I thought I’d share some interesting wildlife interactions between and within species that caught my eye (and camera) on our recent visit to the iMfolozi section of the Hlulhuwe-iMfolozi Park in Zululand. Although the focus of this blog is letting nature back into suburbia,  you might like to share in this recent trip that let suburbanite me back into nature in a less domesticated context.

Associations between wild animals include companionship, parental care of offspring, competition, greetings and play, the hunter and the hunted, not forgetting interactions also with humanity.

Two giraffe foraging at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Apparently good companions, these two giraffe in a dispersed group of several animals foraged together in close proximity

Warthog suckling piglets, South Africa

This mother warthog suckling her four piglets (two on each side) has to remain especially vigilant in the apparent absence of any assistance from another adult or sub-adult. Associated female warthogs may live in a small group of related individuals and such mothers may even suckle one another’s young. Adult males only join a female group when an adult female is in heat.

Crested francolin guarding chicks.

Also protecting her young is this beautiful crested francolin. One of the chicks can just be seen in the photo. Usually both parents participate in raising their young.

Elephant and juveniles crossing the Black iMfolozi River

Following the leader – an adult female elephant crosses the fast flowing Black iMfolozi River followed by two youngsters, late one afternoon. There were other elephant in the vicinity, but we did not see any others crossing the river at this time.

Sparring impala rams

Two sparring male impala in a bachelor herd, perhaps preparing for the autumn rutting season. They stood facing each other with much posturing and head lowering but did not make much contact in what was more a display of dominance than an actual contest.

A pair of sparring male elephants, iMfolozi Park, South Africa

Sparring between male elephants is also a common activity. These two elephants are quite evenly matched and their sparring consisted of confronting each other with heads held high, followed by trunk wrestling and much pushing and shoving.

Friendly rivalry between young elephants

The contest between them was very focused and intense, although they did break off a few times to browse the bushes for short periods while remaining close to each other.

An elephant kneeling while sparring

Although similar in size, one of the elephants knelt momentarily while keeping his forelegs straight before launching into shoving his rival yet again.

A pair of male elephants pushing and shoving while sparring

Towards the end of the contest the pushing was more intense but we had a sense that the elephants were rather enjoying testing their strength and skills.

Elephants amicable again after sparring match

And suddenly it was all over as if by mutual consent. The encounter lasted over 15 minutes and then the mood changed and the pair moved off amicably together into the trees, transforming from rivals back into friends.

African monarch butterfly feeding from flower

Nearby, an African monarch butterfly was enjoying its own encounter with a flowering Dwarf Boer-bean (Schotia capitata).

Steppe buzzard searching for prey on the ground

From its vantage point in a dead tree something moving on the ground caught its eye, and this steppe buzzard suddenly descended to search unsuccessfully for its elusive prey.

Large bull elephant, iMfolozi park

Browsing on its own this very large bull elephant, letting us know he was well aware of us, interacted calmly with us tourists as we sat watching from our vehicle. So as not to disturb him unduly, we kept at what we thought was a respectful distance.

Two white-fronted bee-eaters hawking from perch

White-fronted bee-eaters share a perch while keeping a sharp-eyed lookout for flying insects; their sub-adult status is revealed by the usually bright red patch below the white throat being washed-out and pale. And yes, white-fronted bee-eaters do eat bees (among other insects). The sharp narrow bills enable them to catch bees without getting stung. Once back at the perch they rub off the sting and its poison before swallowing the bee. White-fronted bee-eaters are gregarious and roost and nest communally. Related non-breeding birds often act as helpers, assisting the breeding pair with excavating the nest burrow and with feeding and raising the young.

Chacma baboon with baby and juveniles, South Africa

A mother chacma baboon with her young baby together with sub-adults who are resting between bouts of playing; photographed on a patch of lawn near the gate inside the entrance to the Imfolozi section of the park.

Grazing impala and chacma baboon, iMfolozi Park

A small group of baboons and a bachelor herd of impala foraged together on a sandy ridge above the river. The impala ate grasses and the baboons picked and stripped long twigs from low-growing shrubs.

White rhino and buffalo on a river sandbankBuffalo and white rhino share a sandbank for some gentle sunbathing by the river on an overcast morning.

