Thursday, 31 March 2016

False Bay wildlife - Albatross

Black-browned albatross. 
In the southern hemisphere, most of the 22 species of the great and fascinating albatross birds are found. Albatrosses belong to the Diomedeidae family and are further divided into four genera; Diomedea, Thalassarche, Phoebastria and Phoebetria. The black-browned, yellow-nosed and shy albatrosses live far out to sea off the coast of False Bay in Cape Town.

Albatrosses are large birds, with an impressive wingspan that can reach up to 3.5 metres (11ft) and are the largest wingspan of any bird on Earth. These birds spend the majority of their existence far out at sea travelling many kilometres throughout their lives.

The size of an albatross depends of the species the bird belongs to, but all have big heads , rather angry looking expressions, with a strong and hooked beak. They have an excellent sense of sight and smell and are well adapted for life at sea.

Unfortunately, these birds are vulnerable to threats such as introduced species like rats and feral cats that pose a risk to eggs, chicks and even nesting fully grown adults. Pollution and a decline in fish numbers due to overfishing and long-fishing also pose a threat to these mystifying birds.


Most of the subspecies of these extraordinary birds are found throughout the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere, living far out to sea off the coasts of Antarctica, Australia, South Africa and South America. However, there are 3 species of albatrosses that are found in the waters of the North Pacific.

Shy albatross. 

Albatrosses, like seagulls and some other sea birds, drink the sea water as they are able to filter salt. These great seabirds have varying diets between species but almost exclusively feed on seafood. They eat a range of aquatic creatures, from krill, shrimps and crabs through to lobsters, octopus and squids.

They catch their prey either by scavenging, diving in the water or snatching up food from the surface of the water, known as surface seizing. Some species are capable of diving 5 metres deep to reach their potential prey.


These birds are mostly active during the day when they search for the majority of their food. An incredible ability of albatrosses is that they are able to snooze while still in the sky during their lengthy flights across the ocean.

Their specially adapted wings and large wingspans enable them to travel for long distances at speeds of up to 140 km/h. Unlike most birds, they do not flap their wings but rather use gliding techniques that aid in conserving their energy.  In actual fact an albatross uses more energy to land and take off than fly.

Yellow-nosed albatross.

Albatrosses gather together in colonies on remote islands out to sea, often nesting with other species. They are ready for sexual maturity when they reach around five years of age but are more likely to start breeding between the ages of seven to ten years old.

In most species, pairs are formed between males and females which last a lifetime after a ritualised mating dance. However, in some species, both partners may be promiscuous with others but will raise chicks together with their partners, and even some of the same sex form a pair and raise chicks together after mating with an opposite sexed albatross.

A single egg can be laid each year but a pair usually has an egg every two to three years. Each parent takes turn caring for their egg and the chick when hatched. It can take, depending on the species, between three to ten months for the young albatross to fledge the nest and leave for the open water.

Did you know?

Some species are able to live up to 60 years of age.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

My frightening tent experience

Hyenas, are Africa’s biggest carnivore after lions and there are three subspecies living throughout the plains of Africa; the Brown hyena, Striped hyena and the Spotted hyena. The more commonly seen hyena is the Spotted hyena, also known as the laughing hyena, which has coarse, short and sandy coloured fur with dark spots.

Large, with a dog-like resemblance and distinguishing sloping back, it makes for an unusual sight. They belong to the hyeanidae family and weigh around 60kg, with females more muscular, aggressive and larger than their male counterparts due to three times as much testosterone. The females have a pseudo-penis, used for urination, mating and the birthing of cubs, which can make delivery a potentially dangerous and difficult process.

Hyena's are highly vocalised animals, who make sounds such as wails, howls and cackles. They don't cackle to pass the time or for fun, but rather as an indication to others of their age and social status or to communicate their frustrations. They are intelligent, adaptable and social animals, with males who baby-sit and a dominant female who leads the clan of between 10 to 40 individual hyenas. 

