Young vervet monkeys are born mainly from October to January after a gestation period of 140 days. Vervets emit distinct alarm barks for different predators, and young monkeys are taught to recognise these warning signals and run for cover. As they share the riverine forest with a host of birds, including one of their major predators – the crowned eagle – young monkeys must quickly learn to distinguish between dangerous and harmless birds.
Although they occur throughout Kruger, vervet monkeys show a distinct preference for riverine bush. Vervets are gregarious animals and are normally found in troops numbering up to 20 individuals. They feed in the tree canopy and on the ground, eating a wide variety of plant material including flowers, fruit, berries, roots and leaves.
A horned baboon spider photographed in sandveld habitat in Kruger’s far north. The baboon spider derives its name from a dense covering of hair that supposedly resembles the coat of a baboon. They are not web-builders, instead relying on speed and agility to catch prey. They dig tunnels in the ground where they rest and care for their young.
Safe within the protection afforded by a troop, a baboon finds time to doze for a few minutes. Within the troop vulnerable members are protected from predators by the dominant males. The close associations formed between members are important for ensuring co-operation in locating sufficient food.
Baboons feed and rest in trees, but they are primarily ground-dwellers and the troop spends much of the day searching for food within a few kilometres of a favourite sleeping site, which is usually a steep cliff or a large tree.
Baboons give birth to a single infant and are attentive parents. The infant is dependent on the mother for milk for six to eight months. Within the troop, all females are related, and bonds between them are strong. When the mother retreats into dense vegetation to give birth, the other females often gather to watch the event. Other members of the troop enjoy spending time carrying, grooming and playing with the babies.
A young baboon tests a handful of roots for palatability. Baboons are born after a gestation period of six months, and are carefully cared for by their mothers. Although other females in the troop like to play with the infant, the mother will only allow them to hold it once it has learned to walk. When an adult male is threatened by dominant males, he will often grab an infant from any female in the troop, which successfully foils the attack.
A baboon combs its fur in search of ticks and fleas. In baboon troops this activity is usually performed by other individuals. Apart from keeping the fur free of ticks and fleas, the daily pattern of grooming is vital for the effective functioning of a troop as it maintains the bonds formed between members. Female baboons form alliances, but will also depend on male allies, which they recruit through grooming.
Hippo are sensitive to sunburn and spend much of the day resting in water. After dark they travel up to 20 kilometres from water, eating up to 130 kilograms of grass in one night. When they submerge, special muscles prevent water from entering their nostrils and ear passages.
A hippo in the Sabie River displays the fearsome incisors that can inflict serious wounds during territorial contests. Hippo favour deep pools of slow-moving water, and along the Sabie River there are several well-known pools that they have occupied for many years.
About 2 300 hippo inhabit Kruger’s rivers, with the majority of the population sheltering in the Sabie, Olifants and Letaba. Water extraction outside the Park’s borders has reduced the flow of the Letaba and Luvuvhu, and these rivers are no longer perennial. In order to guarantee a reliable water supply for wildlife, 65 large dams have been built, creating perfect habitats for hippo.
Alert to potential danger, a Burchell’s zebra crosses a water course. During the drier winter months zebra usually congregate within seven kilometres of permanent water. As lion are often concealed in dense bush near water holes, zebra approach cautiously to drink.
Zebra are dependent on water and visit water holes about every 35 hours during winter. Where artificial water holes have been established, zebra herds have increased to the detriment of the rare sable and roan antelope.
As zebra prefer grass of a medium height, they were hardly affected by the severe drought of 1992/1993. Because the zebra’s digestive system processes grass faster than the chambered stomach of a ruminant – an animal that chews the cud – they can feed on grasses that are poor in nutrition, while rows of incisor teeth allow them to crop short grasses.
An estimated 29 000 zebra are found in Kruger Park, with the highest concentrations occurring on the grassy plains of the Central Region.
Warthogs lack a thick coat of hair and have little body fat, and are therefore susceptible to cold and wet weather. Similarly, during hot summer months they are poorly protected against the scorching sun. By wallowing in mud they are able to reduce their body temperature by as much as 7şC, and mud packs also help to protect their skin from biting insects. After wallowing in mud, a convenient tree stump always serves as a rubbing post and helps locate itchy spots missed by the mud.
As night approaches, a warthog descends into a burrow. Warthogs are active during daylight hours, and underground burrows provide protection at night from both cold and predators. Although a pack of wild dog were raising pups in a den adjacent to this one, these predators made no attempt to catch the warthogs and instead tried – unsuccessfully – to chase them away from the site.
Water leguaan (monitors) forage in rivers for crabs, mussels, frogs, fish, fledgling birds and crocodile eggs. The female digs a nest in an active termite mound, where, aided by the constant temperature and humidity, the eggs develop. The following summer, the young lizards dig their way out and head for the nearest water, where they feed on insects and small frogs.
The bushpig is a secretive animal associated with reedbeds and dense forest. They are seldom seen, and were thought to occur only along the Luvuvhu River and in restricted localities along the Olifants River. In Percy FitzPatrick’s book Jock of the Bushveld, set in 1885, bushpig are recorded in the present-day Southern Region, and this individual was recently photographed on the Mbyamiti River near Biyamiti Bushveld Camp.
The dwarf mongoose weighs just 300 grams and spends around five hours a day on average searching for insects, spiders and rodents. The remainder of the day is devoted to sleeping at a den in an old termite mound, or grooming other members of the band.
A large stick insect, measuring 16 centimetres in length, raises a protective umbrella-like wing to frighten off any potential predator. Stick insects are masters of
camouflage, blending in colour and shape with their favoured habitat of trees and plants. They will even pretend to sway in the wind, the better to convincingly imitate the branch of a tree.
The tree squirrel, particularly common in dry woodland, builds a nest in a hole in a tree. The nest is lined with dry leaves, and a squirrel family shares the same nest and rests together in it during the hottest times of the day.
By Nigel Dennis & Michael Brett.