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Smaller Mammals Archives

Jackal Feeding on Remains of Carcass

Black-backed jackal gnawing on carcass remains, botswana Caption: Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) gnaws on the remains of an impala carcass, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Focal length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/500; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO 400

While out on an afternoon game drive in Mashatu Game Reserve, we saw a black-backed jackal some distance away, apparently burying some fresh animal bones under a small tree.

Our safari guide, Mollman Matenge, wasted no time in scanning the surrounding area through his binoculars, looking for the source of the bones. A few minutes later we drove off in the direction of the jackal, to be rewarded shortly afterwards by the sighting of a cheetah and her sub-adult cub.

Both the cheetah were resting in the shade, looking contented and well-fed. Not far from where they lay, we could see two jackals gnawing on the remains of an impala that the cheetah had previously brought down. Once the cheetah had eaten their fill, they’d moved off and abandoned the rest of the carcass, which was immediately claimed by the jackals.

The picture above shows the one jackal making the most of this free meal, provided courtesy of the cheetah and her cub. So another fruitful game drive, with good views of two cheetah plus feeding jackals, thanks to the expertise of our bush-wise safari guide.

If you’d like to know more about these members of the dog family (canidae), see our article, Black-backed Jackal Information.

Porcupine at Dusk

Porcupine in dry riverbed, Tuli Block, Botswana Caption: Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) walking along bank of dry riverbed at dusk, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Focal length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/160; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO 400.

It was during an afternoon game drive in Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana’s Tuli Block that I saw my first porcupine in the wild. As Mollman, our safari guide, eased the Toyota down the steep bank into a dry riverbed, he spotted the porcupine emerging from its burrow (below).

Porcupine emerging from burrow, Tuli Block, Botswana

Although it was late afternoon with the low sun casting shadows in parts of the riverbed, this sighting was certainly unusual as porcupines are strictly nocturnal and not normally seen during daylight.
Porcupine with quills lit by last rays of sun
The porcupine was not particularly phased by our presence and set off determinedly across the riverbed, its black-and-white quills backlit by the sun’s last rays (right). Once on the other side, it climbed the bank and quickly disappeared from sight in the adjacent bush.

Porcupine quills are popular symbols of the African bush, much-loved by designers for decorating brochures and websites pertaining to African safaris. For me it was exciting seeing the actual carrier of the quills — the real thing as it were.

One of the myths about porcupines is that they shoot their quills when attacked by predators. As with most non-predators, the porcupine’s immediate response when threatened is to flee. However, if cornered it defends itself agressively, initially trying to scare off the attacker by stamping its feet, rattling its quills and grunting.

If the attacker fails to take evasive action quickly enough, the porcupine will rush backwards or sideways at it and jab the needle-sharp quills deeply into the attacker.

For porcupines, sex can be a prickly issue, but they get round this quite successfully and pairs will, in fact, copulate frequently. Like humans, they don’t only mate for breeding.

See safari guide Roddy Smith’s article, Porcupines Must Mate with Care, for more on this intriguing rodent.

Baboon Chase

Big male baboon chasing smaller male, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Caption: Big male chacma baboon chases smaller male baboon in typical example of the frequent skirmishes, fights, and chases that occur within baboon troops, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM; Focal Length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/2000; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

During a recent visit to Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, we parked for a couple of hours at one the many pans to watch the wildlife coming to the pan to drink.

This makes sense in Hwange, where game drives can be fairly barren of wildlife, whereas the waterholes and pans consistently reward those with patience.

On this occasion we saw a good variety of animals, including elephant, buffalo, giraffe, and zebra arriving at the pan to drink. During this activity, a troop of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) arrived, as thirsty as the rest. Soon they were crouching down to drink, both in groups and as individuals.

Then the fun started, as they began squabbling and skirmishing, with frequent baring of teeth and other displays of aggression, threat, and counterthreat.

As Peter Apps explains in his book Wild Ways, a dispute between two males often sets off a chain reaction of squabbles, chases and fights in the rest of the troop. To find out more about this behavior and see a series of pictures illustrating baboon aggression and fights, see Baboon Skirmishes and Chases.

