EnviroQuest

Photography by Larry A Lyons

Posts by larryalyons

The Cheetah

Previous posts about the wildlife of South Africa focused on “The Big Five” animals and “Everyday Faces” .  This post will focus on an exquisitely beautiful cat, the cheetah. Cheetahs are best described as graceful and elegant.

'Cheetah Profile' © Larry A Lyons

‘Cheetah Profile’ © Larry A Lyons

All of these cheetah images were captured while volunteering for the African Impact organization at the Thanda Game Reserve in South Africa from mid-September through October 2012. During this period the Thanda Reserve had two adult males and one female. A second female was introduced on October 28th.

Distinguishing features of the cheetah are the tan and spotted fur, a small head, sleek frame with deep chest and narrow waist, and a long tail.

'Elegance' © Larry A Lyons

‘Elegance’ © Larry A Lyons

The small head has high-set eyes, large nostrils and black tear marks that extend from the corners of its eyes to its mouth. These tear marks aid in keeping sunlight out of their eyes that is advantageous when hunting and seeing long distances.

'Cheetah Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Cheetah Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal with speeds as fast as 60 to 70 miles per hour (112 km/hr).  They have the ability to accelerate for short distances obtaining speeds of 62 mph in 3 seconds. It is suited for short bursts, but not long distance running. It is amazing to think that these cheetahs strolling along here could in the next three seconds be moving at such high speeds.

'Out For A Stroll' © Larry A Lyons

‘Out For A Stroll’ © Larry A Lyons

These two cheetahs are brothers and were constant companions at the reserve. Male cheetahs are often social and will often be seen living together.

'Brotherly Love' © Larry A Lyons

‘Brotherly Love’ © Larry A Lyons

The males are quite territorial.  They will attempt to kill any intruders.

'Grooming Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Grooming Time’ © Larry A Lyons

Females, on the other hand, are solitary and tend to avoid each other. Females do not establish territories and tend to have large home ranges. This female cheetah was introduced to the Thanda Reserve in July 2012. It was fitted with a collar to keep track of its whereabouts.

'Stealth' © Larry A Lyons

‘Stealth’ © Larry A Lyons

Cheetahs are often found in open savannah and rely on tall grasses for camouflage when hunting. The tan and spotted fur provides good camouflage while hunting.  The cheetah gets as close to the prey as possible and then with a burst of speed springs after the prey.

'On The Prowl' © Larry A Lyons

‘On The Prowl’ © Larry A Lyons

Cheetahs are carnivores that will hunt impalas, gazelles, hares, and the calves of wildebeests or zebras. When cheetahs hunt in groups, they can also bring down adult wildebeests and zebras. While other cats like the lion and leopard tend to hunt at night, the cheetah will hunt in early morning or later in the evening when it is not so hot.

'Cheetahs Prancing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Cheetahs Prancing’ © Larry A Lyons

Cheetahs are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list as vulnerable species. It is estimated that only between 9,000 and 12,000 cheetahs remain wild in twenty-five African countries.

'Save The Cheetah' © Larry A Lyons

‘Save The Cheetah’ © Larry A Lyons

Update: A second female cheetah was acquired by the Thanda Game Reserve at the end of October 2012 in the hopes that mating would succeed with the two brothers. In December 2012, the two brothers were seen courting the new female. The cheetah has a gestation period of about 90 days. Four cubs were born in March 2013.

Cheetahs are difficult to successfully breed at zoos or in captivity. The cheetah thrives best in vast expanses of land where prey is readily available. The immense importance of conserving habitat like the Thanda Game Reserve is critical for protecting wildlife.

Everyday Faces of South Africa

Like seeing squirrels or rabbits in our backyards, the wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, impalas and warthogs were common everyday faces observed at the Thanda Game Reserve. They help depict the diversity of life on the African prairie. All five of these species are herbivores and also become an important food source for lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetahs and hyenas.

All of these images were captured in South Africa at the Thanda Game Reserve while volunteering for six weeks with the African Impact Organization (www.africanimpact.com) in September through October 2012.

'Everyday Faces of South Africa' © Larry A Lyons

‘Everyday Faces of South Africa’ © Larry A Lyons

The wildebeest is an antelope, but it looks like part buffalo, part horse, and part antelope. They are primarily grazers with grasses being their predominant choice.

