Lightning kills elephants + Monkey-guineafowl alliance + Zulu bird list + Bee magnet
Baby elephant rescued after lightning kills herd
A tiny 10-day-old elephant, orphaned after his herd was apparently killed by a bolt of lightning, has been rescued near Victoria Falls.
Credit is being given to officials from the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ) for rescuing the elephant from Christmas Day party-goers at a bar in the Lupinyu Business Centre, into which he had wandered.
The party-goers were videoed taunting the terrified animal before his rescue.
The calf “was in danger of being killed in the community,” the FCZ said in a statement.
It is assumed the baby was the sole survivor of a lightning strike that killed his family in the nearby Fuller Forest: the bodies of six other elephants were found in the forest – also on Christmas Day – by members of the FCZ’s Forest Protection Unit.
The dead elephants’ tusks were still intact, which the authorities say rules out poaching as a cause of death.
Lightning is known to occasionally kill large herds of animals — including livestock — in Zimbabwe.
Last month 18 cattle were killed by a bolt of lightning in Chireya Village, in the Midlands Province.
After being stabilized, the baby elephant was flown safely from Victoria Falls to an elephant orphanage in the capital Harare.
Crested guineafowl eavesdrop on samango monkeys
Guineafowl are chicken-like birds, and the crested guineafowl is a striking species with its polka-dot feathers, bright red eyes, and curly black topknot.
These birds, which dwell along forest edges in parts of southern Africa, have found a useful ally in another forest-dwelling species – samango monkeys, according to a new study.
Samangos feed in the canopies of evergreen trees like those in South Africa’s Soutpansberg Mountain Range, where the study was conducted.
Typically the monkeys drop bits of fruit down onto the ground, providing a feast for the ground-dwelling guineafowl. But that’s not the only benefit the birds receive. They appear to rely on the monkeys as lookouts.
Samango monkeys are vulnerable to attacks from the same predators as the guineafowl, including leopards, snakes and eagles.
According to the study, which involved hours of surveys, flocks of crested guineafowl engaged in less sentinel behaviour when in the presence of the monkeys, who had a better view from the tree canopy.
“It was observed multiple times that the birds responded to the alarm calls of nearby samango monkeys,” the study notes, adding that the birds “may experience a reduced predation risk when in association with samango monkeys.”
The authors state that more research is needed to discover what potential benefits the association has for the monkeys.
A crested guineafowl in Mkuze Game Reserve, South Africa. Pic credit: eboy, Wikimedia Commons
Full list of South Africa’s birds produced in main ethnic language
Conservation group BirdLife South Africa has produced its first definitive checklist of South African birds in isiZulu, the country’s main ethnic language spoken by around a quarter of the population.
Why wasn’t this done before?
Well, around 350 of South Africa's 850 or so species had no names at all in isiZulu.
Some only possessed names at the group level. For instance, all eagles were known collectively as ukhozi. Seabirds too were mostly nameless. A trip last year to Marion Island, a South African territory halfway between Cape Town and Antarctica, proved helpful.
Some members of the naming committee were on that trip and it inspired them to come up with brand new seabird names.
For example, the Kerguelen tern that breeds on Marion Island was given the name insukakude yaseMarion. Coming up with a full list took years of study, consultation and workshops. But it was worth it.
Nandi Thobela, BirdLife South Africa’s Empowering People Programme Manager, runs environmental awareness programmes for children in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
“Before now, a lack of vernacular names was a serious language barrier for isiZulu speakers wanting to get involved in anything related to birds, whether that is casual birdwatching, environmental education, conservation, or academic study,” she said in a statement.
Having Zulu birds names “will change the narrative around birds for Zulu speakers forever,” she said.
Nature Notes: A magnet for bees and birds
Each year a tree in our Harare garden erupts in eye-catching clouds of ivory white blossoms. Lacewing beetles hover around the flowers, and bees visit them in such great numbers that it sounds like a swarm flying overhead.
At first glance the tree resembles an African olive.
In fact the person who planted it in our garden long ago must have known that: he/she planted it right next to an African olive.
The profusely flowering tree is in fact a False olive. In Zimbabwe it is known as the Olive buddleja or Olive sagewood.
The little cavities in the twisted trunk are home to spiders’ nests. Insectivorous birds love it. Bar-throated apalises, paradise flycatchers and, at this time of the year, willow warblers from Europe, can be heard often in its branches.
My 1977 edition of Trees of Southern Africa has a small dark splodge marking the spot in the Matopos Hills, far to the south, which is the only place in Zimbabwe where the Olive buddleja occurs naturally.
I feel grateful to have one growing in my garden.
Flowers of the Olive Buddleja. Pic credit: Ryan Truscott