Posts Tagged ‘Mammals’

8
Jan 23

The Pantanal of Brazil

The wetland Savana of the Pantanal.

The grass waved slightly in the morning breeze, touching the railing on the boardwalk. My knee was braced on a post as I scanned east and then north across this vast wetland. Structurally, the marsh looked much like the Florida Everglades, where I worked for more than a decade. Earlier, a Snail Kite had quartered back and forth, hunting apple snails, and five Great Egrets had flown over on their broad white wings. Both species are found in Florida, and my work there focused on their conservation. Wood Storks had been abundant at this place, too, a species endangered in the United States but doing fine in Brazil. 

The grass species here looked different from Florida, not sawgrass, and the trees on the hammocks were more tropical, with many palms and broadleaf species that I didn’t recognize. This was the Pantanal, a wetland almost as big as Florida, extending across southern Brazil and into Bolivia and Paraguay. A squawk caused me to turn around; a pair of Hyacinth Macaws flew on steady wingbeats west over the marsh. These are the largest parrots in the Western Hemisphere. They feed on the fruits of palms. Definitely, I was not in the Everglades and hadn’t been for the previous week.

Hyacinth Macaw

In the 1980s and 1990s, I worked on the conservation and restoration of the Everglades. My research group studied the needs of birds and how to restore a healthier ecosystem. I also spent endless hours in planning meetings with federal, state, and local officials and with industry and agriculture interests. Collectively, we made massive progress on the needs of these wetlands. From my start there, in 1984, I heard of the Pantanal and how this tropical wetland still functioned pretty much untrammeled by human hands. It had been a dream of mine to see this place, get a feel for its wildlife and how it functioned, and look for parallels and differences with the Everglades. Now, forty years later, I’d finally made it.

In 2021, my friend Bob planned a trip to this place, and I asked if I could join him. Unfortunately, that expedition was postponed because of drought. But in July 2022, we came. Much of our time had been along the Rio Savore and Rio Sao Lourenco, traveling by skiff. July was partway into the dry season, and the water levels had dropped several meters from their wet season maximums. We were down in water courses, and the settings reminded me of the channels running through the coastal wetlands of Florida or along the Kissimmee River in the northern part of the Everglades. Occasionally, we could see over the banks and get a feel for the vastness of the marsh system. Oxbow lakes, small ponds, and depressions dot this landscape. I could imagine the wading birds concentrating at those locations as water levels fell; the caimans, this country’s equivalent to our Alligators, lining the shorelines to bask in the sun. A hike to oxbow would be spectacular but out of the question, for jaguars hunt these wetlands.

The view from one of the many rivulets that run through the Pantanal.

During the previous two days, we’d moved out into the savannas, staying at lodges rather than on a houseboat. The landscape from the boardwalk that final morning and the mixed habitats we’d hiked in the day before and earlier that day reminded me so much of Florida, a combination of the vast wetlands, savannas, and woodlands of the Everglades, Kissimmee Valley, and the Lake Istokpoga plains.

I’d spent three years working on a cattle ranch downstream of Lake Istokpoga. Like central Florida, the Pantanal is primarily private and occupied by massive cattle ranches. Its conservation, too, will depend on maintaining viable cattle operations and having the locals recognize and cherish the wilds. Bob hired a Brazilian guide, Paulo, and we used all local companies. The economy of this area was severely affected by Covid because tourism dried up for two years. One should – and we did – tip generously, for it helps build goodwill for nature.

Brazilian Tapir

After lunch on that final day, we would pack up and head back to Cuiaba and our flights home. On the dirt track out from Pouso Alegre, we spotted a South American Tapir soaking in a small pond. This big mammal sent a chill through my veins. It is a creature of the wilds and a symbol of wilderness. The tapir sighting was a nice close to our trip. I ended up seeing more than 130 bird species and numerous mammals, reptiles, and plants. One of the most remarkable things for me is to share a place with a local who repeatedly demonstrates their love for the land. Paulo and our local boatmen and drivers all gave us that gift.

