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.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

BIID, a deep desire for a form of disability

Jewel, a woman blinded by choice. 
Over a space of a few months, a psychiatrist poured drain fluid into a woman’s eyes, eventually leading to what the young woman had always wanted, to be blind. Usually when one loses their cherished eyesight, it comes as a difficult blow but not for Jewel Shuping who from a very young age had always dreamed of being blind. She spent her childhood years staring into the sun, started using a cane by the age of 18 and learnt Braille by the time she was 20 years old.

The serious and rare psychological disorder, Body integrity identity disorder, happens in otherwise healthy individuals with a strong desire for an amputation or another form of a disability, such as blindness or paralysis. The individual feels as though they are meant to have a disability and their body part, such as a limb or their eyes, are not meant to be a part of them.

Sufferers sometimes go to extreme and dangerous measures in the desperate hope to injure their ‘alien’ body part so badly there is no other choice but to remove it or they become paralyzed. They might use a gun or chainsaw, put their limb in dry ice, lie on train tracks and wait for a train to run over their legs or they might fling themselves from a hight in the hope of damaging their spine so severely they become paralyzed. 

Karl (not his real name), who had suffered from BIID since a child, chose the dry ice method, packing both his legs into a bucket full of below freezing dry ice and after 6 hours got himself to the emergency room. The tissue was beyond repair and within a few months, much to Karl's delight, his legs were amputated. 

Chloe, a BIID 'pretender' who longs to be paralysed. 
BIID sufferers are sometimes so intensely jealous of individuals with the form of disability they long for. ‘Pretenders’, as they are referred to in the BIID community, pretend they have the disability they want, either in private or public, such as Chloe Jennings-White who spends most of her time in a wheelchair pretending to be a paraplegic. ‘Wannabes’ are all those who have this disorder, who so desperately want to be rid of their ‘alien’ body part, and some go on to become ‘successful wannabes’. There is also another group of people who are referred to as ‘devotees’ and these individuals are mainly attracted to people with amputations and other forms of disabilities.

This complex and mysterious condition is called Body integrity identity disorder, as it refers to the strong desire to alter their body integrity and identity. The individual’s physical body does not match the idea of their physical form.

The cause of BIID remains unknown but there are two main theories that try to explain why the disorder occurs. One puts the blame on the brain that is not able to provide the true plan of the body, and the brain then sees the ‘alien’ body part as not actually being a part of the person. The individual then has the strong desire to be rid of the body part. The other theory is a psychological one, the BIID sufferer, at a young age, may have seen an individual such as an amputee, a paraplegic or a person with another form of a disability, and ever since began to have thoughts that is what makes the ideal person.

A misunderstood and often judged condition, it usually leaves its sufferers feeling alone and confused and only sure of one thing, they feel that they are not in their true human form and are desperate to be in the body they were meant to be.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The Striped skink

Skinks are part of the squamata order; members of the order are known by their skins which bear either scales or shields. With about 1 400 species of skinks, they come in many different colours, sizes and shapes making a variety of different looking characters. These small reptiles are divided into four subfamilies with two of the subfamilies being legless and the hundreds of species in the other two subfamilies having limbs.

Striped skinks are lizards within the skink family and so called due to the stripes on their body. There are a variety of subspecies of striped skinks varying in different coloured stripes and bodies. These small reptiles have overlapping scales which usually have a smooth texture a shiny glimmer. The species of striped skink found in the Kruger most commonly is referred to as an African striped skink or simply a striped skink.  

This skink is a brown in colour with two yellowish stripes running down the length of body on either side of their spine. Some skinks have a window on each of its lower eyelids, including this subspecies of striped skink, meaning the eyelid is transparent and they are able to see through this window when the eyelid is closed. Both the female and male can grow to 23cm in length.

There are various species of striped skinks found through-out the world except for the icy continent of Antarctica. The African striped skink is rife in southern Africa countries, such as Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and parts of central and eastern South Africa.  

