Zebra crossing*

We were in the Serengeti towards the end of the Great Migration (of which more later), and we drove east towards the Sand River,  and the Kenyan border. This charming map was made by Ainslie at Serian Kagatende Camp, where we stayed, and it shows the Sand River on the right.

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We reached the river, a serene rivulet, and enjoyed the unpopulated view:

zebra

But it was not as empty as it seemed. Can you spot the animal on the far bank, just emerging from the trees? People don’t believe that zebra are well camouflaged, but they are, just look at this next picture if you don’t believe me:

zebra

Returning to the Sand River, five minutes later the whole scene was transformed by a huge herd of mixed zebra and wildebeest, crossing from right to left into Tanzania:

zebra

Some paused to drink:

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zebra

As they crossed, they called to each other. The yelping barking sounds on this video are zebra contact calls, not at all the sounds I would have expected them to make:

The species name Equus quagga is derived from the Khoikhoi word for “zebra” and is based on the sound of its call.

I don’t know how to estimate their numbers, but the entire herd took 20 minutes to cross. The bad news is that they still have to cross the notorious Mara River if they want to go further north. But that is the subject of another post.

* PS My husband deserves credit for the title of this post!

Cain and Abel: Baby giants

The Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, aka the Giant Eagle Owl, Bubo lacteus, is an imposing bird, measuring 26″ with a wingspan of up to five feet. It is the largest owl in Africa, and the fourth largest in the world.

We were lucky enough to come upon two fledglings on the lower branches of a large tree in full view. Here is one of them:

Verreaux eagle owl

This one was practicing using its beak and its wings:

Verreaux eagle owl

And you could clearly see the strange pink eyelids*, whose purpose is unknown, but they are brighter in males in the mating season

Verreaux eagle owl

Initially they had claimed a tree each, but then one flew over to join its sibling, and all hell broke loose. It appears that sibling rivalry is alive and well in the Ruaha:

Verreaux eagle owl

The slightly smaller one on the right, whose wing feathers are still covered by more down than those of the older one on the left, was the aggressor, clawing at the eyes of its sib:

Verreaux eagle owl

After a ding-dong set-to, the older one gave up and returned to its original tree:

Verreaux eagle owl

It is quite common for one sibling to kill the other, a phenomenon known as siblicide or (hence my title) Cainism.  But usually the older larger chick is the aggressor. Here it seems to be the reverse. The aggression can continue at least till all the adult plumage has grown in.

Verreaux’s Eagle Owls leave the nest at about 7 weeks old, and take another 2 –  4 weeks to learn to fly, so these were probably around 10 weeks old. The mother was in a third tree nearby.  They do not start to hunt for themselves till around five months, but as adults they are apex predators, eating a huge variety of mammals, birds and reptiles. One favourite is the hedgehog, and they are the only predator that routinely tackles this prickly delicacy. They swoop in, with their talons going for the spineless face. Watch this one dining like the Romans:

The eagle owl has an extraordinary call, the deepest of any owl species. This is a male, (recorded by Frank Bruneliere, in Namibia, courtesy of Xenocanto):

The call can carry up to 3 miles, and you might easily confuse it with a leopard.

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* Rihanna may be channelling her inner eagle owl with these pink eyelids:

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