Wood Storks going to roost in the Pantanal, Brazil.

The Challenge

The challenge I put to myself was to create a portfolio of photographs that highlights the unique natural history of the Pantanal and also had relevance to my scientific and professional background. The target was set at 13 photographs. This was the number to make a calendar. I took many tens of thousands of photographs, and the task became daunting. I wanted photographs that had meaning from this trip and also had meaning from my work in science and conservation.

This collection of photographs will give you a taste of the diversity and uniqueness of the Pantanal. It is a wetland of international significance, a UNESCO World Heritage site that needs much focus on its conservation and protection. Unfortunately, when I was there in 2022, the President of Brazil was promoting the exploitation of the wilds. Paulo told us that his administration had slogans saying that photographing wildlife was illegal and protecting nature was bad for people. This will only change with support from the people of Brazil. 

I only had a chance to see a small piece of the northern region of the Pantanal. Another trip farther south would yield many new and fascinating sightings. Maybe an anaconda, other parrot species, a giant anteater, or more cats would grace us with their wonder. A place worth another visit and much more study.

The Portfolio

Portrait of Jaguar – Our skiff glided around a bend on the Rio Sao Lourenco and drifted off a plane to bob on the shallow river. A capybara sat on the bank, staring out at us, and I immediately began to capture her pose. A few seconds later, someone mumbled jaguar. There, not 100 feet farther down the bank, a jaguar was starting to emerge through the tangled riparian vegetation.

Paulo, our guide, said it was a young female who had two almost full-grown cubs and was hunting to provide for them. The cat lay down and began to scan the river. In the Pantanal, they feed extensively on caiman and will also take capybaras. That large rodent squealed, jumped into the river, and began barking to warn others of the danger. The jaguar paid it no heed. Our boat coasted opposite the cat; my heart felt like it might jump out of my chest. I could have tossed her a ball or chunk of meat.

Jabiru – The male stork leaned over his three chicks and began to dribble water from his beak. The young quickly scrambled for the moisture. It was early afternoon, and the day’s temperature was hot. The tropical sun had the chicks panting. The lodge had constructed a tower that allowed me to stand 30 feet above the ground and not far from the stork’s nest.

When I climbed the tower thirty minutes earlier, the female was guarding the chicks. The male flew in from the north, passed the nest, and made a large loop out to the west. He glided on eight-foot wings and came in below my eye level, where I could look across his impressive back. He gently flew up to land on the nest’s rim. The female stepped to the side while the male moved amongst the chicks. One chick, then a second, took water directly from his mouth before he began to dribble water for them all.

Snail Kite – The kite cruised just feet above the marsh, quartering back and forth, searching for Pomacea snails. These birds are highly specialized feeders, eating only a few varieties of snails. The gastropod will come near the surface, and the birds grab them with their talons, carrying them to a perch where they use that long curved beak to extract the meat. Snail Kites are endangered in Florida but doing well across Latin America. The red eye on this male glowed in the soft light and contrasted with his slate-black plumage.

Crested Caracara – The bird dipped its right wing as it passed, giving me a full view of its elegant body. The late afternoon sun provided warm light to show off its sleek plumage. This caracara flew down the Rio Sarare past our small skiff, its yellow cere and face glistening. The scalloping on its back and tail contrasted with the dark wings with a white window in the outer primaries. This species nested on the cattle ranch where I worked for three years in Central Florida. They like open savanna country there as they do in Brazil. These are members of the falcon group, and several species occur across Latin America.

Ocelot – The cat crept along the thin branches a few feet above the ground, stopped, and then looked through me like I was a window. It was about the size of a large house cat but with longer legs, especially the hind ones. Ocelots are arboreal hunters, quickly moving through the trees in search of prey. Our guide thought this female might have kittens someplace in the gallery forest along the Rio Sarare. Her claws were retracted, but their tips showed on her front paw. She moved like an angel, disappearing back into the forest without sound or effort.