'Wildebeest Profile I' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Profile I’ © Larry A Lyons

'Wildebeest Profile II' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Profile II’ © Larry A Lyons

'Wildebeest Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

At the Thanda Game Reserve, the wildebeests are often seen in small herds of about eight to ten cows.

'Small Wildebeest Herd' © Larry A Lyons

‘Small Wildebeest Herd’ © Larry A Lyons

Time for a dust bath says this wildebeest.

'Got An Itch' © Larry A Lyons

‘Got An Itch’ © Larry A Lyons

Wildebeests can spend one-third of their day grazing with the remainder roaming about or taking a rest.

'Taking A Break' © Larry A Lyons

‘Taking A Break’ © Larry A Lyons

Wildebeest predators include lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas. Everything is recycled on the African savanna.

'Yesterday's Dinner' © Larry A Lyons

‘Yesterday’s Dinner’ © Larry A Lyons

Wildebeest prefer to stay close to water. They cannot go without water for more than a few days, particularly during dry seasons.

'Drink Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Drink Time’ © Larry A Lyons

The giraffe, the tallest in the animal kingdom reaching heights of 18 feet (5.5 m), is just simply a gentle giant.  Often observed on the reserve’s roadways, it is, of course, given the ‘right of way’.

'Right of Way' © Larry A Lyons

‘Right of Way’ © Larry A Lyons

Giraffes are social with other animals (zebras, wildebeest, impalas). Their size allows them to overlook the landscape for predators and provide an early warning for all.

'Size Matters' © Larry A Lyons

‘Size Matters’ © Larry A Lyons

Because of their long necks, giraffes can feed on foliage from trees and shrubs that would not be accessible to other herbivores. The principal food source at the Thanda Reserve is the leaves of the Acacia tree with its long spikes.

'Feeding Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Feeding Time’ © Larry A Lyons

The giraffe has a long prehensile tongue that is able to pull branches even with these long spikes into their mouth and then strip the leaves off the branches with their teeth.

'Tongue Envy' © Larry A Lyons

‘Tongue Envy’ © Larry A Lyons

This baby giraffe is less than one month old and already stands six feet tall. Baby giraffes will drink milk from their mother during the first few months. After that time, the babies will begin eating leaves. If the baby cannot reach trees with leaves, mothers will pull leaves off and feed them to the babies.

'Staying Close to Mother' © Larry A Lyons

‘Staying Close to Mother’ © Larry A Lyons

Baby giraffes will gain most of their height and weight during the first three years of life. Giraffes are considered fully mature at four years of age.

'Frolicking Youth' © Larry A Lyons

‘Frolicking Youth’ © Larry A Lyons

'Young Giraffe Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Young Giraffe Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Usually the giraffe calves are more vulnerable to predation by lions, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas. However, this adult giraffe became the feast of a lion pride from the previous evening.

'A Lion Feast' © Larry A Lyons

‘A Lion Feast’ © Larry A Lyons

Here is a yellow-bellied oxipecker clearing the ticks off of a giraffe.

'Personal Tick Remover' © Larry A Lyons

‘Personal Tick Remover’ © Larry A Lyons

One of the most wonderful encounters is when you can meet-up with male giraffes while they are engaged in necking. Necking is a ritual in which male giraffes are establishing dominance with their necks swaying and touching each other. You think of “Fantasia” while watching these encounters.

'Fantasia I' @ Larry A Lyons

‘Fantasia I’ @ Larry A Lyons

There is almost absolute silence when this necking is occurring and then they just seem to gently make-up.

'Necking' @ Larry A Lyons

‘Necking’ @ Larry A Lyons

The zebra belongs to the horse family. Zebras are sociable animals and are often seen with other herbivores, like giraffes, wildebeests and impalas.

'Zebra Profile' © Larry A Lyons

‘Zebra Profile’ © Larry A Lyons

Zebras live in small family units, called harems, led by a stallion.

'Harem' © Larry A Lyons

‘Harem’ © Larry A Lyons

Stallions disputing over dominance of the harem.

