South Africa Diaries: Day 3

Today is the fourth day of spring here in the southern hemisphere. We started of our day out on an early morning walk, learning about the local trees and how to identify them. It's important to get right up close to the tree and touch it, looking out for the key identification features - flowers, leaves, bark, seed cases, number of trunks and habitat. Shrubs usually have multiple trunks whereas trees only usually have one. Lichen is present on a lot of trees and is made up of a symbiotic relationship between moss and fungi. It is a good indicator of high air quality because they can’t excrete any waste products, so will only exist in clean air. We learned to identify the following trees:

All of the acacia leaves we found had closed themselves to limit water loss. A swelling at the petiole shows where the whole leaf starts so can be used to determine whether a leaf is simple or bipinnate. Pioneer plants are nutrient poor, so climax plants are often favoured by herbivores.

After that, we had breakfast and then went out to carry out some quadrat surveys in the bush. We each carried out six survey sites ten metres apart, and used our newly acquired plant identification skills to identify each type of plant at each site. We also recorded roughly how tall each one was, and I spotted a giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas). It is one of the largest species of millipedes in the world, reaching up to 32cm in length and having an average of 256 legs. Its distribution mainly stretches the east coast of Africa from Kenya to Mozambique.

Later on, we went on a mammal game drive through the mountains, however we spotted most animals down in the valley. We saw wildebeest, sable, impala, African buffalo, a lesser bushbaby, and even some leopard scat that we collected. We also checked a camera trap, and saw a leopard, some giraffe and a warthog on it.

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Species Of The Day: Burchell’s Zebra

The Burchell’s zebra, Equus quagga, is also known as the plains zebra and live in small family groups. This usually consists of one stallion, one mare and their offspring. As of the 2011 estimates, there are currently around 23,700 -35,300 Burchell’s zebra in Kruger National Park. Watering holes often bring family groups together, and non-breeding stallions live in bachelor groups. Foals can be born at any time of the year, but it is usually in the summer under optimal conditions, after a gestation period of 360-390 days.

Burchell’s zebra get their name from William John Burchell, an English naturalist and explorer who described them in the early 1800s. A few other species were also name after him, including the Burchell’s coucal and the Burchell’s starling.

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