Giant River Otter – The otter rolled onto its side, scratched its neck with the hind paw, and then looked behind it, snarling but making no noticeable noise. We’d been following the family group along the Rio Sao Lorenco for close to an hour. Giant River Otters are highly social. A breeding pair forms the core, and several others are helpers in raising offspring. The white markings on their face, neck, and chest are unique, providing a way of identifying individuals. These diurnal mammals were hunting fish, and we saw them catch several. Each ate their catch with no aggression and no apparent sharing. The species is endangered across much of its range.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron – The heron bolted from the marsh and flew right toward us. The sun made its body stand out against the dark forest background. The feathers were sleek, delicate, and in perfect shape. Possibly, the two outer primaries — flight feathers — on the wing were still last year’s and not as fresh looking as the others. Tiger-Herons are a bird of the tropics and something I’d not seen since traveling in southern Mexico decades ago. These birds are shy, often staying well camouflaged or sneaking off into the thicket and going undetected. 

Jaguar hunting – The jaguar had disappeared back into the gallery forest, but our guide thought it was hunting and would be headed upstream along Rio Sao Lourenco. We moved about a quarter mile, dropping a small anchor. Fifteen minutes later, the cat came through the bushes, her muscles tense, ears pointing forward, and eyes checking the shallows for a caiman. In the Pantanal, jaguars specialize in these crocodilians and grow bigger and stronger than jaguars over the rest of their range. We watched this female work the bank and shallows. Several times she waded into thick mats of water hyacinths but didn’t find any prey.

Southern Screamers – We’d seen the pair standing on top of this lone tree in the Pantanal the previous two days. The sun had been setting, and the light fading those days. We were fifteen minutes earlier on this day, so I waved to the boatman to slow down. Three screamer species occur in this unique family, Anhimidae. This species, the Southern Screamer, was the first one I’d ever seen, even though I’d known of them for fifty years. They are like mythological creatures, with a small turkey-like head and a bulky body of a goose. They possess a sizeable sharp spur on their wings and can use them in a battle to do substantial damage to an opponent.

Classification systems put them in with the Duck and Goose Order, but they have many characteristics of chickens, turkeys, quail, and pheasants. This group may well be a link between these two bird Orders. Remarkably, the ancestor of these two groups somehow made it through the mass extinction caused by the meteor that hit off the Yucatan 66 million years ago. This pair just stood there like an Inca god and goddess. Reluctantly, I said we were good to go, for I knew our party was thinking of the sweet caipirinhas waiting at the houseboat. I watched this pair until they disappeared, feeling like I was in the presence of something remarkable.

Capybara Family – The pup touched the female’s backside while the male sat ten feet to their left. A capybara family was on the sandy beach. This species is the largest rodent in the world. The female may weigh a hundred pounds, and the male even more. Over the last three days, we’d seen many along the Rio Sao Lourenco. They feed on aquatic plants, swim exceptionally well, and use the water to escape jaguars. Probably, additional ones were in the water or just over the berm, for they often travel in extended family groups. They are a distant relative of guinea pigs and look like overgrown ones.

Toco Toucan – “Toucan,” came from the person beside me. A large, yellow-orange beak dropped through the canopy and landed on a vine slightly above eye level. The Toco Toucan was elegant, looking like he was dressed for a gala. Blue skin surrounded his black eye, and then bright orange wrapped that. He wore a snow-white bib, black body, and fire-engine red under his tail, white above. His legs and feet were a baby blue. Not a single feather was out of place. A second bird, identical in plumage, landed not far away. The sexes are similar in appearance, and there was no way I knew which was which. 