'Stallion Dispute' © Larry A Lyons

‘Stallion Dispute’ © Larry A Lyons

Each zebra has its own striking pattern of stripes. They are like the fingerprints of humans. Members of a family supposedly can recognize each other by their patterns. The stripes provide good camouflage, particularly from a distance, from predators.

'Zebra Patterns' © Larry A Lyons

‘Zebra Patterns’ © Larry A Lyons

'Zebra Patterns II' © Larry A Lyons

‘Zebra Patterns II’ © Larry A Lyons

Zebras are prey to lions and hyenas. This zebra has a visible scar on its neck. The scar is its’ “badge of courage” from escaping a lion attack.

'Badge of Courage' © Larry A Lyons

‘Badge of Courage’ © Larry A Lyons

The greatest threat to the zebra is habitat loss from farming and ranching, as well as, competition for water with livestock. Game reserves, like Thanda, provide an important refuge for their livelihood.

'Young Zebra' © Larry A Lyons

‘Young Zebra’ © Larry A Lyons

Beauty only a mother can appreciate. The warthog is a wild member of the pig family.

'Oh So Pretty' © Larry A Lyons

‘Oh So Pretty’ © Larry A Lyons

'Proud To Be A Warthog' © Larry A Lyons

‘Proud To Be A Warthog’ © Larry A Lyons

Male Warthogs have two large pairs of warts that are situated below the eyes and between the eyes and the tusks. The female warthog has one pair of warts below the eyes. Two pairs of peculiar looking tusks protrude from its mouth. The tusks are used for digging, combat between each other, and defense.

'My Better Side' © Larry A Lyons

‘My Better Side’ © Larry A Lyons

At the Thanda Reserve, warthogs can never be missed since they are commonly seen browsing within the camp.

'Warthog Gathering' © Larry A Lyons

‘Warthog Gathering’ © Larry A Lyons

This warthog was observed exiting a tunnel during a night safari drive.

'Spelunking' © Larry A Lyons

‘Spelunking’ © Larry A Lyons

Predators of the warthog are humans, lions, leopards, crocodiles and hyenas. The warthog’s primary defense is to quickly sprint from the scene.

'Sprinting' © Larry A Lyons

‘Sprinting’ © Larry A Lyons

Impalas are one of the most common antelopes in South Africa. Male impalas are quite distinct with their graceful lyre-shaped horns.

'Proud Impala' © Larry A Lyons

‘Proud Impala’ © Larry A Lyons

Female impalas look like the males without the horns.

'Female Impala' © Larry A Lyons

‘Female Impala’ © Larry A Lyons

Impalas graze on grasses and shrubbery.

'Impala Grazing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Impala Grazing’ © Larry A Lyons

Male impalas become quite territorial shepherding females about their land. These dueling males are displaying a common ritual over maintaining dominance of the herd of females.

'Dueling Impalas' © Larry A Lyons

‘Dueling Impalas’ © Larry A Lyons

'Herd of Female Impalas' © Larry A Lyons

‘Herd of Female Impalas’ © Larry A Lyons

Most large carnivores will prey upon impalas. They are always on the alert and will snort an alarm when there is danger. The whole herd will scatter.

'Alarmed' © Larry A Lyons

‘Alarmed’ © Larry A Lyons

Impalas have a distinct scent gland that is covered with tufts of black hair on the back of their hind legs. The scent gland releases signals that aids in keeping the herd together particularly when they are rapidly running away from a predator.

'Rams Dueling' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rams Dueling’ © Larry A Lyons

So were you able to imagine these “Everyday Faces” roaming in your backyard. There is nothing like a wildlife experience in Africa.

There will be forthcoming posts on South Africa and the Thanda Game Reserve. So stay tuned.

The Big Five of South Africa

“The Big Five” animals of South Africa are the elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo and lion.  The term “Big Five” game was a term derived by hunters designating the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt. The impressive conservation practices and extensive national and private reserves in South Africa has significantly aided in protecting the survival of these animals. However, poaching of rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks continues to be a significant problem for the survival of these species.

All of these images were captured in South Africa at the Thanda Game Reserve or nearby reserves while volunteering for six weeks with the African Impact Organization (www.africanimpact.com) in September through October 2012.

