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World Rhino Day | 22 September 2019

On September the 22nd, 2019 we celebrate World Rhino Day. Rhinos once roamed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, and were depicted by early Europeans in cave paintings. Within historical times, rhinos were still widespread across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests. On a single day, numerous amounts of rhinos could be seen in large herds, now if you are lucky enough you may get to see one when out on Safari in the African Bush. Today, very few rhinos survive outside protected areas. And almost all five species are threatened, primarily through poaching.

World Rhino Day was first established in 2010 in South Africa, this day has now gained international recognition and it is celebrated by a variety of organizations and individuals from around the world.

World Rhino Day celebrates all five of the surviving species:

  1. Southern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum)
  2. Northern white rhinoceros or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
  3. Southern-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor)
  4. South-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis occidentalis)
  5. East African black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli)

At EcoTraining we are cognoscente of the important role that rhino play in both tourism and conservation and we are, therefore grateful to the founders of this day and the huge amount of work that has been done to make it the worldwide phenomenon that it has become in such a short space of time.

How can you tell the difference between black and white rhino?

Size: Firstly, the white rhino is a lot larger in size in comparison to the black rhino. A white rhino female weighs about 1, 700kg and the male about 2,300 kg, compared with a black rhino which weighs between 800 – 1,400 kg.

The white rhino is considerably larger than the black rhino and has a distinctive ‘barrel-shaped’ body. The black rhino is slighter, smaller and more compactly built than its counterpart due to the different habitats they roam.

two white rhinos

White rhinos

Body shape:  The white rhino is much longer, bigger and weightier looking, whereas the black rhino is shorter and more compact.

black rhino facing

Black rhino (c) David Batzofin

Feeding and mouth structure: One of the greatest differences between the two is the shape of their mouths. A white rhino has a very broad, flat, wide lip, which makes perfect sense as it is a grazer and requires a mouth designed for feeding on grass. A black rhino is a browser and feeds on leaves, shoots and branches. As a result, it has a more pointed soft beak-like prehensile lip, which it uses to grab hold branches than can often be very spikey.

Horn: The white rhino has longer front horn with a much shorter second horn. The black rhino tends to have a slightly shorter front horn and longer second, meaning that its two horns are more similar in length.

Habitat: Although the habitats of black and white rhino may sometimes overlap, there are definitely specific areas that you would expect to see either a black or a white rhino. A white rhino will typically be found in grasslands or in areas that are open, whereas a black rhino will be found in thickets and dense bushes this is again due to their feeding habits.

These are just a few differences between these mighty giants.

oxpecker on rhino

Oxpecker on a rhino (c) David Batzofin

The Poaching Crisis:

The current rhino poaching crisis began in 2008, with massive numbers of rhinos killed for their horn throughout Africa. From around 2016 there has thankfully been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached across Africa since the peak of 1,349 poached in 2015.

However, there are still two and a half rhinos killed every single day: there is still a lot more to do.

South Africa holds nearly 80% of the world’s rhinos and has been the country hit hardest by poachers, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed each year between 2013 and 2017.

Africa Rhino stats from 2008 to 2018

South Africa & Africa Rhino Poaching Stats 2006 – 2018 (c) Save The Rhino

At 769 recorded poaching incidents in South Africa in 2018, poaching numbers are still high. As you can see in the graph above the numbers show a decrease in both South Africa and Africa as a whole in comparison to 2017, when a whopping number of 1,028 rhino were poached in South Africa.

According to Save The Rhino this positive sign does not mean rhinos are now thriving. It shows at least two rhinos were killed each day in 2018. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of the poaching crisis is taking its toll, as well as the prolonged drought affecting food and water resources.

This decline in the amount of rhino poached may demonstrate that the anti-poaching work taking place is having an effect, or it could also mean that there are significantly fewer rhinos surviving in the wild, therefore it is getting harder for poachers to locate them.

Rhino in the bush

White rhino (c) David Batzofin

Do you know what a rhino’s horn is made of?