Yacare Caiman – The caiman made a beeline for me. Its eyes appeared glued to mine, and its long tail waved back and forth in rapid s-curves, propelling it along. I looked at the gunnel on the small skiff, maybe only six inches above the water line, and back at this beast. It was at least 6 feet long, perhaps as much as eight. A bow wave radiated out from its snout, and its teeth started to show at the waterline. These are fish eaters, and the boatman waved a fish in the air while squeaking for the crocodilian to approach. Still, seeing this primordial predator approach sent a chill through my body.

Lesser Kiskadee – The flycatcher zipped down onto the log floating at the river’s edge. Its muscles appeared taught, like a sprinter in the racing block. These are aerial pursers, and it was looking for a flying insect to dash after. Their bills are moderately wide, making a perfect net and pincher for grabbing a moth, fly, or dragonfly. The black and white pattern on its head and throat stood out in the bright sun, and the yellow underside looked like a beautiful, tailored outfit. In a blink, it was gone, twisting and turning as it tried to nab some morsel.

Thank You!

This capybara wants to wish you a wonderful and happy New Year. May the wilds bring you joy, solace, and a sense of awe. Thank you.

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31
Jul 22

A Mother Capybara

A mother Capybara and her baby rest on the river bank in the Pantanal of Brazil.
An adult Capybara and a young sit along the river in the Pantanal of Brazil.

Our boat slid slowly around the slight bend. We were cruising up a tributary of the Rio São Lourenco in the Pantanal when I spotted the capybara dozing on the bank. It was early morning, and the sun was still low. A warm light covered her, and although her eyes seemed open, she appeared relaxed. I snapped my binoculars to mine and discovered that a sleeping baby was tight against her side. 

Capybaras are the largest rodent in the world and are common around wetlands in South America, from northern Argentina to Venezuela. I’d never seen one and was looking forward to watching them on this trip. Their common name is derived from several words and translates as “one who eats slender leaves.” Their scientific name comes from Greek and could be translated as “water pig,” although they have no relationship to pigs.

The female cocked her head slightly while the pup continued to doze. She looked remarkable sitting there, much like a giant guinea pig. Her long whiskers around her muzzle were probably highly sensitive. She could easily be a hundred pounds and a rodent at that. People laughed at me when I told them about my excitement to see this animal. “It’s a giant rat,” one person said. No, actually, not that closely related to a rat. Based on their feeding habits, they are more like a rodent version of a moose.

A capybara pub rests beside its mother on the river bank in the Pantanal of Brazil.
A Capybara pup sleeps beside its mother in the Pantanal of Brazil.

These semiaquatic mammals feed extensively in the water and graze in the savannas. On our first day out, we found several floating in a water hyacinth clump. They are good swimmers and regularly hang out in the water. Apparently, they are often social and live in groups with several adult males and even more adult females. Photographs showed a dozen to 20 along the wetland edges. But, so far, I’d not seen more than two adults at once.

Probably, this was a mother and child, but in this species, all the females in a group will help raise the young, and pups suckle from multiple females. It would be interesting to know if females in a group tend to be related: sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, mothers, grandmothers. These two looked tightly bonded. They reminded me of my daughter. She used to climb into my lap or her mother’s, and we would read to her. She lives in Australia now, an ocean away. We didn’t have relatives nearby when she was young and so never benefited from those family bonds to help raise her. She and her husband would have loved to be here with me.

Someone on our boat yelled, “Jaguar.” Only 30 yards away, a Jaguar had stuck its head out through the thick shrubbery and looked up the river. Neither Jaguar nor capybara had seen each other. According to Paulo, our Brazilian guide, jaguars in the Pantanal feed primarily on caimans, but a breakfast of capybara is not out of the question.

An instant later, the giant rodent gave a loud bark, and the mother and baby shot into the water. They swam around the bend, the female barking every few seconds, letting the world know a Jaguar was hunting.