White rhino and African wild dogs at river

Three African wild dogs (one with a radio collar for monitoring purposes) associate with white rhino as the dogs try to work out how to cross the river that is abnormally full and flowing strongly. After investigating at various points on the bank, the dogs gave up crossing the river and returned into the bush.

Female white rhino with young calf, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

A white rhino mother with her calf. In a further association, a Red-billed Oxpecker searches the mother’s back for ticks. These days I always feel fearful when I see a rhino with a young baby because so many rhino, even in well-protected areas, are poached for their horns, and many babies too have been killed or left traumatised and orphaned.

Dehorned rhino carcass, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

We came across this dehorned carcass of a rhino – a graphic reminder of humans’ all too brutal association with rhinos. We do not know if this rhino was poached or died of natural causes with the park staff removing the horn after death. Sadly, rhino poaching has taken place even in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, which is renowned for Operation Rhino that took place in 1950s and saved the white rhino from likely extinction. In the last decade anti-poaching activities have been stepped up as rhino poaching escalated dramatically in both small and large protected areas, including also the Kruger National Park. In some parks rhinos are humanely regularly dehorned (the horn grows back) in an effort to save them from poachers. In the decade 2007 to 2017 the recorded number of rhinos poached in South Africa is 7245. For more information on efforts to save rhinos see for example https://www.savetherhino.org/get-involved/

Zebras greeting at waterhole, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Waterholes provide opportunities for tourists to view interesting encounters between wild animals. With most of the natural waterholes and wallows being completely dry during our visit, the Bhejane Hide at iMfolozi with its pumped supply of water was busy with many visitors including numerous Burchell’s zebra, which were constantly coming and going in small groups, with ritualized greetings between individuals reminding me of elephant greeting behaviour I have witnessed rather than anything I had seen in zebras before.

Zebras chasing each other at waterhole, KwaZulu-Natal

During all the restless comings and goings at the waterhole, there were frequent squabbles between zebras that involved shoving, kicking, teeth baring and biting, and other challenges. Other visitors to the waterhole, including warthogs, seemed to regard all this hyper zebra activity with equanimity.

Zebra, warthog and impala at waterhole, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Several of the altercations that broke out resulted in rather dramatic chases, sometimes through the water, with much splashing, snorting and thundering of hooves. For more on zebra behaviour, society and their ecological role see https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Equus_burchellii/

Tendele's opencast coal mine at Somkhele, KwaZulu-Natal

And lastly, the most notable iMfolozi interaction, sadly, is the development of opencast coal mining near the iMfolozi Wilderness area, which is impacting not only on the Hlulhuwe-iMfolozi Park but also on the lives, livelihoods and health of people, many of whom have been relocated, living in proximity to the mine. Above is a photo snapped from our car window of the Somkhele open cast coal mine operated by Tendele Mining Ltd since 2007. Community and environmental organisations are campaigning against the mine and the proposed Fuleni Mine, which will affect even more people and operate right against the border of the park’s Wilderness area.

Dumps near house at Somkhele opencast coal mine, KwaZulu-Natal

Leaving the Hlulhuwe-iMfolozi Park only to drive past the huge mine was disheartening to say the least. The mine operates 24 hours a day and impacts include the extraction of water in a water-scarce region, pollution of water, dust and air pollution that impacts on people and their livestock, noise from machinery and blasting, light pollution at night, vibrations and cracks and damage to buildings from blasting.

For a documentary on the mining and its potentially harmful effects on people and animals see https://saveourwilderness.org/2018/11/05/5050-documentary-hluhluwe-imfolozi-threatened-by-mining/For more information on the mining, its impacts, and campaigns to halt further mining see the following links:

Female chacma baboon, iMfolozi Park

The last animal we saw as we drove out of the gates of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park was this female baboon. Reading now about the mining operations taking place within sight, sound and smell of the park, I fully understand that she was right to regard me, a representative human, with such guarded wariness.

Sources: Colvin, L. and C. Nihranz 2009. ‘Equus burchelli’ (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Equus_burchellii/; Estes, Richard. 1993. The Safari Companion a Guide to Watching African Mammals. Halfway House: Russel Friedman; O’Connell-Rodwell, Caitlin. 2010. How Male Elephants Bond. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-male-elephants-bond-64316480/; Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to http://www.sabirding.co.za/roberts7/portal.html; Save our iMfolozi Wilderness. https://saveourwilderness.org/; Save the rhino. https://www.savetherhino.org/

Posted by Carol

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