Rhino horn is made up primarily of keratin – a protein found in our hair and fingernails, as well as animal hooves. To get more technical about it, the rhinoceros’ horn is a chemical complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, as well as tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate.

What is rhino horn used for?

In traditional Asian medicine, rhino horn has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” When used, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder, before being dissolved in boiling water and consumed. As seen in the graph above, in 2008 there was a massive increase in demand for rhino horn, this was due to the false belief that it could cure cancer.

Have you heard that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac? The most popular belief in Western countries is that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac, but this is not correct and seems to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by Western media. However, research has shown that people in Vietnam are starting to, unfortunately, believe that this rumour is true.  There has been a recent surge in demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, where it is being used as a hangover cure.

The international trade of rhino horn is banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). In recent years in South Africa, there has been a call to legalise the trade of rhino horn, this in itself it a whole new debate, if you want to know more about this, the Department of Environmental Affairs wrote this paper.

white rhino with calf

White rhino cow & calf (c) David Batzofin

 

Shiluva on game drive

Shiluva on game drive (c) David Batzofin

Shiluva pictures above, is from the Makuleke Community just outside the Northern Kruger National Park and is on the EcoTraining 1-year Professional Field Guide Course. She grew up hearing folk tales from here parents and elders about the magnificent rhinoceros. Listen as Shiluva tells the story of how the hippo lost its horn, and how the rhino ended up with two!

Have you seen or heard about rhinos being dehorned? Watch the EcoTraining TV YouTube video to find out more:

So, after hearing all the stories and learning about the rhino do you think you are up to the task of taking our EcoTraining Rhino Quiz? Click here to see how clued up you are about rhinos and their conservation.

With World Rhino Day in mind, let’s all do our part and sharing this message of rhino conservation far and wide.

Hyena in mud

The highly intelligent hyena

It sometimes seems that the trio of hyaenas from Disney’s famous movie the Lion King is a representation of the species as a whole. There can be nothing further from the truth, as hyenas are not cowardly, skulking scavengers that they are made out to be.

Found in most wilderness regions of sub-Saharan Africa, the spotted hyena plays a very important role in many African eco-systems.

Much like other animals that have stripes or spots, the pattern on each animal is unique, allowing for easy identification.

Spotted hyena on the grass

Spotted Hyena (c) David Batzofin

These large animals can be found is a vast variety of habitats and have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,100m!

Although they have their cubs in a den, they do like to lie in shaded hollows, culverts and even pools of water during the heat of the day. If you have ever had the privilege to travel to Tanzania or Kenya, you will see hyenas wallowing midday like a hippo in muddy pools of water.

Hippo and hyena in the water

Hyena and hippo in East Africa (c) Tayla McCurdy

Most people believe that hyena scavenges the majority of their food, but this is not necessarily the truth. They kill up to 95% of their food, with the remaining percentage being scavenged or stolen. Hyenas have excellent hearing and can hear the sound of predators on a kill from up to 10 km away. They will eat almost anything on offer, including fish, pythons and tortoises if nothing else is available. The amount of scavenging versus the amount of hunting a hyena does is all dependent on the population dynamics of other large predators in the region.

Hyenas in East Africa

Hyenas (c) Tayla McCurdy

Hyenas exert a far greater bite pressure than any other land predator on the continent, they can crush bones that other carnivores cannot eat.

The main rivalry for hyenas are lions. And in many areas, where lions do exist, hyenas are regarded as the dominant apex predator. In the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, hyenas and lions are in a constant battle with each other, in what can only be described as a gladiator’s arena of life and death where often, due to numbers and cunning, hyenas are the victor.

Living in clans as they do, they can be observed to be extremely social. And considering that these clans can exceed 50 in number, it is no easy task. The clans are matriarchal, as the females are larger than their male counterparts and can outweigh them by as much as 30%.

Hyenas communicate via a range of vocalizations varying from whoops and grunts to almost demented human-like laughter. Hence they are often referred to as ‘Laughing Hyenas’. Each call has a specific use and is therefore easily distinguished and interpreted by the rest of the clan. Sitting and listening to a pack of hyenas as they call to each other in the dead of night, is a cacophony that will not be easily forgotten.