A Jaguar sticks its head out of the vegetation along a river bank in the Pantanal of Brazil.
A Jaguar sticks its head out through the vegetation along a river in the Pantanal of Brazil.
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27
Mar 20

Olemut – The Giraffe

The Giraffe stood tall, gazing into the distance. She projected a sense of grace, elegance beyond what I expected. Her 16 feet was impressive. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Giraffe stood tall, gazing across the savanna. She projected a sense of grace, elegance beyond what I expected, and her 16 feet was impressive. Nairobi National Park, Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

The word “Olemut” came as a whisper from the front, like that uncontrolled response one has to the unexpected, so I whipped around instantly, for Robinson, our guide, had been spotting things all morning, and no doubt something lurked in the bush. He had brought us through the gates into Nairobi National Park four hours ago, and now my brain overflowed with new sightings, sounds, and smells of Africa. I held tight to the frame of the Landcruiser while I scanned the savanna as we inched along the dirt track.

There, a hundred yards away, was something that rose above the green bushes. With another shrub behind us, its head became visible, a giraffe. I’d seen giraffes in zoos, many a time. We used to take our preschool daughter to the Miami zoo for a Sunday stroll. She liked the animals and really liked the numerous playsets spread around the park. I’d get to spend an hour in the aviary, watching birds from distant continents. 

The Maasai giraffe chewed on leaves that it had just nibbled from the bush. The Maasai people call these mammals, Olemut. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Maasai people call these mammals, Olemut and this one chewed on leaves that it had just nibbled from the bush. Populations are still healthy in Kenya but roads and fences are limiting their ability to move through the savannas. (Thomas Bancroft)

This giraffe, though, had no caretaker, no one bringing it food twice a day, checking that it had water, my first wild one. My hands gripped the open roof, and I held my breath. Would it run or let us get closer? A Maasai Giraffe, one of four kinds found across Africa. These roam the savannas in southern Kenya and Tanzania.

The Reticulated Giraffe lives in Northern Kenya, and I might have a chance to see it when we visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy in a week. The Southern Giraffe is the most populace of the four and the Northern the least, with only 5,600 individuals still alive. Giraffes are threatened because of habitat loss and the fragmentation of their home ranges. To survive the weather patterns of East Africa, they must migrate to find food and water. Their ability to move has become more complicated with increased human populations, road networks, and fences.

The car bumped around a corner and stopped. There, she stood, magnificent, at least 16 feet tall, all grace and elegance. Perhaps, I could walk between her legs with hardly a duck. She towered over us and paid us no heed. Extremely long black hairs hung from her four-foot tail, and the pattern of brown and white created an intricate jigsaw puzzle across her body.

“A Red-billed Oxpecker is on her back,” I blurted. It sat just behind the giraffe’s mane, its red-eye, yellow eye-ring, and red-bill, made it look clown-like. I’d read about these birds but never seen one. The mutualistic relationship between mammal and bird is a classic example of co-evolution. Here it was, just there in front of my eyes. Oxpeckers carefully groom the fir of their host, picking ticks, mites, and parasites from the hide. Mammals will even let them work around their eyes and mouths. I hadn’t expected this bonus, a partnership to envy. 

The pattern of dark and light on a giraffe is as unique as a human finger print. It allows giraffies to be individually identified. (Thomas Bancroft)

The pattern of dark and light on a giraffe is as unique as a human fingerprint and allows giraffes to be individually identified by researchers in Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

As the giraffe turned around, I focused my binoculars on her coat. The patterns are unique to each individual, and I thought a black and white photograph might emphasize the intricacies of her design. She began to mosey toward some acacia. This species tongue is massive and resistant to thorns, and they can wrap it around twigs pulling the leaves out from among the spikes. Her long neck leaned over, carrying that enormous head with ease, and she began to nibble. As she moved, wrinkles started to form in her skin. Her neck must be half her height, and yet it has the same number of vertebrae as mine, seven.