The Big Five of South Africa  © Larry A Lyons

The Big Five of South Africa © Larry A Lyons

This family portrait of a baby, young teenager and two adult female elephants was photographed from a boat when a herd of 50 or more elephants gathered at the lake for a drink and bath. Herds of elephants are made-up of related females and their young. Male elephants usually leave the herd when reaching adolescence forming bachelor herds. Later, the adult male elephants lead a solitary life.

'Family Portrait II'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Family Portrait II’ © Larry A Lyons

Calves are the primary focus of the family unit and are cared for by their mothers during at least their first three years.

'Family Portrait III'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Family Portrait III’ © Larry A Lyons

These dueling male elephants were photographed from a boat with a long lens. Male African bush elephants weigh up to 12,000 pounds and have periods of extreme aggression not only between each other, but anything that comes across its path. Here the two bulls are fighting for dominance. Besides fighting, tusks are also used for marking, feeding, and digging.

Poaching of the tusks for the ivory trade is one of the greatest threats to the elephant populations.

'Dueling Elephants' © Larry A Lyons

‘Dueling Elephants’ © Larry A Lyons

The elephant’s trunk has many functions including breathing, feeding, smelling, touching, grasping, producing sound, drinking and bathing.

'Bath Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Bath Time’ © Larry A Lyons

Elephants are herbivores and will consume leaves, fruit, twigs, bark and roots. They also will consume up to 11 gallons (40 liters) of water each day.

'Thirsty'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Thirsty’ © Larry A Lyons

Elephants prefer to stay near water.

'Wait For Me' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wait For Me’ © Larry A Lyons

Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. This bull elephant has a crust of bark on its forehead probably from recently mowing down a tree for consumption.

'The Big One'  © Larry A Lyons

‘The Big One’ © Larry A Lyons

The leopard is the most secretive and elusive of the large carnivore cats. They are basically solitary and go out of their way to avoid one another. Leopards are primarily nocturnal and their spotted coat provides almost perfect camouflage. They move about their home ranges and seldom stay in an area for more than two or three days. Subsequently, leopard sightings tend to be rare. While at the Thanda reserve, the opportunity to see a leopard on three different occasions was most fortunate.

'Leopard Posing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Leopard Posing’ © Larry A Lyons

'Leopard Portrait I' © Larry A Lyons

‘Leopard Portrait I’ © Larry A Lyons

'Seated Leopard' © Larry A Lyons

‘Seated Leopard’ © Larry A Lyons

Leopards are opportunistic hunters that will consume a wide variety of animals including antelopes, monkeys, foxes, jackals, rodents, amphibians, and birds. The leopard’s stealth, rapid speed, and strength to drag their prey up into a tree provide a forbidding predator.

'Leopard Prowling' © Larry A Lyons

‘Leopard Prowling’ © Larry A Lyons

Leopard is a stunning beautiful animal.

'Pensive Leopard' © Larry A Lyons

‘Pensive Leopard’ © Larry A Lyons

Lions are the only cats that live in groups called prides. Lions once roamed most of Africa, but today they are only found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Two prides co-exist at the Thanda Reserve. It is the through the conservation efforts of South Africa and private reserves like Thanda that make it possible for lion prides to roam free.

This young adult male with its mane still growing in and the two females perched in the tree belong to the North pride. Male lions defend the pride’s territory while females are the pride’s primary hunters.

'Born Free" © Larry A Lyons

‘Born Free” © Larry A Lyons

This female lioness is staking some high ground to keep vigilance over the savanna. Female lions, being the pride’s primary hunters, often work together to prey upon wildebeest, antelopes, zebra and other large animals of the open grasslands. Many of these animals are faster than lions, so teamwork pays off.

'Eyeing You" © Larry A Lyons

‘Eyeing You” © Larry A Lyons

The roaring sound of these lions when mating was quite intense. The rolling eyes and their display of teeth further imply that nothing interrupts this activity.  This image was captured from a safari jeep at a distance of 20 feet.

'Savannah Love' © Larry A Lyons

‘Savannah Love’ © Larry A Lyons

These cubs were about one month old.

"Family Reflection" © Larry A Lyons

“Family Reflection” © Larry A Lyons

Lions within a pride are quite affectionate and attentive between themselves and their cubs.

