Savannah

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
The African savannah is not appreciated enough - creating an awareness.

Submitted: November 21, 2016

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Submitted: November 21, 2016

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I like the h on the end of the word, h is for home and the savannah is the home of much wildlife! You are not allowed to walk freely in most National Parks, but outside the parks there is plenty of savannah and the same possible dangers exist, but you have to realise that whatever happens is on your own head. And there are risks. The tip given in the health manual provided to us was, ‘If a lion attacks you, don’t struggle and allow it to eat a limb, struggling usually excites it!’ But you don’t necessarily have to walk through the savannah to appreciate it and you can experience it from a vehicle on some of the main roads. I’m no Attenborough, but I share his interest in nature, I have no doubt he would describe savannah better, even differently, but still, count myself lucky to have experienced it in my way.

The most common trees in the savannah are Acacia trees and this is my first difficulty, I know most by botanical name and perhaps the Swahili name, but no so much the English, common name. However even the English names will mean little to the average reader. There are many species of Acacia and the one most known is the flat-topped ones that the giraffe feed on, but not exclusively. The obvious name for the tree is Umbrella thorn. Most African Acacias have thorns, and some of them ferocious! There are many trees species in the savannah, among them still remain the occasional African Blackwood, occasional because have nearly been wiped out because they are used for carvings sold as memorabilia to the tourists. Shh: Jacaranda is easily carved and the white wood accepts black shoe polish readily. And that’s good!

But wait, first impressions of the savannah is the background noise, it’s always there. It’s the cooing of the doves. There are a few species of Dove and it’s difficult to tell which is which and there are pigeons too to harmonize, but the sound is distinctly African. Quickly following the first impression is the heat, the dry heat. You can feel it drying the moisture in your nostrils! Mostly it is dry place, which gives way to the other impression, glare. Very often there is a haze, caused by the heat and also by smoke from cooking fires, but the dried grasses become yellow/brown, so although the sun’s glare is dulled by the haze, the reflected glare from the grasses makes unprotected eyes ache. There is also radiant heat rising from the soil.

Termite mounds stand out and are scattered throughout, usually red, some much taller than me. Termites mine out all the organic material from the soil so the remaining minerals dry like bricks in a kiln. The larger animals tend to sit in shade during the heat of the day and where there is enough soil moisture to support them there are the larger trees. The Baobab, who doesn’t like the Baobab, for most of the year is without foliage, which is why they say that God planted it upside down, with its roots sticking skyward. Fig Trees are a food source for monkeys and baboons and the smaller herbivores benefit from what falls or is knocked from the tree. Fruit and leaves from the Sausage Tree as well as its edible red flowers are another food supply and the hard, sausage-like fruit releases a juice that kept a little bit of cancer on my ear from needing the surgeon’s knife. The Fever Tree with its yellow bark is one of the larger Acacias and is an indicator of ground moisture. So-called, Fever Tree because medicine was concocted from its bark to combat symptoms of malaria but more reliable remedies are available these days.

The big flies that have a nasty habit of biting you are the Tsetse and they can even bite through your clothing! Tsetse are the carriers of sleeping sickness in humans and out in the savannah they are difficult to avoid. Insects are everywhere in the savannah with butterflies and moths being the most obvious because they are often spectacularly coloured and flap their wings but even a casual glance will reveal all the others. There are many species of grasshoppers, greens, brown and grey, the locust is one of them but not always in swarms. In seven years I saw just one huge swarm. There are the dung beetles and other colourful beetle-like bugs all busy sustaining life. It is mainly insects that support the bird population.

I sent a short video of the morning chorus, and received the reply, ‘Beautiful sunrise, but I don’t like birds!’ Well you can’t win ‘em all, and I know people have different phobia, but still I’m sad that some people don’t appreciate birds – I hope they don’t influence their children! But how can I effectively describe some of the savannah birds? Like so many apples hanging on a tree, Acacias are sometimes so adorned with grass bags dangling in thin threads, these are the nests of weaver birds. There are fifty or more species and the majority are yellow or at least have some yellow. The rarer Jackson’s Widowbird is a weaver but is black and has a tail that is at least twice as long as its body. The Superb Starling is about as big as a common starling but its head, back and wings are a glossy green or teal, it has a thin white band across its upper chest, chest to bum is orange and white around its bum. It is as it a child coloured it in a book.  

The biggest bird, other than the Ostrich, is the solitary Kori Bustard, which stands about a metre tall, they are usually alone and difficult to see because they are grey with a brownish back. They have stout running legs and I have never seen one fly. Another loner is the Secretary Bird, which is almost as tall as the Kori Bustard but much leaner. She, aren’t all secretaries she, is another grey bird with a black back and a Lone Ranger red/orange mask. Feathers sticking out the back of its head are a bit like Dennis the Menace’s hair. Its diet is snakes and other small reptiles.

By no means the last but enough is enough there is the chattering Guineafowl, Kanga in Swahili, gregarious and common, they are grey with white speckles and a blue head with red markings. They thrive in captivity and their eggs, while a bit smaller that household poultry, taste much the same.

Of course there are there are the mammals so Zebra and the antelopes may well pop up at any time, there is always danger that there are predators but big cats and hyenas are not as common as you might think. Baboons with their threatening teeth and red bums are quite common. My mate Mbise used to think the red bum was caused through sitting on hot rocks! And I read an account where Baboons attacked and killed a village person over a water dispute during dry times. The other common monkey is the Vervet, small, but with a human-like face and flamboyant blue testicles. They are pests in coffee plantations, stealing the ripening fruit, so boys are employed to throw stones at them! They can be aggressive little tykes, I took some kids to Lushoto where one Vervet male decided he wanted a drink from one of our Coca Cola bottles and I had to threaten him with a stick before he would let us pass.

The savannah is diverse and perhaps deserves a better description, but if this stimulates anyone to Google some of the wildlife or flora I have mentioned, my recommendation is the Lilac-breasted Roller, go on have a look.


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