Perhaps, right then, her 18-inch purple tongue was successfully grabbing some leaves, and I wished that we could be closer, so maybe I could have seen that feat. Some people say that giraffes galumph, but this animal appeared agile and beautiful. These mammals are capable of covering long distances on those legs, galloping endlessly to reach their destination. Here was something I had only dreamed that I might see, and she was exquisite.  Stunning might be the best word. 

Robinson let us linger, just watching her grace.

A girraffe has the same number of vertebrae in its neck as any other mammal. The seven vertebrae are longer than for most mammals and provide almost half the overall height of a giraffel. (Thomas Bancroft)

A giraffe has the same number of vertebrae in its neck as any other mammals, but the seven vertebrae are longer than for most mammals and provide almost half the overall height of a giraffe. This giraffe allowed us to watch it for a long time as we toured through Nairobi National Park in Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

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6
Mar 20

Vanishing into the Dark

The female Bushbuck peaked through the bushes, her face parially covered by leaves. Her ears were pricked forward to see if there was danger in Nairobi National Park. (Thomas Bancroft)

The female Bushbuck peaked through the bushes, her face partially covered by leaves. Her ears were pricked forward to see if there was danger in Nairobi National Park, Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

A hint of tan appeared between some leaves, and I trained my binoculars on the spot. There, peaking through, was the small head of an antelope. A dark black line ran up her face, running from her shiny nose to between two extra-large black eyes. The rest of her head was a light tan. Her two large ears pointed forward, directly at me, and her eyes seemed transfixed. This female Bushbuck was mostly hidden by the thick green vegetation. A little pink on her lips showed in the middle of her delicate white muzzle.  She was gorgeous and reminded me of a ballerina in suspended animation. I froze, hoping she might relax. 

Bushbucks are solitary, living in the thick brush where they selectively browse on leaves and twigs. She might well have a fawn tucked back in a secret spot. She will keep it hidden there for months before she allows it to accompany her on her daily rounds. In these cases, the mother regularly visits the fawn, allowing it to nurse and eating the fawn’s feces, so no scent is left. Leopards are probably her primary nemesis.  

The Bushbuck worked along the edge of a woodland in Nairobi National Park. She nibbled on leaves and grasses as she walked. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Bushbuck worked along the edge of the woodland in Nairobi National Park. She nibbled on leaves and grasses as she walked. These antelopes are solitary. (Thomas Bancroft)

After a few minutes, she seemed to ease, putting her head down to nibble on a leaf. Turning slowly, the antelope began to mosey to our left, gently revealing more of her exquisite body. Two white lines dotted her light brown cheek and a dark brown band wrapped around the base of her neck. A dozen or so white spots graced her tan flanks. With each movement of those legs, I sensed the power as well as the finesse they possessed. She, no doubt, could move like a ballerina, turning instantly on one hoof, dancing around shrubs, flying over obstacles, and vanishing into the dark of the woodlands.

Her right ear had a small tear; the left was perfect. Before preparing for this trip, I hadn’t known about this species. It is not one of the typical African antelopes, the impalas and gazelles, that movies show. The ones chased by the swift cheetah or that run with the herds of wildebeests and zebras. This one is retiring, wary, and hides back in wooded areas where it is often difficult to see. When she appeared, we’d just entered the woodland at the northern end of Nairobi National Park. I felt fortunate right then; I’d hoped we might find one but hadn’t had high expectations. 

The Bushbuck raised her head from feeding to look at where I stood in Nairobi National Park. Her long tongue came out to lick her lips. (Thomas Bancroft)

The Bushbuck raised her head from feeding to look at where I stood in Nairobi National Park. Her long tongue came out to lick her lips. This antelope held her body with grace. (Thomas Bancroft)

She turned her head toward me. Her long tongue wrapped out of her mouth and to the top of her nose. The heads of grass seeds swinging across her sides looked like delicate lace on a woman’s chest. I wondered what she’d look like if she ran and remembered watching white-tailed deer, their graceful leaps were astonishing as they dashed away from me on our farm in Pennsylvania. They’d hold their whitetail up as a flag for others to follow as they seemed to glide over hurdles. Their movements fluid, almost effortless.

