Mini Migration

This morning on my stoep there was a bewilderbeast migration across the plains. In miniature.20180304_070449[1].jpg

As time passed they grew in numbers. They trudged across the barren surface seeking water and new grazing.

Which they found in the form of dog food and spilt cooldrink, Sambucca and the teenagers being their generous suppliers.

I flew over the cooldrink waterhole.


In these waterholes lurk mini-crocodiles, ready to pounce and have them some mini-wildebeast beef. Probably. I’m guessing.

Maybe I should set up a webcam?


stoep – veranda; patio

Sambucca – fierce guard Labrador; part-greyhound for a brief minute once a day when I get home; Here seen on her way to the gallows (or a hairbrush and de-ticking)

Sambucca to the gallows (3)

Tembe Elephant Park 2010

I looked for our last Tembe trip and found I hadn’t written about it, so here goes, a Tembe retrospective.

We hared off to the elephant park on the  Mocambican border with Jon and Dizzi Taylor. December 2010, so the kids had just turned 13 and 9.

Tembe ele bums-001

Aitch wasn’t well, but game as ever, she got fascinated by the close-up views we had of ele feet and ele bums and used the camera’s rapid-fire setting liberally. I made .gifs of her series of pics:

Our guide Vusi kept driving right up one ele’s bum and eventually it got agitated and turned round, to the kids’ consternation. It just shook its ears at him, but to this day – full knowing that I’ll insist ‘No it didn’t!’ – they’ll say “Remember when that elephant tried to kill us?”

Tembe ele approaches Tom   Tembe with Taylors Tom Ducks

Another kids’ meme that has survived the years is Jonathan leaning inwards as we passed thorny branches intruding onto the track. To this day whenever we drive past a branch Jessie will lean inwards against my shoulder and laugh, even though we’re in an enclosed vehicle!

Jessie, ever the champion spotter, pointed out this beautiful Vine or Twig Snake Thelotornis capensis on the path in camp.

Vine Snake Thembe

Tembe Elephant Park

On one drive we were able to compare a rare black rhino footprint with an unusual white wino foot:

Tembe with Taylors (1258)

Our last game drive was one too much for Aitch. She asked to be taken back to the Lodge and we finished the drive without her. Back pain from her cancer that had spread to her bones meant she reluctantly skipped a drive – something she would never normally do, so we knew it was sore! She had been a champ all along, full of good cheer, but this did turn out to be her last game drive.

Tembe Sunset

footnotes – what we learnt in 2018:

  1. Vusi is now camp manager. He gave a lo-o-ong speech before supper *yawn!*
  2. The painted dogs we saw in the boma were released but the project was not a success. They caught them and shipped them elsewhere. Then one bitch who had wandered off returned and gave birth to 15 pups! So Tembe has painted dogs in the boma again!


More Friendly Garden Snakes

Mostly small and all harmless. The snakes I have found in my garden over the last twelve years. The biggest were the skinny Spotted Bush Snake and the skinny Brown Water Snake at about 40cm; Down to the Black-headed Centipede Eater at about 12cm and the tiny Thread or Worm snake. The only one with real venom was the tiny little Stiletto Snake I wrote about earlier.

The Brown House Snake above was ID’d by Nick Evans our favourite herpetologist. He’ll squeeze mice and swallow them. The snake, not Nick. This one was about 20cm long. He’ll need to seek out baby mice, I’d think.

A Red-lipped Herald (named after the Port Elizabeth newspaper The Herald); He’s tiny – check his size against a credit card! He eats frogs at night. One lives under our outside scullery sink, where some Guttural Toads live. They’re much bigger than him so he better watch out. The one old toad sometimes sits in the outlet pipe so his lies are amplified as he serenades potential mates. He lets the water wash over him, but sometimes it’s hot water and he leaps out of the pipe with an indignant grunt-squeak and a scalded cloaca.

Herald snake_2
Saw this little guy today 27 Feb 2018

A Black-headed Centipede Eater on an A5-size snake book. Mildly venomous but harmless, he’s only a danger to centipedes.

Little snake in pool 16 Dec 2006 - black-headed centipede eater!

We see the “big” beautiful slender and harmless green Spotted Bush Snake most often, so its weird I have no pics of him – I spose cos he’s very nervous and quick. He eats lizards and tree frogs. This Brown Water snake on the patio was spotted by Jess as we came home one night. He’ll eat frogs, fish, mice and nestling birds. No poison, he’s a constrictor. Swims really fast. Much feared by the Zulus in KwaZulu Natal who call him iVuzamanzi and through long generations of folklore believe him to be very dangerous. He’s entirely harmless. Here’s a thought: How do you constrict a fish?

Little Common Brown Water Snake (on 600mm tile)

And a gorgeous little Rhombic Night Adder. That’s the bottom of an HTH bucket, so he’s only about 10cm long. Mildly venomous, but harmless to us, he eats tadpoles while he’s little. One day he’ll eat frogs and toads which he smells out at night.

