or warn when alarmed or angry, they spread the ears, bringing them forward and fully extending them as well asl makinga trumpeting noise. If its signals are ignored, the threatened elephant may charge at its attacker. But charges are rarely carried through; at the last moment, the elephant either stops short or turns aside.
The gestation period is 23 months, and a single calf is born. During its first year, the calf will not stray more than 20 yards from its mother. Because most elephant behaviour has to be learned, motehrs keep their offspring with them for many years. Closely related females cross suckle each other’s calves. Tusks erupt at 16 months but do not show externally until 30 months. Adult males leave the herd at 14 years of age, and either range alone or join other bull elephants in "bachelor herds," rejoining females only at breeding times.
Elephants can live 60 to 70 years and have the lowest metabolic rate of any placental mammal on earth. African elephants care for wounded individuals and are unique in that they identify and look after elephant bones
Gregarious and sociable, buffalo can be found in herds of up to 1000 animals. Often considered to be the most aggressive and dangerous animal on the African plains, buffalo are actually quite peaceful amongst themselves. It eats grass, leaves, sprouts and stems, and needs to drink up to 30 litres of water a day. They have poor eyesight and hearing, so they rely on their acute sense of smell, which can detect a predator from up to 250m away. Their main predator is the lion, although crocodiles sometimes get them while crossing a river or a hyena may take an injured animal or a calf. When one herd member is attacked, others will come to its aid, and a group of angry buffalo are able to see off a whole pride of lions.
Gestation period is 11 months after which a single calf is born. The youngster will be kept hidden in the undergrowth for a few weeks where it will be nursed by the mother, until it is able to join the herd, where it will be protected by the other members. The life span is 16-20 years. They can grow to a height of 1.4m with the male weighing up to 800kg and the female 550kg. Both sexes have horns.
The giraffe is the world's tallest animal. Each giraffe's coat is unique. They have no extra vertabrae, but each of the 7 bones is greatly enlarged.
The giraffe is related to deer and cattle, but placed in a separate family, the Giraffidae, consisting only of the Giraffe and its closest relative, the Okapi. Thel "horns" on top of their heads are used to protect the head in fights. Male giraffes are larger than females. Males weigh about 2,700 lbs and stand up to 19 ft tall! Females weigh some 300 lbs less and are 3 ft shorter. There are nine generally accepted subspecies of giraffes, differentiated by color and pattern variations and range. Healthy giraffes live about 25 years in the wild. Giraffes are non-territorial, social animals and travel in large herds that are not organized in any way. They can outrun most of their enemies and have been known to kill lions with a kick. A giraffe has just 2 gaits: walking and galloping, are among the very few mammals that cannot swim and usually sleep for only 10 minutes! The idea that giraffes are mute is very wrong, they make a variety of different noises.
If they need to, giraffes can go for several days without water, staying hydrated by the moisture from leaves. They feed chiefly on leaves of acacia and mimosa, using their extensible black tongues and mobile lips to secure food. Males and females tend to eat from different parts of a tree to ensure that the sexes do not compete for food. Life expectancy is between 20 and 25 years.
Female giraffes typically give birth to one calf after a 15 month gestation period. The mother gives birth standing up and the baby falls six feet to the ground. Young giraffes are very vulnerable and cannot defend themselves. While mothers feed, the young are kept in small nursery groups. While adult giraffes are too large to be attacked by most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards, hyenas, and African hunting dogs. Only 25 to 50 percent of Giraffe calves reach adulthood.
Hippo with infant
The name “hippo” means river horse and it can grow to 1.5m in height and a length of 5m, weighing up to 3.5 ton. It has excellent hearing, eye sight and sense of smell.
Hippos spend most of their days in the water. Their ears, nose and eyes are positioned on the top of the head, so that it can still see all around while partly submersed and it is able to close its ears and nostrils to avoid water entering. Hippos secrete a red substance which acts as a sunscreen for their sensitive skin when on land. For short distances hippos car run at speeds up to 30 km an hour, but they are unable to jump or step over obstacles.
Despite its bulk, the hippo moves effortlessly under water, partly due to its neutral buoyancy which enables it to sink to the bottom where it walks about with ease. The hippo can stay under water for up to 15 minutes.
The herbivorous hippo mainly feeds on land at night. They live in groups of 15 or more animals, sometimes up to 100. The groups are territorial and will chase off any intruders. Hippo are aggressive animals and are said to kill more people every year in Africa than any other animal. A hippo is at its most dangerous when cut off from its natural environment, so NEVER get between a hippo and the water.
After a gestation period of 230 days a single calf is born. The baby usually weighs in at around 35-45 kg. Mother and child will remain aaprt from the herd for a period of up to 45 days before joining the others. The young are able to swim the moment they are born as they are born and nursed underwater. Young hippos are often seen riding on their mother’s back in the water, and other hippos cows will sometimes look after a whole group of calves. Although they will be grazing by the age of five months and weaned at eight months, female calves will stay with their mother until almost fully grown. The main predators for unprotected calves are lions, hyenas and crocodiles, although most deaths are caused by being trampled to death during a fight.
