Great white sharks of Gansbaai, South Africa

The great white sharks have undoubtedly inspired many Hollywood film makers, which in turn, through the means of their movies, have most of the times conveyed and emphasized a basic instinctive fear to the audience for this great predators of the oceans. However, convinced that in nature there are no good or bad players, but they are all part of same interconnected world, I decided to take a closer look and learn more about this species, and one safe way to do it is by means of a cage diving, with a professional crew formed of marine wildlife biologists, in one of the places with greatest density of white sharks in the world, Gansbaai, Indian Ocean coast, South Africa! The trick they said was just to lure the shark with bate, and never feed them, to spoil their wild behavior, and to associate boats with food! A list with more destinations in South Africa for such an adventure can be found on internet, here is one of them.

Apart from the completely safe but unique adventure, what I learned was that scientists have relatively recently started to learn more about the great white sharks, for example about their migration habits, whereas it has been always thought this was a coastal animal. Currently the status of great white sharks is that they are vulnerable, threaten by fishing and human activity, as the only natural predators are exceptionally the killer whales (the orca). A February 2010 study by Barbara Block of Stanford University estimated the world population of great white sharks to be lower than 3,500 individuals, making the species more vulnerable to extinction than the tiger, whose population is in the same range. According to another study from 2014 by George H. Burgess, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, there are about 2000 great white sharks near the California coast, which is 10 times higher than the previous estimate of 219 by Barbara Block.

The females, larger than males (typical for species which dont fight for reproductive rights or territory), can reach up to 6 m and 3 tonnes in weight, and can live up to 70 years. Humans are not the preferred prey of the great white shark, but, nevertheless, the great white is responsible for the largest number of reported and identified fatal unprovoked shark attacks on humans (especially on surfers being taken for a seal…they have also been known to eat objects that they are unable to digest, due to same error). Great white sharks, like all other sharks, have an extra sense given by the special organ called “ampullae of Lorenzini” which enables them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of living animals. Great whites are so sensitive they can detect variations of half a billionth of a volt. At close range, this allows the shark to locate even immobile animals by detecting their heartbeat. Most fish have a less-developed but similar sense using their body’s lateral line.

Great white sharks are oviparous, which means eggs develop and hatch in the uterus and continue to develop until birth. The great white has an 11-month gestation period. Sharks taken during the long interval between birth and sexual maturity (at around 15 years of age) never reproduce, making population recovery and growth difficult.

The cheetah of South Africa “Cheetah Outreach” education center

Still in South Africa, very close to Cape Town this time, I had the joy, some time ago, to visit the Cheetah Outreach education center, where on relatively small property, there is a breeding center for cheetah (and few other wild species), which also serves as education center, and where a team of dedicated staff can teach you about this magnificent wild animal and also give you the chance of a close encounter! (all free of stress for the animal). More details here, highly recommended if you live around the area, or just visiting Cape Town: www.cheetah.co.za

The cheetah is one of the big cats, specialized in hunting some of the fastest pray in the African savanna (initial territory range of this animal included Asia and Middle East, but this has been drastically reduced). He is the fastest land mammal on planet, reaching more than 100 km per hour in few seconds, a truly formula 1 of the wild world. But this specialization came with a cost, his light body cannot sustain the speed for longer period of time, leading to over-heating, and also couldnt compete with other predators for protecting its prey once hunted, being smaller in size and couldnt afford any wounds, he quickly gives away the food once the first hyena, leopard or lion comes around!

As he prefers hunting during the day, to reduce competition from majority of other predators, you may be lucky enough to spot him hunting while in a safari trip, although their number in the wild being at few thousands, they can be a rare sight! Apart from threats from loss of territory and poisoning by the farmers who want to protect their live stock, this wonderful animal now faces also the consequences/risks of inter-breeding, the species reducing its genes pool variety, making the species more vulnerable to diseases! This is common to wild animals that are isolated or because they were once on bridge of extinction and the come-back happened from a very small population where individuals were related/family!

It will definitely help if visiting the center, staying educated, and making a small material contribution to the further research, protection, breeding and education of the human population! The loss of such precious wild animal would be a catastrophe for sure!

Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

Just in case you have the chance to pass by Johannesburg, South Africa, take the time to visit Pilanesberg National Park, within short distance from the city. Even one day is sufficient to visit the park and have the privilege of meeting some of its residence! I made the visit during a Saturday, while in a Business trip in the capital of South Africa, very convenient one day trip, but you can chose the spend the night in the park, there are special camp places! More details on the park infrastructure: HERE

The park is also one of the largest volcanic complexes of its type in the world, the rare rock types and formations make it a unique geological feature. A number of rare minerals occur in the park. Pilanesberg Game Reserve rates high among the world’s outstanding geological phenomena.

Regarding the wildlife, as of December 2010 the total count of large mammals was approximately 10,000, including:

  • 50 lions
  • 30 leopards
  • 12 cheetahs
  • 220 elephants
  • Black rhinoceros
  • White rhinoceros
  • 5 sable antelopes
  • 220 African buffaloes
  • 600 kudus
  • 1700 zebras
  • 3000 impalas
  • 170 giraffes

From this list, I checked some elephants, impalas, zebras, giraffes and my favorite, the White rhinos, including a mother and her baby! I felt really lucky, considering how rare these animals have become, due to illegal poaching for its horn, used in Asian medicine, whereas this is nothing more than keratin, same material the human hair is made of…Hope the conservation efforts will be sufficient to still have white rhinos in national parks, and for this tourism is an essential source of funds and thus a source of essential support!

