Thursday, 26 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - Spekes hinged tortoise

Spekes hinged tortoise
Spekes hinged tortoise.
Within Africa a large diversity of tortoises are found; from the African spurred tortoise who is the third largest tortoise in the world, to the rather speedy (for a tortoise) and decent climbing, leopard tortoise, among many more.

In Southern Africa, the family of hinged tortoises are divided into four subspecies, all of which belong to the genus known as Kinixys. The use of the word ‘hinged’ is a result of their ability to close the hinged rear part of their carapace (back part of shell).

The spekes hinged tortoise is medium sized, with a patterned shell made up of light and dark patches or rings, and their colours range from light yellowish through to shades of brown. Their shells have their own set of nerve endings, allowing them to feel every rub, touch or scratch.

Spekes hinged tortoise
The hinge. 
Their hinges develop at about 2 years old, appearing towards the back of their shells and above their hind legs. Used for protective measures; when closed downwards it protects their back legs and tails.


They are found living in savannahs and rocky areas with dry bushes, in central and Eastern Africa, from Zimbabwe to the North Western and Northern provinces of South Africa, and along the coastal plains of Mozambique through to Swaziland.


Tortoises prefer to live their existences alone, only meeting up to mate, and do not bond or form groups. A happy tortoise is an active tortoise; unhappy or stressed tortoises tend to not make much movement.

They pick up scents using their vomeronasal organ, located on the roof of their mouths, by pumping their throats to circulate air through their nose and mouth.
When needing to withdraw in their protective shell they have to empty their lungs first, so when startled they are often heard exhaling loudly and quickly.


Spekes hinged tortoises are mostly active during rain and in the evening time, which is somewhat unique amongst tortoises.

These tortoises are omnivores and eat a varied diet of leaves, small flowers, grass, succulents, fungi, fruit, mushrooms, snails, beetles and millipedes.


The mating game between tortoises involves the male nudging, pushing or moving the female and if she doesn’t walk away, mating will follow. Males are the noisier of the two, making groaning hisses during a mating session.

A female will open up her hinged and well-developed posterior in order to lay her eggs. She will lay a small clutch of between 2 to 6 eggs, usually after the rain from late afternoon into the night.

Spekes hinged tortoise
Spekes hinged tortoise. 
Did you know?

Spekes hinged tortoises are named after the British explorer who discovered the source of the Nile River, Captain John Hanning Speke.

Their predators include the secretary bird and monitor lizards.

A group of tortoises are called a creep. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Elephants, the giants from Africa, sniff out explosives

Chishuru, had one job, to find out which bucket contained traces of an explosive. The 17 year old male elephant, walked past a row of buckets, of which one had a trace of TNT, when he found the bucket using his excellent sense of smell, he then raised his right leg signalling the find and received a treat of marula fruit.


Close up of elephant.
In Bela-Bela, a small town north of Pretoria, researchers conducted smelling tests on the largest land animal on Earth, elephants. These magnificent animals, were able to pick up on the scent of explosives 73 out of 74 times from a line of buckets. The elephants scored 23 out of 23 in the second bunch of tests, when odors such as tea, bleach, soap and gasoline, acting as distractions, were used.

The team of researchers, have proven that these giants have the ability to sniff out explosives with their powerful sense of smell. Despite this skill, fortunately it is not the intention to put the lives of elephants at risk on the battlefield to whiff out the deadly explosives.
It was first noticed that the giants of Africa could detect explosives in Angola, after returning following a war in the year 2002, which had left undetonated mines scattered across the land.

Baby elephant.
Researchers wanted to figure out why elephants were avoiding certain areas within the country. They believed it was one of the two; the elephants could smell the explosives or they avoided the areas where elephants had lost their lives in previous blasts.

The researches joined forces with the United States army, both with their own part to play. Researchers were on a mission to find out exactly how elephants smell, while the army engineers still plan to apply what’s been learnt to electronic sensors. The idea that the army has is to have a team of engineers design a sensor based on the trunk of an elephant; a trunk puffs out air, which in turn stirs up an area and then sucks the air back in to smell.