The name wildebeest comes from the Dutch wild beast, and it is also known as the gnu. It is a large antelope. The bull's deep grunts sound like a giant croaking frog. The head of the wildebeest is large and box-like. Both males and females have curving horns. The body looks disproportionate, as the front end is heavily built, the hindquarters slender and the legs spindly.
The female is smaller than the male which grows to 50 inches at the shoulder and weighs 500 lbs.
The strong bulls in every wildebeest group defend territories that they have marked with their waste, and with substances produced by glands on their faces and hooves. Young males and bulls without territories form bachelor herds. If a herd of bachelors drifts into a bull's territory, the bull quickly chases the group out. The antics of the territorial bulls during breeding season have earned them the name “clowns of the savannah.”
The wildebeest population has increased over the last few years, with there being 100,000 individuals in 1950, but estimated to number 1.5 million now. The grazing and tramping of the grasses by such large herds helps to stimulate grass growth, while their waste provides nutrients for the soil and plants. Wildebeest are also an important food source for predators such as lions and hyenas. At night wildebeest sleep on the ground in rows; this provides them with the security of being in a group while allowing them space to run in case of an emergency.
The gestation period is eight and a half months, producing one offspring.
80% of calves are born within a 2 to 3 week period at the start of the rainy season. Since predators can only take a limited number of prey at any given time, there is a higher chance of survival for each individual calf. Calves can stand and run within 3 to 7 minutes after birth. Newborns are a yellowish-brown, but change to adult colour at about 2 months. In a few days it is able to keep up with the herd
"Topi" is a Hindi word for "hat. The topi has a body length of around 175 cm with a 50 cm long tail, height of 115 cm and weighs 120 kg. The males have a curious habit of standing atop termite mounds when trying to attract a mate. Topis have good sight and hearing and can run quite fast with a bounding gait, almost bobbing their heads.
The topis’ favourite habitat are flood plains, but they are sometimes found in dry areas of open savannah and park woodland, taking to the shade during the heat of the day. They prefer flat lowlands, and can go without water for long periods of time only if they have access to green pastures. Topis are exceptionally gregarious and live in herds of 15 to 20, although in some places, it is possible to see herds of hundreds. They have a remarkable social organization that is linked to the geographic and seasonal distribution of food. Topis are most active in the morning and evening, resting in shade through the hot hours. With a plentiful diet of short, nutritious grass, a total of 30,000 topi are estimated to be present in the Mara. Both males and the females cooperate in defending the territory against strange topis of either sex. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and hunting dogs are among the topi's predators. Calves are also vulnerable to jackals, servals, caracals, pythons and large eagles.
Mating takes place in the territories. Calving normally occurs after a 7-8 months gestation, once a year and is timed for periods when grass supplies are plentiful. Infant topis spend their first 3 to 12 days lying out and about 3 months start growing horns. Often, similarly aged calves will form a kindergarten, which may be guarded by a single female while the other mothers spread out to graze. Weaning is complete at about 1 year old, when males calves are expelled from their mother's territory by the territorial male
A member of the horse family, the zebra has a black background colour with bold contrasting white stripes continuing all the way down to hooves. Each zebra has a unique pattern. These stripes may help to confuse predators chasing the zebra, making them misjudge distances. Shoulder height 50”; weight ca 500 lbs. Large eyes and ears help the zebra detect predators early, allowing it to run away.
The zebra is non-selective in its grazing habits, feeding on available grasses, especially grass stems and sheaths. They are nomadic herbivores, spending most of their time grazing. The large barrel-shaped body holds a very large amount of relatively un-nutritious grass and the zebra is very dependent on water, thus usually stays close to a watering hole.
Zebras live in stable family groups of up to 17 animals headed by a single stallion. Mares stay with the group; offspring leave. Females establish a dominance hierarchy. During travel, group is led by the dominant female and her foal, followed by other females in their order of dominance. Members recognize each other by sight primarily, but also by voice and smell. Families maintain close bonds even during extended migrations with thousands of other zebra and wildebeest. The family will slow its pace to allow weak ones to keep up; they don’t leave them.
The stallion is the rear guard when the family flees from a predator. They are capable of running 40 mph in short bursts in order to escape from predators, and use hooves and teeth in defence. They also have a powerful kick that can cause serious injury to a predator.
The zebra is the only grazer to have both upper and lower incisors; it can thus snip the grass blade (rather than yanking it out), exposing the tender under grasses for others. The antelope of the plains rely on the zebra to open up the grasslands for them, removing the tough outer layers to expose nutritious parts.
One young is born after a gestation of ca 1 year. Newborn has brown stripes and is short-bodied and long-legged.
The Spotted hyena can grow to 85 cm tall and weigh in around 60 kg, with the dominating females being bigger than the males. Although it was previously thought that the hyena was merely a scavenger, it is now widely believed that they are in fact highly efficient hunters! The hyena lives in matriarchal groups of up to 15 or more individuals, known as clans. Their diet is a wide range of foods, from insects to big game, and a hyena clan are capable of driving a pride of lions from a kill. It will eat almost every scrap of a carcass, and even horns, bones and teeth are digested within 24 hours. After a gestation period of four months, usually a litter of two cubs are born. Hyenas like to relax in puddles in the middle of the day, the water helping to keep their bodies cool.
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