A safari in Africa, part 2

We are pleased to meet and get to know better some more of the permanent residents of the savanna: the African buffalo, the gazelles, a water buck, an ostrich family, a baboon and close to lake, the mighty hypo and the Nile crocodile! All of them busy with their daily activities, which is searching for food, raising their families, resting and keeping open eyes and ears for any potential predators (people are ignored as long as they stay in their vehicles)!

They all live in a natural balance, established over tens of thousands of years (still evolving), their survival on shorter and longer term depending on their ability to find food, fend off predators, or catching their prey, and raising their babies.

In nature there is no compromise, and a weaker herbivore soon ends up on the plate of the predator, which hence assures a meal for his/her family! Without predators, the herbivores would multiply so much that there wouldn’t be enough vegetation to feed them, and they would be starving compromising their long-term survival, that is how, praying on the weaker, the predators are keeping the herbivore numbers in check. On the other side, too many predators will find difficult to find enough food, if the herbivore population decreases, so this is how the nature re-establishes the balance, making sure only the fittest survives, and there will also be a balance between predator and prey over long term!

When in a safari have in mind the animals behavior, the predators would normally be more active at night, or early morning and late evening, whereas herbivores may be more active during the day! An experienced guide will know all this and this way will make sure you will come back in your countries with a story to tell and tens of good pictures!

To continue…

 

A safari in Africa, part 1

There is no better way to be in contact with the nature and the wildlife than a safari, and Africa is one of the best places to offer a true adventure, being one of the most bio-diverse continents in the world!

It is a wonderful life experience, a great opportunity for real life Eco-education for you and family, and a great way also to help the local communities, the local economies and assure the protection of the animals! Do not forget that Africa has one of the fastest growing populations and already pressure on land and its resources is immense, and in the end, if people or governments on behalf of people would have to chose between them and the wildlife, unless they will see the shorter-term benefits on economy, the wildlife areas and its animals will be at risk! So contact your local tourist agent and check best safari opportunity, you will be surprised the prices can be affordable!

In this first part from our Eastern Africa safari we share some of the most iconic animals, a female leopard, gnu antelope, the famous zebras and giraffe and a mighty elephant bull!

I was recently surprised to learn that one of the most common animals when going into a safari, the giraffe, has recently been enlisted as endangered! Unfortunately this is true, most visible is in areas right below Sahara, where expanding population, soil deterioration and loss of habitat for wildlife have continuously reduced the numbers of giraffes! To continue…

Elephants of Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Eastern Africa

 

The Amboseli National Park (240 kilometers southeast from the capital city Nairobi), is the second most popular national park in Kenya after Maasai Mara. Amboseli offers some of the best opportunities to see African wildlife because the vegetation is sparse due to the long dry months. The park is famous for being the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants, the biggest terrestrial mammal of our days and one of the most intelligent and socially complex wild animals!

African elephants are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while the Asian elephant is classed as endangered. One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people (however the Masai we met at park entrance were more specialized on tourism to make a living, and not on agriculture)! One of the latest and best news at end of 2016 has come from China, joining a number of other countries like United States and the European states, to ban the trade ivory, this means a lot to elephant protection!

Amboseli looked to us like an elephant paradise (well protected, with armed guards to defend animals from poachers). Being a stable source of income from safari tourism, the government has all incentive to assure survival of the wild animals within. We had the chance to see many elephants including few weeks old adorable baby elephants, and many other wild animals! The experience was fantastic and a must do in a life time! Amboseli also offers great views over Kilimanjaro mountain, being situated at the border with Tanzania, truly amazing!

The IUCN estimates a total of around 440,000 individual elephants of different sub-species for 2012. Other threats to elephants include fragmentation, as you may notice in African map below! Don’t wait more, organize your safari trip and enjoy the chance to see wild elephants in national parks, this way contributing to their protection!

africa-elephants-map

The European bison of Białowieża Forest, Poland

The European bison is one of the two remaining species of Bison, alongside the American bison! Both species suffered from extensive hunting, being close to extinction!

bison_diagram

In case of European bison, it actually disappeared from wilderness in the 1920’s, but was since re-introduced from captivity into special reserves (starting with 1951), semi-wild or wild, under protection of the law, in several European countries to reflect its historical distribution/range, but with different degrees of success depending on country. In any case, its overall reintroduction in the wild was declared a success, the species moving from Endangered in 1996 to recently Vulnerable status, as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

status

We went to see this magnificent animal in Poland, Eastern Europe, in one of the remaining wilderness icons, the Białowieża ancient woodland, home of above 800 exemplars (declared the Polish Biosphere Reserve), at the border with Belarus. The reserve seemed well managed, the forest itself is indeed ancient, seeming untouched by civilization, apart from main entrance where you get the chance to go through a gate, there is in fact no border or fence, some lucky people had the chance to see a bison even driving through the nearby villages, as this youtube film shows! We were not that lucky, we did step on the tracks of the bison and we had a great time there, but the only bison we saw were in the nearby enclosed visitor park. However, the overall place and experience was great, and for sure will repeat it (and the ecosystem seems complete, with wolves living in the reserve and feeding on weak bison occasionally in heavy winters, assuring the overall health of the heard, a natural selection process)!!

If you want to see the wild bison, we recommended to check the national park site before visiting, to learn more: Białowieżki National Park !

For more recent pictures and live videos about the European bison re-introduction into the wild and live follow-up, I suggest following these related facebook pages:

  • Poland, Białowieża Forest: Here
  • Romania, Natural Parc “Vanatori Neamt”: Here