When cubs are born at the den site, they get to interact with each other and thus build up a clan hierarchy. The female offspring of the dominant matriarch is known as a Princess and will be afforded special privileges by the rest of the clan.

Hyena and cub

Hyena and cub (c) David Batzofin

Built like they are running uphill; they can attain speeds of up to 60 kph, however, more importantly, they maintain that speed for long period of time, enabling them to tier their prey out before catching it and ripping it to shreds.

Female hyenas have a pseudo-penis, making the animals difficult to sex when young, though as adults’, females are easily noticeable due to their size and weight difference to the males. Clans are territorial and will defend their areas aggressively. They mark their areas with dung and a pungent paste secreted from their anal glands.

Hyenas are one of the most intelligent animals on the African continent and arguably the most intelligent predator bar the African Wild Dog.

So, the next time you are on a Safari and encounter these amazing creators, take the time to watch them and learn more about their complex and interesting behaviours.

If you want to know more about EcoTraining, have a look at our website and some of the courses we offer.

Watch and listen to the incredible sounds below in an EcoTraining TV video.

Women's Day

Women’s Day 2019 | Today and everyday we celebrate you

The field of guiding is attracting more women into the industry every day. This August EcoTraining celebrates those women who are dedicating their lives to making our natural world a nurturing one.

Jennifer Palmer, is the founder of Women for Wildlife, an organization that seeks to empower local communities and at the same time, work towards the goal of conserving wildlife. She recently spent time at all of the EcoTraining camps and was part of several courses that were running in those camps at the time.

Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer, who has a Masters Degree in International Applied Ecology and Conservation, was able to immerse herself in both the ethos of EcoTraining and the roles that women play in the South African guiding industry.

Her work and passion has taken her to more than 40 countries including in Latin America, the South Pacific and now Africa.

Her goal she says “is to bring people together with compassion to make a difference in the world”.

As a solo traveller, she shared some tips for other women who might find themselves in similar situations, listen to what she has to say on her solo travels.

She also shared her thoughts about her time at the EcoTraining camps.

Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer

Another incredible initiative is called Rise of the Matriarch have a look at their YouTube channel and follow the incredible journey all these remarkable women are on.

In honour of Women’s Day, we’ve put together a video of some of the EcoTraining Women who show us that being brave, strong and independent has never looked so good!

Women's Day

EcoTraining TV – Women’s Day 2019

There are so many women out there that are making a difference every single day. We want you all to know that we appreciate your drive and dedication to the industry.

If you have a passion, a dream and a drive for conservation then take a look at the courses or careers available at EcoTraining.

 

Impala ram

The Impressive Impala

Believe it or not, impala are one of a kind! They are the only member of the genus Aepyceros that falls under the Bovidae family (which includes buffalo, sheep, goats, and cows). However, there are two sub-species, the common impala and the very rare black-faced impala, found only in Namibia and Angola.

Being an apex prey species, this graceful animal can jump up to 3m in height and 10m in length. Combine that with speeds of up to 60km/h and you will realize that they have an amazing skill set to evade predators. This being said, they sometimes, literally, just jump for joy. ‘Impala’ is the Zulu word for ‘gazelle’.

Only the males have horns, which are used for defence as well as an attack during the mating season. The horns take several years to reach full length and that is the reason that younger males do not challenge for dominance. A gland on the forehead of the rams produces a scent that informs their rivals of their status.

Impala image

David Batzofin (cc)

There is a common theory that female impala, have been known to delay giving birth if the weather conditions are harsh. Impala young are born in the middle of the day when their main predators are resting. The females synchronize their birthing so that there are large numbers of young as up to half of the newborns are killed within their first few weeks. Twice as many females as males are born annually.

David Batzofin (cc)

Impalas have to drink every day, but as predators’ frequent waterholes at dawn or dusk, the impala is often seen drinking in the hottest part of the day when the chance of being attacked is reduced.