The Bushbuck sauntered back into the darkness, fading away. Might she be going to check on her fawn? I stared for several more minutes, wondering if this had been real. 

Bushbucks are solitary and like woodland areas in Nairobi National Park and elsewhere in Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

Bushbucks are a solitary antelope. They like woodland areas in Nairobi National Park and elsewhere in Kenya. (Thomas Bancroft)

More photographs from Nairobi National Park are available here

 

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24
Jan 20

My First African Antelope

 (Thomas Bancroft)

The antelope appeared in the savanna just out from the dirt track. It was walking slowly to our right and didn’t seem to pay any attention to us staring at it. The Coke’s Hartebeest was tall, three-feet at its shoulders and walked in a confident manner. (Thomas Bancroft)

The sun was up but not showing through the clouds. The savanna in Nairobi National Park had taken on a soft green look, almost pastel in texture. It was 6:50 AM as we cruised slowly along a dirt track. Robinson, our guide, had raised the roof of his Landcruiser so we could stand and look in all directions. My hands gripped the sides while my binoculars and camera swung from my neck. With each bump, the car rocked to one side or the other, banging us back and forth. Then suddenly, something caught my eye, just a little way out in the grass stood an antelope. 

“Stop! Please! What’s that?” I yelled.

His breaking caused me to fall forward, but my grip held. “Hartebeest,” Robinson said.

 (Thomas Bancroft)

The Swahili name for this antelope is Kongoni. (Thomas Bancroft)

My binoculars came to my eyes, and my body pressed hard against the car’s side. This was my first sighting of an antelope in Africa. I’d expected it to be a gazelle or impala, but this was perfect. The Coke’s Hartebeest stood three-feet tall at the shoulders, bigger than either of those. The antelope held its head even higher. Two blackish horns rose between the ears, twisting out and forward before going backward. They weren’t long, less than a foot, but looked solid, thick at the base. The horns grew from a boney extension rising between the ears.

Their name is thought to have originated from an Afrikaans word that meant “deer beast.” Robinson added, “The Swahili name is Kongoni and generally just refers to this variety.” That name had popped up many times in Elspeth Huxley’s book on her childhood in Kenya. Taxonomists have described eight subspecies, and this one, Alcelaphus buselaphus cokiioccurs in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The shape of the horns varies between those taxa. This species had been prized for their meat by European settlers.

In recent decades, Coke’s Hartebeest numbers have fallen dramatically, and now about 40,000 survive in Kenya and Tanzania, mostly in protected areas. They are diurnal and feed on grasses and herbaceous vegetation. Usually, they occur in small herds, so I was surprised to see this one by itself.

 (Thomas Bancroft)

Their horns grow out of a boney knob on the top of their heads. Their muzzle is long and thin and their eyes protrude out from their heads. They have excellent eyesight and generally, one in a herd is always on the lookout for predators. (Thomas Bancroft)

The antelope started to walk toward us. Its face was long, coming down to a narrow muzzle. The coat a cinnamon brown, with light upper legs and dark lower ones, almost like it wore knee socks. The hartebeest strolled on long, thin legs that would be excellent for running. I looked back in the direction we’d come; not twenty minutes ago, we’d seen two very thin male lions in the middle of the road. They hunt these antelope, but this one was alert. Its ears went back and forth, attuned to any sound. Its eyes were big and prominent on the sides of its head. Every direction would be visible simultaneously. These mammals are probably very good at avoiding predation, and those horns would be a formidable weapon.

After halving the distance toward us, it turned and started to trout through the grass, disappearing in a second, and I wondered if it had spotted some of its comrades.  

 (Thomas Bancroft)

The Kongoni started to trot through the grass. It appeared intent on finding something. I wondered if it wanted to link back up with its group. (Thomas Bancroft)

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