Hyenas have powerful, bone crushing jaws and teeth that are capable of breaking down an entire animal corpse. They eat a varied diet, from different species of antelope through to other herbivores such as zebras, warthogs, and young giraffes, hippos and rhinos. Commonly perceived as scavengers, hyenas not only feed on the left over or stolen carrion of other predators but are opportunistic and skilful hunters. 

Spotted hyenas live within a matriarchal society in a range of habitats, such as savannas, grasslands, woodlands and sub-deserts. By far the most commonly seen hyena in the Kruger is the spotted hyena. As these hyenas hunt and scavenge mostly during the cover of darkness, you will see many at night if you hang about near the fence in the camp sites at the Kruger, as I (Keira) did on my safari trip as a member of the Epic Enabled team.
After my very first hyena sighting I was instantly spellbound with watching these characteristic, wild animals with their grinning faces and humped backs. With my tent unintentionally pitched in a no-tenting area from the night before, I was a mere few metres from the fence erected by the park in order to keep the wild animals and human beings safely separated from one another.

George and I had moved my temporary home, after a few glasses of papsak wine, so I could be closer to the hyenas. It was only when the sun had risen had I noticed it was a not a tenting area, but despite this I decided to leave it where it was for the final night.  

On the second night of our stay in the Skukuza campsite under the full moon, I patrolled the borders of the fence, just my trusty torch and I, once everyone else had retreated to their rooms for the night. After quite some time watching numerous hyenas pass by, and hearing others cackle in the distance, the distinctive and somewhat scary roaring of lions, and the sound of rustling in the bushes, I decided it was time to get some sleep.

Feeling a little scared of what could be out there, I put my boots, torch, and phone near the escape compartment of my tent just in case I needed to make a run for it. A few minutes after my head hit the pillow, I sat up in a state of panic to the sound of loud sniffing near the head of the tent. I was sure it was too loud to be a hyena and thought it might be a lion.

Alone and scared, not sure if the animal was behind the fence or by some chance had made it into the camp and was directly outside my tent, I grabbed my phone and dialled the number under the name ‘Alfie’ in my contact list. I hastily explained there was a loud sniffing sound and I was scared, to which the reply was, ‘’Where are you?’’. ‘’I’m in the tent,’’ I said to the man I thought was my boss.

A surprised tone answered, ‘’Why are you in a tent?’. It hit me this was not the Alfie I had intended to call but rather a friend from back home. I quickly ended the call and hung up after a quick response of, ‘’I’ll call you later.’’

After deciding I would make a run for the nearby bathroom, I picked up everything I needed for my escape and fled, just to have what sounded like the mystery animal pounce at the fence. As soon as I reached the safety of being on the inside of the four walls of the bathroom, I called my parents in hysterics as I closed all the windows. After my parents succeeded in calming me down a bit, I waited in the bathroom for up to 20 minutes in the hopes that someone would come in for a midnight bathroom stop.

After I figured it didn’t seem anyone was coming I decided to run through the camp, not sure if I was being followed or not, to reach the Impi truck where I knew Charles was sleeping. Not only did I run through a huge spider’s web in my haste to reach the truck, but I got lost and ended up on the opposite side of the camp before finally making it to my destination. In hindsight I remembered a vital piece of advice is never to turn your back on a wild animal and run!

I explained my frightening adventure to Charles and was told that lions hang around often outside the fence and he had seen his fair share! Alone at night, in a tent just metres from the fence keeping the wildlife out, and being a fairly anxious person by nature, it sure was an experience I will never forget and one I would never replace. Maybe it was an elephant who got whiff of my scent or was munching on grass nearby or was it a lion who had picked up on the smell of a human as he was casually strolling by? We can only guess…


Thursday, 17 March 2016

False Bay wildlife - Seagulls

Hautlaub GullSeagulls’ are a common sight around the world, and are seen especially along coastal areas and inland waters. These birds are characteristic and social birds that provide a great deal of enjoyment for viewers. The two most common seagulls found in the deep south of Cape Town, are Kelp Gulls and Hautlaub Gulls.