Night Adder

And a tiny little Worm or Thread snake. Not that much thicker than pencil lead, he eats termites:

Herald snake; Thread snake

Tembe Elephant Park

Yes, said TomTom, he’d join us! YAY! So we head back to Tembe Ele Park after nine years.

It rained and the sun shone and we had grey skies and then it rained hard. We ate well, drank a bit, got wet and had a lot of fun. Jess had a little wobbly when this tusker approached the vehicle, but he was chilled and just ambled past us.

Tembe Ele Park-002

There was no wifi, but Tom simply set up my phone as a hotspot and ate my data, his problem solved.

Tembe Ele Park-001

Tembe Ele Park-003

Tembe Ele Park Feb2018 (250).jpg
There’s a webcam here: See

We had a lovely time and I do believe I’ll get Tom out to a wild area again. I’ll not rush it though, I’ll bide my time.

Tembe Ele Park Map Brochure.jpg




Ignorance is Bliss

snake for nick ID (2)

Found this tiny snake in my pool weir. Immediately set off to find my net – I have a dark little net they often just crawl into for refuge, making catching them easy. I very seldom handle a snake. Besides caution I really don’t want to injure them. Also I suspected this one may have been injured. Dropped into the pool by a kingfisher maybe, I was thinking.

But frustration and disorganisation – I couldn’t find my net or anything else to scoop it up with, and the bowl I wanted to use to take pictures in didn’t fit into the weir. So – convinced it was some kind of worm snake – I reached in and lifted it gently and placed it in the bowl.

Took pics and sent them to Nick Evans, Westville’s herpetologist extraordinaire.Nick_and_Stiletto[1]

Ooh!  Confession time: Actually Nick, I did handle it!

So then he sent this:

Nick_n_Stiletto_bite[1]Weirdly, I had read up on the stiletto snake this very week and noted that “This snake cannot be held safely and you will, in all likelihood, get bitten if you attempt to hold one.”

But at average length 40cm and the fact that the stiletto “is an irascible snake that bites readily” and my little snake was so docile, I “knew” my snake was harmless!

Lesson learnt!

Stiletto snake Marais

Here can be seen how the stiletto snake can bend its neck and how a tiny side-swipe could allow a fang to prick you. Thanks Johan Marais (see his site).

Stiletto snake Marais_fangs


postscript: When Tommy read this he said, grinning: “Very caucasian to be handling a venomous snake, Dad, very caucasian”.

How the Venomous, Egg-Laying, Duck-billed Platypus Evolved

This odd Australian mammal looks like a duck wearing a fur coat. Many other descriptions could be – and have been – made. People from the northern hemisphere might say it looks like a beaver trick-or-treating with a clumsily stuck-on fake duck bill.

Famous also for laying eggs, the playtpus flummoxed clever men back in 1799 when the first dead and preserved one was brought to Europe. They confidently pronounced it a fake, made of several animals sewn together.

Mammal-like reptiles diverged from the lineage they shared with birds and reptiles about 280 million years ago. Around 80 million years later, the monotremes—or egg-laying mammals—split off from the mammalian lineage, says Rebecca Young, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin. All that remains of that branch of the family tree is the platypus and four species of echidna.

This split happened before the evolution of the placenta, so in that sense they are somewhere between a lizard and a placental mammal retaining some reptilian and mammalian features, according to Young.

Although the platypus lays eggs, unlike a mammal, like a mammal it suckles its young on milk, but the platypus’ milk seeps through pores in its abdomen, not through teats as in all other mammals. Another incredible adaptation is how they forage for food. Platypuses close their eyes, ears, and noses underwater and find prey by sensing electric currents with their duck-like bills. These bottom feeders scoop up insects, larvae, shellfish, and worms in their bill along with bits of gravel and mud. Platypuses do not have teeth, so the bits of gravel help them to “chew” their meal.

They also very unusually for mammals, and more like their reptilian ancestors have venom! And their venom is located in a spur in the males’ heels—a unique method of delivery among venomous creatures. Platypus venom contains genes that resemble the venom genes of other animals, including snakes, starfish, and spiders. It’s real venom, with 83 toxins and is likely an example of convergent evolution, in which unrelated species evolve similar traits.

We will learn more about platypus evolution as time and research goes on. The elements of mutations and adaptations and randomness determine how we acquire things over time, and it’s fascinating to try and work out the puzzle, like scientific detectives.



Thanks Liz LangleyNational Geographic

Wes Warren of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis led the 2008 study that found that the platypus has a “fascinating combination of reptilian and mammalian characters.”

Related: “Platypus Genome Reveals Secrets of Mammalian Evolution

Meals On Wings

Flying ants! An alate emergence as we toffs call it. Whattapleasure.

The birds and frogs went crazy. A golden mole must have got carried away too as we found him swimming in the pool this morning, poor fella. Jessie scooped him out and he was soon burrowing his way under the grass.


Hottentot golden moles eat worms, insect larvae, crickets, snails, slugs, and spiders. The moist environment and dew provide them with the amount of water that is needed. They’re cute, without the huge teeth of mole rats:
Golden mole
Top pic shows how a few of the new infrequent fliers found their way in to Jessie’s bath water!