They live in various habitats, from mangrove swamps to dry savanna areas and are commonly seen in suburbs. Skinks can easily climb over rocks, up walls of houses and climb trees.


Skinks, like many other lizards, can release their tails freely when captured by a predator. They often move or wave their tail as a means to distract the predator away from their body and once the predators snatches their tail they contract their tail muscles and the tail is then detached.

Energy has been stored in the tail and is used for thrashing movements once the tail is released which further distracts the predator. The striped skink then walks away to safety with its life.


Their diet includes small insects, such as beetles and moths, and other small invertebrates. They forage from rocks, trees and on the ground, by dashing a short distance from cover to pick up food.

Striped skinks can become rather tame when generously offered food often.


The female lays a small clutch of soft shelled eggs in a shallow hole under a boulder warmed by the sun. 

During summertime, the striped skink will have between 3 and 9 babies that are sexually mature by 18 months old.

Did you know?

Some people keep striped skinks as pets. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Bat-eared fox ~ the African fox with impressive ears

Bat-eared fox
Bat-eared fox. 
The bat-eared fox is an African species of fox who is found living across the savannahs of the southern and eastern parts of the continent. It is so called because of its very large ears which are up to an impressive 12cm (4.7 inches) in size and full of blood vessels to clear the heat and keep cool. These big ears also give the fox really good hearing.

This African fox is small and cute, weighing only up to 5kgs, and measuring 55cm in length including both its and body while its bushy tail adds on 23 - 34cm. Their small faces are very characteristic with a racoon-like ‘’face mask’’ black in colour and muzzles short and pointed. Bat-eared foxes have short legs and strong paws adapted for digging their dens.

Their fur is a yellowish-brown to sandy grey colour, with their bellies being lightest in colour and the fur around their eyes, muzzle, back of ears, legs and tips of their tails darker. Wild animals such as hyenas and birds of prey hunt them down for food while humans hunt them for their fur. 

Bat-eared fox
Young bat-eared fox. 

There are two species of bat-eared foxes that roam East and southern Africa. One lives from Ethiopia and South Sudan to Tanzania, the other is found from southern Zambia and Angola to South Africa as well as extending to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Bat-eared foxes are native to 10 countries on the African continent and their homes range in size from 0.3 to 3.5 km2.

Bat-eared foxes prefer areas of bare ground with low shrubs and short grasses to live and forage for their food. However they do venture into areas of thick shrubs and tall grasses to hide out when feeling threatened.

They raise their baby foxes in dens they dug out themselves as protection from extreme weather. Bat-eared foxes also enjoy relaxing under acacia trees in South Africa during the day, seeking shade and protection from the harsh African sun.


Bat-eared foxes live in breeding pairs or family groups of up to 15 individuals which include mating pairs with their young. Being highly social animals they are often groom one another, play together and sleep in their protective groups. They use visual displays such as facial expressions, ear and tail posture as a means to communicate among each other. These foxes will also call out to one another making a shrill cry.  

Males are called ‘dogs’ and females are referred to as ‘vixens’ while their young are called ‘kits’, ‘cubs’ or ‘pups’. The males are the guards of the groups and make for great fathers as they groom and play with the youngsters while the mother searches for food for her family.   

Bat-eared fox
Eating termites at dusk.
These African foxes are mostly nocturnal but sometimes are out and about during the day, this depends on their location of the time of the year. They prefer to feed under the cover of nightfall, emerging from their underground dens at dusk, to feast in their groups.


Bat-eared foxes have a mostly insectivorous diet, eating grasshoppers and termites, although sometimes birds, eggs, rodents, lizards, reptiles and wild berries found in their surroundings. Their diet consists of an extraordinary number of 1.15 million termites a year which is in total 80% of their diets. They seldom drink water as they gain most of the moisture needed form their food.

They have extremely pointed teeth with which to quickly and efficiently chew their food and which in turn helps to digest their meals. Their teeth are also small and they have up to 8 extra molars which grind the hard casings of the insects they chomp down.  