Haurlaub's gull in flight. 
Kelp gulls are broken up into five subspecies, of which the gull found in South Africa is referred to as the Cape gull. The upperparts and wings of a Kelp gull are black while its’ head, belly, tail and very tip of wings, known as mirrors, are white. The bill is coloured yellow with a distinctive red dot, and their legs a tinged green-yellow that becomes a brighter yellow during the breeding season. The Cape gull has a shorter bill and more pointed head than other subspecies.

Hautlaub’s gulls are smaller than Kelp gulls with black reddish feet and beaks of the same colour. A mainly white gull with a grey back and upper wings, their wingtips are black and their ‘mirrors’ white. During the breeding season their hood becomes a faint lavender colour but during the rest of the year their heads remain white.

They are able to sit on ledges without being blown off from the Cape Town wind, due to a small claw that is located halfway up their lower leg.  Most birds are seen standing on one leg and this is to warm up, this is done by conserving warmth in the body and reducing heat lost through its legs.
Kelp gull. Notice the red dot on beak. 


Kelp gulls breed and live on coasts and islands throughout much of the southern hemisphere. Although most subspecies remain in their homeland, some southern populations migrate further north during the non-breeding season.

Hautlaub’s gulls are native and non-migratory seagulls seen along the South African and Namibian Atlantic Ocean coastline. Both species are rarely seen far from land preferring inland islands and coastal areas such as harbours, bays, estuaries, beaches and rocky shores.

When in the air, seagulls in a group are known as a flight and when on the ground are known as a colony. These seagulls, at times, journey inland to visit lakes, rivers, reservoirs and grasslands as well as cities and towns.

Hautlaub's gull. 

Seagulls are well known scavengers and omnivores and eat a variety of food, from worms, insects and small fish to human refuse and chips. Both Kelp gulls and Hautlaub’s gulls have adapted bills that aid in hunting for marine animals such as fish, crab and shrimps. Kelp gulls can be seen picking up shellfish, flying into the air and then dropping them onto the rocks below in the hope of breaking them open.

Seagulls are equipped to drink both fresh and salt water due to a pair of glands located above their eyes, designed to flush out salt from their systems through openings in their bills.


These birds are able to learn and remember behaviours that are passed onto other seagulls such as the stamping of their feet to sound as though it’s raining, which tricks worms to surface. Seagulls can be aggressive birds and are usually vocal, noisy and do not shy away from humans.


Both species of seagulls’ form life-long monogamous pairs and breed between January and October, with breeding peaking from February till April. A shallow and large nest is built on the ground or in rocks, lined with feathers, leaves and plant matter to make it warm and comfy. The female gull usually lays between 1 to 3 eggs, and both parents take it in turns to incubate their eggs.
A pair of Kelp gulls. 

Seagulls are attention, protective and devoted parents to their offspring. Both parents are responsible for feeding their chicks, by regurgitation, until they are ready to fledge. Until the new-born gull is able to fly and almost fully grown, it does not leave the safety of the best. Young seagulls live together in nursery schools and learn behaviours from one another in order to survive and fend for themselves in adulthood. 

Did you know?

Seagulls have 4 cones in their eyes, humans have just 3, and it is the fourth cone that gives them the ability to see infra-red colour. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Multiple Sclerosis explained

Multiple Sclerosis is an often disabling condition that affects more than 2.3 million people throughout the world. The disease affects an individual across a broad range of dimensions including emotionally, physically and spiritually.

MS is considered an autoimmune disease meaning that it is a disease that attacks and wreaks havoc on your body without cause. It has an effect on the central nervous system causing the brain to struggle to communicate with the body. As the immune system attacks and destroys the myelin (protective lining) that covers the nerves, the myelin is worn away and disrupts communication between the brain and nerves, creating a variety of symptoms. Myelin that is damaged forms scar tissue hence the naming ‘sclerosis’. The often unpredictable disease is believed to be triggered in genetically susceptible individuals. There is no cure as of yet!

Multiple Sclerosis types

MS warriors may have one of 4 types of the disease and experience mild, moderate or severe symptoms.

Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis

Relapsing remitting MS is the more common of the types with 85% of multiple sclerosis warriors dealing with it. Those that fight relapsing remitting MS have flare ups or relapses (attacks) that result in a diverse range of symptoms. These relapses may last for several days or months at a time before the warrior experiences fading of the symptoms.  