An elephant backside. 
Elephants have an extraordinary sense of smell with around 2,000 genes for picking up scents, more than any other animal on Earth. Their nostrils are found at the tip of the trunk and help with breathing, smelling and sucking in water to squirt into their mouths. Elephant trunks are constantly being used, swinging back and forth, picking up new scents.While dogs and rats are also able to sniff out explosives, an elephant can detect the smell of an explosive from a 100 metres away.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The Puff adder

Puff adder.
Their name ‘puff adder’ comes from the snake known for inflating itself and hissing when feeling threatened. The puff adder is one of the most common and widespread venomous snakes found in Africa. There are two subspecies of this snake; the more common and widespread puff adder, as found in the Kruger, and the puff adder found in Somalia and northern Kenya.

The puff adder, which grows to a maximum of 1 metre in length, is easily recognized by its stumpy and stocky appearance, is yellow-brown to light brown in colour with chevron-like markings, and a large, triangular shaped head with large nostrils that point upwards.

Puff adders belong to the viper family, meaning they have large, hinged front fangs that in order for them to be retained, they have to be hinged and folded out of the way of the mouth. It is because of this that their bites are painful and they are able to deeply penetrate their venom.

Their venom is described as cytotoxic, meaning it causes severe swelling and is toxic to cells causing cells to be destroyed, known as necrosis. A puff adder usually produces between 100 – 350 mg of venom with a single bite, referred to as their venom yield, and a maximum of 750 mg. It takes only about 100 mg of venom to possibly kill a fully grown adult.  

Puff adder striking.
The puff adder takes the title for the most bites and fatalities of a snake in Africa, accounting for 60% of all recorded snake bites. The reasons for its high number of bites being because it does not move away from approaching footsteps, instead defending its position and striking if deemed necessary,  it is widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including the Kruger National Park, and is aggressive by nature.

However the chances of death from a puff adder bite are thankfully small, fatalities that do occur are usually due to poor medical care and a secondary infection from the bite.


These snakes are found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Botswana and the Arabian Peninsula among many others, except for the Sahara and rainforest areas.  

Puff adders prefer living their lives out in somewhat rocky grassland areas, open woodlands and savannah habitats.

Puff adder markings. 

These snakes are great at climbing trees, lurking in bushes and are capable of swimming with ease.

Puff adders are sluggish and slow snakes, who often bask in the sun in low bushes and on rocks. Their patterns, on black or brown surfaces such as dead leaves, create excellent camouflage.

When disturbed, they will hiss loudly and assume a tightly coiled and defensive posture with their fore part of their body in a taut ''S'' shape. They may try to retreat from the perceived threat towards cover and safety.

Puff adders have one of the fastest strike of all snakes, and are able to strike either from the side or front on, after which they quickly return to their defensive position, ready to strike again if need be. They can strike up to one third of their total body length while young and inexperienced puff adders launch their entire bodies forward. These vipers do not often grip their victims preferring to release quickly and then returning to their defensive position.


Puff adders mainly eat rodents but will also chow down on birds, amphibians, lizards, meerkat pups and even other snakes. These vipers are both diurnal and nocturnal although mostly active during the night.


A female puff adder releases a pheromone that attracts male puff adders, who then battle it out in a neck-wrestling dance, in the hopes of winning over the female. 

In late summer, a large litter of 20 to 60 baby puff adders are born, between 12.5 and 17.5 cm long. A female puff adder, in a Czech zoo, holds the record for the most live young born of any snake, at an extraordinary number of 156!

Female puff adders give birth to live young through a process which is viviparous; young puff adders develop within an egg during the incubation period, only to break out at the end of term while still inside their mother and then emerge into the world. 

Did you know?

Are very territorial snakes and have been known to kill other puff adders that are within their territory.