Bat-eared fox
Peering out the den. 

These foxy animals form monogamous pairs and breed each year having a litter of three to six. After carrying their developing young for 6 - 70 days, she gives birth to the litter in the safety of their den. Both mother and father take responsibility for the litter, by taking care and protecting their youngsters.

Just 9 days after birth the young cubs open their eyes and from 17 days of age they begin to explore the outside world leaving the den for adventure. At 1 month old the litter begins to wean off from their mother but continue to suckle until 3 or 4 months old. Young bat-eared foxes are considered fully grown when they reach 5 to 6 months old and are ready to form their own family when just 9 months old.

Most young foxes leave their family groups or parents to form with another group or make a pair although some females do remain with their native group.

Sadly the mortality rate in litters are high and often the entire litter born does not survive. This is due to several factors such as the fact that the mother only has four nipples while sometimes giving birth of up to 6 cubs and the danger of predators grabbing the young.

Did you know?

They have up to 48 teeth, more than any other non-marsupial mammal.

Bat-eared foxes are hunted by birds of prey, jackals and sadly humans for their fur.

Bat-eared fox family. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Reptiles found in the Kruger - The Nile crocodile

Nile croc. 
There are a total of 23 crocodilian species in the world. These scaly and powerful reptiles evolved from the prehistoric dinosaur’s antecedents some 240 million years ago.

The Nile croc is the largest and most common species of croc in Africa. It is the second largest in the world after the Saltwater crocodile with the dwarf croc being the smallest. The Nile croc is broken up into 7 subspecies of which the South African Nile croc lives along the river backs in the Kruger. The African slender snouted and the African dwarf croc are also found in Africa. There are believed to be several thousand crocodiles existing in the Kruger National Park giving you a high chance of spotting one while on a safari drive.

There scaly and armoured reptiles, a dark olive brown in colour, with a black crossing branding their entire body including tail, are usually 5 to 6 metres in length. Their colouring gets fainter as they age living up to an average of 45 years in the wild but are known to live between 80 to 100 years in captivity.

They are fast both in water and on land over short distances. A crocs jaws are strong and equipped with a set of razor sharp teeth that are often replaced. However once their jaw is held shut it cannot be opened. Their claws are sharp and their tails powerful enough to deliver a forceful blow. Their eyesight is excellent both during the day and at night and crocs are able to protect their eyes when swimming and hunting with the use of a third eyelid.


The Nile crocodile is found in sub-Saharan countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Egypt,
Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as the island of Madagascar off the east coast of South Africa.

These crocs always live near water such as along riverbanks, lakes, freshwater marshes, estuaries and in mangrove swamps.


Crocs are considered to be social animals and have a hierarchy which is determined based on their size. Groups of crocs are known as floats when in water and basks when on land.

They are often seen with their mouths open, which is called gaping, along river banks in the Kruger. They do this as a means to cool down, as heat can escape through their mouths when open. 


Crocs are carnivorous ambush hunters; they lie unnoticed in wait for their potential prey to get closer and then leash an attack.

A crocs diet changes as they age. The very juvenile crocs eat insects, snails, spiders and small aquatic animals. Youngsters eat toads, frogs and small fish while adult crocs also eat other reptiles such as terrapins and snakes, as well as rodents and birds. As crocs get older they will hunt down prey such as zebras, hyenas, baboons, wildebeest, antelopes, giraffes and big cats.

They swallow small stones that aid in digestion by grinding up the food in their stomachs. Crocs are capable of going months without eating due to their slow metabolism.


A crocs sexual maturity is based on their size with females being sexually ready at 2.6 metres and males at 3.1 metres in length usually taking up to 10 years for each sex to grow to.

In the Kruger National Park, crocs start to nest during the months of November and December. A female croc may lay anything between 40 to 60 eggs in a 50cm deep nest at a time. She will remain near the nest at all times to keep an eye on the eggs which remain in incubation for between 70 to 90 days. The sex of the young croc is determined by the temperature of the egg; females develop when the temperature is below 31.7 degrees Celsius or when the temperature is above 34.1 degrees Celsius , males are born when the temperature is within the range mentioned.