Progressing Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis

Progressive relapsing multiple sclerosis is the rarest of the types of the disease. Symptoms worsen over time, but with periods of flare ups or attacks and recovery. MS warriors generally do not completely recovery after an attack. Often disability is caused as a blend of the disease progressing and only partial recovery after flare ups.

Primary Progressive

Primary progressive multiple sclerosis affects between 10 to 15 percent of MS warriors and is the more serious of all forms of the disease. Symptoms develop and get worse from the time of onset of the disease and do not decrease in intensity. Rather than appearing in sudden relapses and fading in recovery periods, symptoms only gradually worse. As the disease gets progressively worse it often leads to disability.

Secondary Progressive

Of those that have been diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, many go on to have secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, some 10 to 15 years after being initially diagnosed. Often those affected by this type of the disease experience a change in pattern, with periods of attacks and recovery still occurring but recovery is often partial and symptoms during attacks become worse and more intense over time.


No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or alter over time. Symptoms fall into 3 groups; primary, secondary and tertiary.


Stress and anxiety,
Cognition changes,
Changes in appetite,
Weight loss and gain,
Numbness or tingling,
Vision problems,
Sensitivity to heat,
Dizziness or vertigo,
Muscle weakness,
Visual disturbances,
Balance problems,
Memory loss and,
Loss of bowel or bladder control,
And more…


Secondary symptoms are the complications that are a result of primary symptoms.


Tertiary symptoms are the negative effects that multiple sclerosis has on an individual, such as social and psychological aspects among others.

How to cope with a MS diagnosis

-Learn as much as possible about MS
-Understand that MS symptoms are unpredictable
-Don’t delay treatment
-Find support and don’t give up hope

Living with MS

-Track your MS symptoms
-Avoid MS triggers
-Follow a healthy diet and nutrition plan
-Stress management

Manage relapses (attacks or flare-ups)

Relapses occur as a result of inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS). It is suggested to contact a GP or other relevant specialist as soon as an attack comes to light, to inform them about symptoms experienced and difficulties the symptoms may be causing. Rest is often advised along with a healthy nutrition plan and medication is sometimes given. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

False Bay wildlife - Cape cormorant

Cape cormorant
Cape cormorant.
Cormorants are common seabirds, found along southern African coasts, of which 3 species are native to South Africa; the Bank cormorant, Cape cormorant and Crowned cormorant.

Cape cormorants have a greenish glossy shine to their black plumage, with an orange-yellow bare patch of skin at the base on their bills, fairly long necks and striking, turquoise eyes. Their nostrils are completely sealed and so breathe through their mouths. Adapted for swimming, these birds have webbing between all four toes and short wings.


These birds are found only along coasts of Southern Africa, breeding between Namibia and Port Elizabeth, and visit as far as the Congo and along the Natal coast. They are abundant in numbers along the south-western Cape coast and are found up to 50kms out to sea.

Cape cormorant
Cape cormorant taking a dive.

Cape cormorants are usually silent birds but do possess a variety of vocalisations, which include a repeated, low-pitched cluck by males when courting females and a hiss that becomes a bark when feeling threatened.

Cormorants are generally social birds, that nest in colonies, gather in flocks and hunt together, and are often seen flying in long lines or V-shaped flocks. They have a flapping style which puts them in the class of medium speed flying birds. During long flights they pull their energy from fat reserves that are stored.


Being pellet makers, much like some owls, cormorants create pellets out of the bones and scales of fish they eat and proceed to spit them out.

Cape cormorants feed in large flocks of up to thousands of individuals, on shoals of fish such as pilchards, anchovies and sandeels. They take a short leap out of the water’s surface and then dive into the ocean to mid-water levels. Each dive lasts for around half a minute, with two sessions a day lasting 30 minutes each. Their plumage is easily soaked, reducing buoyancy and allowing them to glide more easily through the water. However, the inner feathers are waterproof to provide a layer of insulation in the chilly water.

Cape cormorant
Cape cormorant in nest. 

