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Bring out the baby animals!

September 2, 2016

Elephant Mother and her calf – Photo by Michael Ader

 

Is it really “baby” animal season now?  Written By: Gerard Willy Mwakila

 

I am a Guide here at Selous Impala Camp. My last Newsletter was about the African Fish Eagle, which I wrote to share my knowledge with people who were interested in Birds.  Now I am back again and I feel very glad to have welcomed more people from around the world to the Selous, and to share stories about nature and its living organisms with them.  We have been seeing many baby animals around camp since the beginning of the season.  So people have been wondering is it just the time of year, the season or were they just lucky to see all these baby animals?

With my experience from working in this unique Nature Reserve for 13 years now, you get to notice a few things.  Breeding can be all year around or seasonal depending on the species. Seasonal breeding depends heavily on the rain, and the availability of resources.  This year the weather has been completely different to that of the 12 years before it.  The long rains came early, and we received a good amount of rain for a longer period of time than usual. Therefore, certain areas of the Selous received more than enough water and all the shrubs, grasses, forests and open plains became much greener. 

Rain the source of life – Photo by Paul Molineaux

 

This has led to stronger population numbers of both herbivores and carnivores in the reserve.  Without much rain there is not a lot of plant growth; without plants and water the animals cannot survive or thrive. These resource requirements are important for the animals to gain more energy, vitamins and protein which can support successful breeding.  This is why I think there is so much life around now.

 

Animal breeding and their adaptations

The Spotted Hyena breed in the wet season (March – May), they need cooler weather so they can have more advantage in hunting and travelling long distances searching for food. At the beginning of the dry season, around the end of May, the Hyena mother will find a place where the cubs will be well hidden in a den. Sometimes hyena dens can be quite smelly, as the mother hyenas urinate on their cubs to disguise them from potential predators.

 

A spotted hyena mother grooming her cub, the den is about 2 kilometers away from Impala Camp – Photos by Michael Ader

 

Although Elephants breed all year around they show peaks in both births and mating around the rainy season.  An elephant female will carry her calf for close to 22 months - now that is a long gestation period!  This is maybe why elephant herds and moms look after the young of the family so well, and have well developed social structures.

Young elephant sniffs its mother’s droppings - Photo by Festo Ntayaye. 

 

Baby elephants sometimes eat the fresh droppings of the mother to gain small micro-organisms which helps their digestive system. Calves can nurse for 4 yrs or more and the cows of the herd help to suckle one another’s calves.

Giraffes breed all year as they are not resource limited, and more successful because of their body structure. Their long legs, neck and 45 cm long modified tongue allow them to browse on leaves from high branches that are inaccessible to wildebeest, zebras and other herbivores of the African Savanna.

Mother Giraffe with its calf – Photo by Michael Ader

 

Other herbivores like the striking Nyasa Wildebeest breed at the end of the rainy season when the short grass plains are full of grass and are green.  Access to water for the Wildebeest throughout the year is also essential.  From the moment the calf can stand it must keep up with the herd at all times to evade being caught by predators, unlike other antelopes that may lie down to rest. The bigger the herd the better the chances of survival are for the calf.    

These young Nyasa Wildebeest weary of the predators around – Photo by Michele Ader

 

 

Zebra foal – Photo by Micheal Ader

 

Unlike Wildebeest, the Zebra and Buffalo breed all year around in the Selous Nature Reserve. Baby Zebras look different to the adult, the colour of a new born is brown and after four to five months the coat changes to the distinctive black and white stripes. 

 

Buffalo calves look more like the adult version. Cape Buffaloes form a tightly knit group, with the calves protected around the adults, who are fairly good at tenaciously defending calves from predators.

Buffalo calf protected by its mother – Photo by Paul Molineaux  

 

The omnivorous Yellow Baboon can breed all year around, as they are very successful at accessing the natural resources. The yellow baboon gives birth mostly at night. This might be because it is difficult for the tired mothers to keep up with the troop in the day, especially after many hours in labor. A captive female baboon was observed to labor nearly 7 ½ hrs.

A three month old baboon infant – Photo by Frances & Graham Parker

 

The apex predator here in the Selous, the Lion, has no particular breeding season, however, they most likely have birthing peaks around the rainy season, as their prey items are in greater abundances.  Also breeding in a pride is often synchronized between females. A mother lion will carry her cubs for up to 3 months and give birth in a well hidden lair, to typically 3 but up to 6 tiny cubs, each weighing between 1-2 kg. Lion cubs stay with their maternal pride much longer than other cat species.

 Lion Cubs feeding – Photo by Kharidi Mtili

 

 

Female Lion and a cub relaxing and playing – Photos by Festo Ntayaye

 

With so many births, sometimes things go wrong, and unlike humans. who may seek help from a hospital, when things go wrong in the wild it usually leads to death.  Like this female giraffe that is struggling with a breached calf.  The calf is still born, and the mother may soon die from infection.  This was a very a raw experience for the Molineaux family, thank you for sharing your photos.

A sad experience with a Mother Giraffe – Photo by Paul Molineaux

 

Guest Comments:

 

7th August :- Simon, Claire, Heather & Sophia Wright, a family from Britain, “Impala Camp is a wonderful, magical, welcoming place and a fantastic base for the best safari we have had. We will remember our time here for a long time to come and I’m sure we will return.”

 

19th August :- Mauro & Milva, a couple from Italy, “Thank you to everyone for this beautiful and amazing experience. We love Africa.” 

 

22nd August :- Claudia & Sebastian Meusel, a family from Germany, “Impala Camp is one of the best camps we ever stayed at. Thank you so much! Hope we come back again! ” 

 

29th August: -  Sue & Ryan Milligan from Ireland, “Another amazing experience like last year and to see and photograph a leopard was the highlight of the Safari. Asante Sana!”

 

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