Thursday, 30 July 2015

Rarely seen creatures of Africa - The Golden mole

Namibian Golden mole.
There are 21 different species of these unusual and cute animals, known as Golden moles, all of which are found in sub-Sahara Africa. Some species have only been found in three locations of South Africa including the Kruger National Park. They go unnoticed, unseen and unheard, hiding below the soil of parts of Africa.

Golden moles are 8 to 24cm in size, males being slightly larger than females. Their soft and silky coats are blackish in colour to a grey tint or a pale golden to dark brown colour.

These creatures do not have eyes or ears on the outside of their small bodies as these features have been covered by skin. They have a leather-like pad over their nose to protect their nostrils while pushing through soft soil. Their major sense is touch making them highly sensitive to vibrations on the ground alerting them to danger or prey nearby.  

Congo Golden mole.
They have short legs with claws used to sometimes dig up dirt when burrowing through their tunnels. On their front limbs they have a big third claw handy for digging and on their hind feet they have all five webbed toes to shovel the soil just dug up by their front claws. However they are known to more likely through push through soil with their protected noses.


These strange animals live underground, beneath African soil in grasslands, forest areas, deserts and mountainous landscape where the sand is soft.

They make a burrow system of tunnels to call their home, pushing soil up to the surface or compacted into the walls of their tunnels.

Hottentot Golden mole. 

Adult Golden moles prefer to be alone and defend their home of many tunnels rather aggressively from others.

When the harsh African sun is beating down, Golden moles will hideaway in their burrows, going into a state similar to hibernation, to preserve their energy. This is known as a state of torpor where they switch off their thermoregulation.


Cape Golden mole.
They prefer to hunt at night time for small insects such as earthworms, snails, beetle larvae or grasshoppers leaving small ridges on the surface of soil while searching for their prey. 

These small animals have a big appetite once they have woken up from their daily hibernation.


Golden moles do breed throughout the year although their main breeding period are the winter months of April to August. 

Female golden moles give birth to one to three hairless offspring, usually a pair of twins, in a nest made out of grass in their burrow. Their young is 40mm in size when born!

Did you know?

Despite their name, they aren't really moles but are more closely related to elephants and manatees.

These particular species of moles date back to 40 million years ago according to fossils found. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Children with disabilities

There are estimated to be at least 93 million children worldwide living with disabilities. 

Children can suffer from a wide range of disabilities; each child is different from another including the degree and symptoms of their disability. Disabilities in children are complicated with different categories and different types falling within a category.

Their disabilities often place them at a higher threat of being victims of physical or emotional abuse from other children or adults because they can be seen as easy targets. A child with a disability has the right to a happy, loved and safe life with access to healthcare, education, rehabilitation services and to enjoy child play.

It can easily cost up to three times as much to raise a child with a severe disability compared to a child without. Raising a child with special needs is a unique and often challenging experience but with love and patience the child’s life can be a happy one.

A child with a physical disability.
Some categories of disabilities found in children

There are a varied collection of different types of disabilities that can affect children such as;

Physical disabilities – Children with physical disabilities are often born with an inherited or genetic disorder that affects their physical movements. Children may have been left with a physical disability due to having acquired a brain injury or spinal cord injury, some may have fallen sick to a serious illness that affected the brain, nervous system or muscles, such as meningitis.

Intellectual disabilities – A child with an intellectual disability learns more slowly, develops at a slower rate and they might not be able to understand as much as children without intellectual disabilities. They often struggle with communication and taking care of themselves as well as have a lack of social and personal skills. Genetic conditions, problems during pregnancy or at birth or health problems such as being exposed to toxins or an extreme lack of nutrition’s may all contribute to a child having an intellectual disability.

Learning disabilities – Most children with learning disabilities are just as smart as other children but just struggle with processing information which makes learning more difficult. They may struggle to read, write or do basic maths sums. There a range of different learning disabilities from dyslexia (difficulty with reading) to dysgraphia (difficulty with writing) and everything in between.