Breeding takes place during any time of the year but predominantly between the months of September and February along the coasts of southern Africa. Male Cape cormorants gather together bits of dried seaweed, sticks and floating debris found in the ocean such as plastic and rope. The female then makes a nest with what she was given, measuring about 30 cms across.

The female cormorant then lays a clutch of between one to five chalky white coloured eggs, usually two to three, at intervals of two to three days. Both parents take turns incubating their eggs for 22 to 28 days and bring food to their offspring once hatched.

Did you know?

The southern African population of Cape Cormorants declined from more than a million birds in the early 1970s to about 120 000 pairs in the mid-1980s.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

False Bay wildlife - Cape fur seals

Cape fur seal
Cape fur seal.
Cape Fur seals, also known as the South African seals, are named after than pelt which is thicker than most seals and have a thin layer of hair. These seals are a slightly larger subspecies than Australian fur seals. Being sexually dimorphism, males and females differ in size, with bulls growing up to 2.5 m while cows can grow up to 1.6 m.

Males' coats range in shades of brown, from caramel through to dark chocolate while females are often more a silver-grey tone. New born pups are black in colour, moulting between the ages of 3 to 5 months and then turn into an olive grey colour. After a year of age, pups turn a silver-grey shade.

These seals are referred to as eared seals because of their endearing, rolled up ears. Their whiskers help to detect potential prey in dark and murky water while their limbs act as flippers and help to scratch itches.  

They have bodies that are streamlined in shape making them great swimmers. Although better suited for the aquatic life, these mammals are somewhat nimble on land and are even able climb rocks.


Cape fur seals are found along the southern and south-western coast of Africa, stretching from Namibia through to South Africa. In the country of South Africa, these seals are found from the Cape of Good Hope, through to the Black Rocks located near Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape.

In False Bay, there is small island set off the northern beaches of the bay about 5.7 km (3.5 miles) out to sea. Seal Island was given its’ name due to the great number of seals that inhabit the island. Currently there are 64 000 Cape fur seals that call the island their home and that number is increasing.

Cape fur seal
Mother Cape fur seal and pup. 

They are social, active and inquisitive animals when in the water, however become less relaxed and more anxious when on land. These friendly dogs of the sea have a range of vocalisations for communicating with one another.

Seals have 2 sleeping patterns, one on land and one designed for sleeping in water. They sleep on land just like any other land mammal but do open their eyes occasionally to check the coast is clear for predators. In the ocean, they are able to rest different parts of their brain, at different times, enabling them to stay afloat by paddling one fore flipper at a time. Just like on land, in water they open one eye briefly to check for potential predators.

In the waters surrounding Seal Island, Cape fur seals have been observed using several tactics to avoid the capture of predators, namely the Great White shark. These seals swim in large groups harassing sharks and are seen darting about in different directions in order to confuse predators.  They use their nature agility in the water to stay out of reach and swim near dorsal fins of sharks as a way to keep away from their jaws.


Cape fur seals eat seafood and a varied mix of it, from fish and rays through to octopus and squid. These seals usually prefer to hunt along, however, occasionally will hunt in packs of up to 15 individual seals. A Cape fur seal is able to dive to depths of up to 200 metres and can hold their breath for an impressive 7.5 minutes.

Cape fur seal
Cape fur pup.

During late October, adult males flop ashore onto Seal Island and are shortly followed by females. Males spend 6 weeks on land protecting their harem, often made of up to 66 females, living off their fat reserves stored in their blubber.

Females give birth in late November through to early December, and between 6 to 10 days can be impregnated again by the dominant male. A standard gestation period is 8 months but females only give birth after 12 months, this is due to a process called ‘delayed implantation.’ After a male and female copulate, the fertilized egg only begins to grow after 4 months within the womb of the female.

During the first 3 months after the birth of the pup, the mother seal follows a roster of 3 days on land and 4 days at sea to hunt. Upon returning back to the colony, she calls out for her pup and the pup answers back with its very own call. When the mother reaches her pup, she sniffs to pick up on the distinctively unique scent of her pup, and then proceeds to feed her baby seal.

Did you know?

Seals live on average for 25 - 30 years, with females usually live longer than males.