EXOTIC BIRDLIFE ON SAFARI

I didn’t anticipate how exotic the bird life would be in the Zambian bush. We saw birds that live in marshes or lagoons—herons and ibises, fisher eagles, owls, and incredibly colored lilac-breasted rollers and carmine bee-eaters that return this time of year to build nests in the sides of the riverbanks. My favorite was the hammerkop, with its hammer-claw-shaped tuft of feathers sticking out from the back of a gray head that made it look like it was heading into a strong wind.

Even the guinea fowl were beautiful. They have plump egg-shaped black bodies with delicate, lacy feathers covered in small white polka dots. Their necks are a brilliant turquoise blue, and their heads are very small. They were lovely, but I also remember the crocodiles were downright scary and the baby crocodiles were not cute and had dagger-like sharp teeth and mean expressions.

We worked hard to learn the distinction between a kudu, puku, gazelle, impala, waterbuck, bushbuck, and other plump, sleek herbivores. Impalas have stripes on either side of their backsides. Waterbucks emit a greasy odor that is so awful it deters predators, and their rumps display a white circle some say looks like a toilet bowl lid. We learned that zebras are not all that kind and sweet, despite their adorable markings.

Manda, our guide, told us how to distinguish a male zebra from a female by the pattern of the stripes on their backsides. I asked why they aren’t beasts of burden, like horses, and learned their backs are not strong enough to carry people or bundles. They are also nervous, mean, and unpredictable. Not exactly trail ponies.

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Manda illustrated the ecology and delicate symbiotic relationships between animals and nature as he pointed out real-life examples, like the oxpeckers that perch on buffalo and other herbivores to eat the ticks that collect on their skin. He also explained why it’s important to have a thriving community of carnivores like hyenas, which eat just about every part of an animal including their bones which puts calcium back into the soil.

On night drives we watched for nocturnal animals, but we didn’t know how to find them. A spotter stood at the front of our Land Rover sweeping a searchlight along both sides of the path looking for reflections from nocturnal creature’s eyes as we chugged along trails in the dark. Guides and spotters can determine the kind of creature by the size, color, and how close or far apart its eyes are.

Written by Patricia Cole

An Africa Hope Fund board member for 7 years, Pat is a writer and a conservation activist. After traveling to Zambia, she became dedicated to helping Africa Hope Fund provide education to the next generation of Africans and ensure their future by protecting wildlife. Find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter, or on her websites www.writepatwrite.com and www.patmcole.com.

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Carol Van Brugen