Speech and language disorders – Articulation, fluency, voice and language are the four most common types that affect a child with a speech and language disorder. A SL disorder is one that makes communicating for children harder such as stuttering or a struggle to articulate certain letters.

Autism – Autism is a disorder that falls on a spectrum of different variations and affects children differently; each child on the autism spectrum will have unique challenges, skills and symptoms. Children with autism can show symptoms in their difficulty with social or language skills, or show restricted or obsessive behaviour.

Disabilities most common in children

Cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability in children. These children struggle to crawl, walk or run since birth and often have to make use of walkers or wheelchairs. It causes varied degrees of difficulties with movement, body posture and muscle stiffness in children. Cerebral palsy is due to a brain injury or a problem of brain development during pregnancy, birth or within the first 2 to 3 years of a child’s life.

Autism makes it difficult for children to communicate with others. They struggle to understand how others thinks and feel as well as social behaviour. These children often have repetitive behaviours such as rocking, pacing or hand flapping.

A little girl with Down syndrome. 
Down syndrome is a genetic condition in babies born with all or a part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is the most common of all chromosome abnormalities and 1 in every 1000 babies are born with this disability. It causes delay in physical growth development, different facial characteristics to other children without Down syndrome and mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.

Spina bifida means ‘split spine’ and happens when a baby’s spine in the womb does not close completely. It is believed that genetic or environmental factors cause this permanent physical disability. There are a variety of different spina bifida that can occur in babies, and as children grow up they often use walkers, braces or wheelchairs to get around.

Epilepsy is a condition when someone has seizures, children are sometimes born being predisposed to being epileptic. Fortunately about two-thirds of children with epilepsy will out-grow them in their teen years. It is a disease of the central nervous system causing electrical signals of the brain to misfire causing the seizures.

Ways to help children with disabilities

Upon finding out your child has a disability, you may experience feelings such as – denial, anger, confusion, disappointment, guilt and fear among many others. There is help and support available for parents and guardians of children with disabilities.

Show patience and emotional support at all times to the child with the disability.

Have a detailed understanding of the disability at hand such as terminology, symptoms, causes and treatments.

Reach out for additional help you might need in coping with your child or speak to other parents of children with disabilities.

                                 Take it one day at a time and keep up a positive outlook.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Rarely seen creatures of Africa - The Suni antelope

A Suni ewe.
There are 72 different types of antelopes found on the continent of Africa and 21 of those are found in the Kruger, including the shy Suni.

The Suni is an adorable and rarely seen species of the antelope which stands at a tiny height of 30 t0 43 cm tall (12-17 inches). Being an elusive type of animal they are not commonly seen out and about in the wild, making it something special if you spot one.

Female suni are called ewes and are slightly larger than their counterparts, reaching 5.4 kig in weight compared to the 5kg average weight of the rams. They range in colour from light brown to a chestnut colour with a white chin, throat, tummy and inner legs. These charming antelopes have big roundish ears and the rams have horns.

Being so small they have a selection of predators such as eagles, lions and even humans who hunt them down in hunting season.


Sunis’ live in dense shrub areas in the woodland parts where they feel most at home. They are found in the northern most part of the Kruger National Park, parks and reserves in the north of Kwa-Zulu Natal, and live in territories from Mozambique and further up the coast of south eastern Africa.

A Suni ram. 

These delicate antelopes are most active in the morning and in the evening avoiding the heat of the African sun during the midday hiding out in the shelter of trees and bushes. 

Their fur gives them great camouflage in their surroundings. When a threat is near-by, their escape method is to freeze keeping hidden and then leap away out of sight into nearby vegetation.

Rams each have a territory of up to 3 hectares, marking it using their scent glands and leaving piles of dung on the borders of their territory as a sign to other rams that the area is already taken. Each ram generally has one ewe they mate and graze with but happily share their territory with a couple of other females.


They feed off the ground eating freshly fallen leaves, fruits and flowers and munch on mushrooms. These antelopes eat mostly at dawn and dusk, sometimes grazing in pairs but are usually solitary animals. Sunis’ get a lot of moisture from what they eat and so they are not in need of access to a water supply.  
Suni baby and mother. How cute.