When the little croc is ready to break out of its egg, it will start to make a high pitched chirping noise to alert its mother it’s ready to emerge into the world. Not only mothers will help the little one break free from their egg, fathers will sometimes stand in to help too. They help the baby croc to rip out of their eggy world by gently cracking the shell of the egg using their teeth and tongue. Although ferocious predators, crocodiles are caring parents.

Gaping to cool.
There are a high number of attacks on eggs by predators such as hyenas, and monitor lizards when the female needs to cool off in the water due to thermoregulation. Many of the youngster crocs are eaten during their first year by other crocs, birds of prey, large fish or monitor lizards.

Did you know?

Crocodiles can kill with the hardest bite force of any animal on earth.

Crocs account for several hundred deaths and disappearances a year.

Unlike other most other reptiles who have a 3 chambered heart, crocodiles have a 4 chambered heart.

Tips on dealing with crocs

Don’t make loud splashing noises if having to cross croc infested water.

Stay at least 3 metres from the water edge if possible.

If caught by a crocodile, poke them in their eyes, nostrils or throat, as these are their most sensitive areas.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Introduction to reptiles found in the Kruger

The park is abundant not only with wildlife such as mammals and birds but also scaly and cold blooded reptiles. There are 114 different and interesting species of reptiles living in the Kruger National Park out of the known 8000 species of reptiles roaming Earth.

Reptiles are known as cold blooded animals but do you know why? Cold blooded means that they rely on the heat of their environment to warm up their body instead of food sources such as humans and mammals. These animals react to the temperature of their surroundings; when they get too warm they cool off in the water or shade and when they get too cold they warm up in the sun. Amphibians and fish are also cold blooded creatures.

Reptiles are known as tetrapod animals meaning they are four-limbed vertebras or are descendants, such as snakes. These prehistoric like animals are divided into four different groups; testudines, squamatas, crocodilians and sphenodontia. Testudines are the one of the oldest reptiles, having been around for 200 million years, and include turtles, terrapins and tortoises, of which there are 4000 species. Squamatas are the most assorted of the reptiles groups and include over 9600 species of lizards, snakes and worm lizards. The crocodilian group includes reptiles such as crocodiles, alligators, gharials and caimans of about 25 different species. Tuataras are lizard-like reptiles, and the only species left in existence from the group of sphenodonitia. They are only found in New Zealand of which there are only two species left.

Monitor lizards
Monitor lizard.
Nearly all reptiles lay eggs but in some snakes and lizards the egg develops inside the mother and she gives birth to live young. Eggs are laid in nests on land, usually covered and hidden by loose sand. The eggs are covered in a protective shell that are either flexible or inflexible, meaning the egg is either soft or hard. When the youngster within the egg is suitably developed it hatches, some have a temporary egg tooth with which they use to crack and break out the egg.

Some of the reptiles are able to regenerate meaning they are able to grow back their tails or limbs lost in an accident, bitten by predators or as a means to escape. Snakes shed their skins just like all animals, including you, we just don’t notice as it’s an unnoticeable ongoing process. Snakes only do it periodically, slipping off their dead scaly skin in one go, showcasing a fresh and new skin. A snake’s skin reaches a point when the skin cannot grow any further and so a new skin underneath develops. Once the skin has developed the old skin is ready to peel off. The snake creates a rip in the old skin usually around the mouth or nose area by rubbing on hard objects such as rocks or logs. Usually snakes will shed two to four times a year although depending on age or species, and young snakes shed up to every two weeks due to growing fast.

Over the course of the next few months, there will be a series of blog posts dedicated to reptiles found in the Kruger National Park, about slithering snakes, scaly crocodiles, shelled tortoises and lizard like creatures.

''Don’t tell me you’re an animal lover if you only love the cute and fluffy.''
- Author unknown