Most of the cat species will prey on both the adult impala as well as the youngsters and new-born. Baboons have been known to kill and eat smaller individuals as well.

Impalas are social animals and are usually never seen alone. Females and youngsters will live together in mixed herds with a dominant male, while the males will live in bachelor herds. There is an increase of males in a herd during the rutting season. Herd living has the advantage of confusing predators when they scatter.

There is another theory that surrounds impala (that has yet to be proven. It is thought that they produce a scent from glands on their hind legs, this scent is released when they kick high when they are airborne. The purpose of the scent is to enable the herd to regroup after they have scattered. Covering a wide range, they will migrate seasonally depending on food availability.

David Batzofin (cc)

Do you have any specific questions about Impala you would like answered?

Drop us a comment below and we will respond to you.

If you want to know more about impala have a look at the video on EcoTraining TV or if you are interested in learning first hand about African wildlife have a look at the courses we offer.

YouTube Video

EcoTraining TV | Learn the facts: All you need to know about Impala

Zebra and wildebeest migration_edited

Zebras | Facts and fallacies surrounding them

Zebras are fascinating creatures and there are many facts and fallacies surrounding them. Known for their black and white stripes and their migratory behaviour, these animals are actually very unique and adaptable. Like a finger print, a zebras stripe patterns are different from zebra to zebra. It is said that their stripes appear unattractive to small bloodsucking predators like horseflies that can spread disease. There is so much to this wild animal and we invite you to take a look as some frequently asked unusual questions about the zebra (which could help you if you are thinking of doing an EcoTraining Course).

Willie van Eeden (cc)

 

Question 1: Is a zebra black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Despite what you might think, a zebra is actually black with white stripes. Certain zebra species do not have belly stripes, leading to the belief that white was the predominant colour. But current research has shown conclusively that the underlying colour is black and the white is an overlying fur.

Fun fact: Zebras are an odd-toed ungulate belonging to the Perissodactyla order which also includes rhinos and tapirs.

Question 2: Why do they have stripes?

Their coat is thought to help disperse the heat of the hot African sun as the black stripes are light absorbing and the white stripes are reflective. The air moving over these stripes creates a cooling current, almost like an individual air conditioner for each animal.

Question 3: How many zebra species are there?

There are three, two of which, the Plains zebra (Equus quagga) and the Mountain zebra (Equus zebra) can be found in South Africa. The Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is the rarest of the three and is found only in Kenya and Ethiopia. It is the largest and most imposing of the three and is often referred to as the Imperial zebra.

Question 4: Can you ride a zebra?

It has been done in circuses, but is not recommended. They can be aggressive and bad tempered and will bite and kick with no provocation. Their backs are not strong enough to support the weight of an adult rider.

Fun fact: The legs of a newborn Zebra are the same length at those of the adults in the herd. This has the effect of confusing predators who cannot distinguish the youngsters from the adults.

Question 5: What sound does a zebra make?

Much like domesticated horses, they will snort and nicker. But they can also bray similar to a donkey which a horse cannot replicate. This bray can be heard from a long distance and is often used to find a potential mate.

Fun fact: Zebra stallions are protective of their females and will often attack other male intruders. Their defense mechanisms include kicking and biting. Male zebras can often be seen without tails, that have been removed in a fight with a member of their own species.

Question 6: How fast can they run?

They can get up to 65 kilometers per hour, often outrunning the slower predators. Foals can keep up with the herd within a few hours of being born.

Fun fact: Lions do not see in colour and as a result a black and white mass, moving at speed, can be totally confusing to them. This is why lions try to isolate individual animals when it comes to looking for a meal.

Willie van Eeden (cc)

 

As you can see, when it comes to the zebra, never judge a book by its cover (or in this case its colour). This fascinating species is extremely adaptable to its environment, even though they seem to stand out from the crowd. They may seem calm and gentle, but they do have a fierce wild side to them that allows them to survive and thrive.

Do you have any unusual questions about the Zebra you would like to know, drop us a comment or if you want any more facts about zebras have a look at the zebra video our YouTube page.

YouTube Zebra Video