The ewes give birth to one fawn in spring after a gestation period of 6 months. The tiny fawn has a darker coat than their mother and are kept safely hidden out of danger.

The pre-orbital gland of a Suni.

Did you know?

They give off a pungent odour that is secreted from their pre-orbital glands, for which are the largest of all African antelopes relative to sizing. A pre-orbital gland is located on the side of the face with an opening just in front of the eyes that secrete a scent.

They communicate through smells and have been known to make bark-like sounds and sharp whistling.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Africa's wonderful Big 5 - The Rhinoceros

White rhino.
Rhinoceroses have been roaming Earth for over 50 million years first as ancient rhinos before evolving in today’s rhinos. There were once even ‘woolly’ rhinos who lived in very cold climates. The word rhinoceros is a combination of two Greek words – rhino (nose) and ceros (horn). The name Rhino was given as a nickname.

The black and white rhino are native to the wild in Africa and can live up to the age of 40 years old.

Rhinos have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell and hearing. Their hairless and sensitive skin is grey in colour, and can be up to 5cm (2 inches) thick. A rhino has two horns which are made of the same substance as your hair and fingernails - keratin. They may be big animals but they can run faster than humans, up to 64 km’s (40 miles) per hour!

There are a number of other animals that have rhinoceros as part of their names, which all have horn like additions. 

The rhinos’ closest living relatives are tapirs, horses and zebras because they all are odd-toed ungulates meaning they have an odd number of toes on each foot. Rhinos have three toes on each of their feet.

Image from technologyprojects4kids
Differences between White and Black rhinos

The white rhino’s name is taken from the Dutch word, weit, meaning wide. It was called this because of its wide and square shaped mouth which makes munching grass easier. The English misinterpreted the word weit thinking it meant white! They are taller than black rhinos with longer necks and bigger heads. Their tails are longer and they have a rather pronounced hump above their shoulders.

The more aggressive black rhino has a hooked like lip so they can grip the leaves off of low-lying prickly trees and bushes. Unlike the white rhino which generally keep their heads down, black rhinos hold their heads up and forward.
White rhinos. Aren't their ears adorable?


Both white rhinos and black rhinos live in the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. Rhinos tend to live where they do their eating. 

Black rhinos prefer living in bushy areas and white rhinos prefer the grasslands. Rhinos home ranges sometimes overlap with one another and their feeding grounds and waterholes are generously shared.


These shy animals will sometimes run towards anything unusual they come across in their surroundings, but will usually run away if they pick up on the scent of humans. However if you encounter a rhino in the wild you should stand as still as possible or climb the nearest tree.  

Rhinos use piles of dung as messages for other rhinos, each rhinos smell is unique and a rhino can detect the owner. The scent of a rhinos dung can tell other rhinos if they are young, old, male or female. They also communicate with one another using squeaks, snorts and grunts.

Black rhino with his ox pecker friends.
They have a symbiotic relationship with ox peckers, the rhinos let the birds eat the ticks off of them providing a food source, and the ox peckers let out a warning sound when they sense danger lurking.

The black rhino is usually solitary and the white rhino is more social sometimes living in groups called a crash.


Rhinos have an herbivore diet, meaning they are plant munchers. Black rhinos are browsers with short necks and hooked lips to pick leaves off low lying bushes, trees or shrubs while white rhinos are grazers, having long necks and wide mouths making nibbling on grass easier.

White rhino and baby.

Rhino usually give birth to one calve after a lengthy 15 to 16 months, but sometimes, although rare, they give birth to a set of twins.

Mother rhinos are protective of their babies and very nurturing. Their young stay with them till they are about 3                                                             years old until they wander off.

White rhino crashes stand in a circle and face outwards to form a rhino barricade protecting the calves in the centre.

Black rhino chilling in the mud.
Did you know?

Rhinos soak in mud for up to 3 hours at a time, using the mud as a form of sunblock against the harsh African sun.

When rhinos are happy they make a ‘’mmwonk’’ sound.