Vervet Monkey Mysteries

Vervet monkey close-up
Caption: Vervet monkey close-up, showing the bright brown eyes and bushy forehead fringed with white, Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal length: 220mm; Shutter speed: 1/80; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 100.

Vervet monkeys are the most common monkey of the African savanna, found from Senegal to South Africa. They’re plentiful, diurnal, used for research purposes, kept as “pets” and, in my home city, seen by many as pests that are likely to trash your kitchen if you leave a window open.

Surprisingly though, there’s a lot of contradictory data and information about vervets, as I discovered in assembling a concise Vervet Monkey Information page.

You’d think the gestation period would be fairly uniform, but according to various African mammal field guides and authority websites, this figure varies from 150 days to 210 days, with 165 days the most common.

Life extectancy? Take your pick from 11 to 30 years, with further variations depending on life expectancy in the wild or in captivity.

Scientific name? This is a minefield and makes me happy I’m not a scientist or animal behaviorist. The most common for vervet monkey is Cercopithecus aethiops, with Cercopithecus pygerythrus and Chlorocebus pygerythrus also used.

According to Primate Info Net (National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin – Madison), “The classification of vervet monkeys was recently updated, moving all of the species from the genus Cercopithecus to a new genus, Chlorocebus (Rowe 1996; Groves 2001). There are now at least six species of vervets recognized …. .

“Groves (2001) recommends further revision of this genus and in the future, there will likely be more species and subspecies identified (Grubb et al. 2003).”

This page was last modified in January, 2006, so by now there may well have been further identifications or classification changes.

In any event, I’ve added to my knowledge of vervets, and now know they use at least 36 distinct calls; also that “an adult male’s bright red penis and blue scrotum are unmissable signs of his sexual maturity and social status as he walks with a swagger that flashes his colorful genitals”.

This had me worried that maybe we humans have got it wrong, but was relieved to find that we’re separated evolutionarily from vervets by more than 50 million years.

(Please Note: If you’re not reading this post on Wildlife Photography Blog from Wildlife Pictures Online, then you’re not seeing the original version. Please go to Vervet Monkey Mysteries to read the original.)

Side-Striped Jackal at Dusk

Side-striped jackal, Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
Caption: Side-striped jackal (Canis adustus) in winter grass at dusk, Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM; Focal Length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/100; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

The sun had just dipped below the horizon when we came across this handsome side-striped jackal standing alone in the winter grass near one of the airstrips in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

We were nearing the end of our afternoon game drive and as this was my first sighting of a side-striped jackal, it made for a very satisfying end to the day.

Jackals are members of the Canidae family and as such are true dogs, together with foxes and African wild dogs. There are three jackal species: Black-backed (Canis mesomelas), Side-striped (Canis adustus), and Golden (Canis aureus).

The black-backed jackal is the one you’re most likely to see when on safari in Southern or East Africa, where they’re widely distritbuted and commonly viewed in protected areas.

Side-striped are more rare, occuring mainly in Central Africa, extending into East Africa and parts of Southern Africa, including Zambia. They are also more nocturnal than the black-backed, further reducing one’s chances of seeing them.

The golden jackal is found in Asia and throughout the North and Horn of Africa. I’ve yet to see one as haven’t travelled in those parts.

From a distance the side-striped jackal appears a grayish color, but on closer inspection a light-colored stripe, fringed with black, can be seen on the flanks. The tail is bushy, mostly black, with a white tip.

The black-backed jackal on the other hand is much redder overall, with a characteristic black saddle sprinkled with silver (below).

Black-backed jackal, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

Although about the same height, it’s less stocky than the side-striped, and the ears are bigger. The long tail is black and bushy, without a white tip. For more about this attractive and often misunderstood animal, see our Jackal Information page.

(Please Note: If you’re not reading this post on Wildlife Photography Blog from Wildlife Pictures Online, then you’re not seeing the original version. Please go to Side-striped Jackal at Dusk to read the original.)

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