'Quality Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Quality Time’ © Larry A Lyons

'Mother and Cub' © Larry A Lyons

‘Mother and Cub’ © Larry A Lyons

'Ferocious' © Larry A Lyons

‘Ferocious’ © Larry A Lyons

Hunting is often a nocturnal event. Here a team of female lions stalked and ambushed this wildebeest.

'Wildebeest Kill' © Larry A Lyons

‘Wildebeest Kill’ © Larry A Lyons

Everything is recycled on the African savanna. Here are the remains of that wildebeest.

'Yesterday's Dinner' © Larry A Lyons

‘Yesterday’s Dinner’ © Larry A Lyons

Lion populations have been reduced to 21,000 in all of Africa and are now only found in parts of the south Sahara desert and parts of eastern and southern Africa. Reserves, like the Thanda Game Reserve, are crucial for their survival.

'Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Don’t let this smile fool you, the African buffalo is known for its unpredictable behavior.  It is regarded as a very dangerous animal and is supposedly responsible for killing 200 people per year.

'Smiley' © Larry A Lyons

‘Smiley’ © Larry A Lyons

Adult bulls can be observed sparing quite regularly. Most sparing seems to be harmless and short-lived.

'Rumble Time' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rumble Time’ © Larry A Lyons

'Watch Out' © Larry A Lyons

‘Watch Out’ © Larry A Lyons

'My Turn' © Larry A Lyons

‘My Turn’ © Larry A Lyons

Yes, Buffalos do it too! Mating occurs between March and May.

'Time to Mate' © Larry A Lyons

‘Time to Mate’ © Larry A Lyons

Single Calves are born between January and April.  They are gregarious with herds varying in size of up to several hundred.

'Buffalo Family'  © Larry A Lyons

‘Buffalo Family’ © Larry A Lyons

Buffalos are herbivores. These female beauties are distinguished by their smaller horns.

'Buffalo Beauties' © Larry A Lyons

‘Buffalo Beauties’ © Larry A Lyons

This older looking bull posing here had just come from a mud bath. Its particular thick horns would indicate that it is a dominant bull within the herd.

'The Elder' © Larry A Lyons

‘The Elder’ © Larry A Lyons

The African Rhinos, both the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are facing extinction.  This White Rhinoceros, which is actually grey in color, has a square muzzle that is adapted for grazing on grasses.

'White Rhino Close-up" © Larry A Lyons

‘White Rhino Close-up” © Larry A Lyons

This Black Rhino, photographed during a night safari drive, has more of a beak shaped lip that is used for browsing leaves, buds and shoots of bushes and trees. The cause of the injury to this rhino is unknown, bit it appears that it may have been gored by one of its own.

'Black Rhino' © Larry A Lyons

‘Black Rhino’ © Larry A Lyons

Both White and Black Rhinos are at risk of extinction because of poaching of their horns. There is a fallacy that the horns have some medicinal value, even for curing cancer (in Asia), and as a result there is market that provides a premium price for the horns. However, Rhino horns are simply made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails. Poachers brutally kill the rhinos and remove the horns. An averaged sized rhino horn can bring a quarter of million dollars in Vietnam.

'Rhino Horn' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rhino Horn’ © Larry A Lyons

Rhinos are also in trouble because of the lack of habitat from agriculture and deforestation. The importance of game reserves, like Thanda, is crucial for their survival.

'Rhinos Grazing' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rhinos Grazing’ © Larry A Lyons

The female gestation period lasts 15 to 16 months and usually only one calf is born.

'White Rhino and Calf' © Larry A Lyons

‘White Rhino and Calf’ © Larry A Lyons

Baby rhinos begin to grow their horn when they are only a few weeks old. During the first year the calf only feeds on the milk from the mother. A calf remains near its mother for the first four to five years for protection.

'Rhino Calf Close-up' © Larry A Lyons

‘Rhino Calf Close-up’ © Larry A Lyons

Rhinos have no natural predators, except for man.  Rhinos are considered critically endangered. There are several organizations, including the African Wildlife Foundation, that have programs working to “Save the Rhino”.

'Save The Rhino'  Larry A Lyons

‘Save The Rhino’ Larry A Lyons

See the Big Five of South Africa gallery