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Animals Nature

The huge neck of the East African gerenuk

The Gerenuk is an antelope often referred to as a giraffe-necked antelope or “giraffe gazelle.”

They are unique-looking creatures due to their huge necks, small heads, and big eyes and ears. In short, they look like a gazelle had a baby with a llama.

Amazingly, they can survive their entire life without ever taking a drink of water. This is because the gerenuk derives water from the leaves that it eats.

To better reach this foliage it has evolved a long, slender neck and head. It often raises its front legs and props them against a tree trunk in order to reach higher branches.

Mostly found in the Horn of Africa and the drier parts of East Africa, the gerenuk is near threatened due to trophy hunters seeking their mount.

gerenuk
gerenuk
gerenuk
gerenuk
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Animals Nature

The beautiful yet feisty Lilac-breasted roller bird, Africa’s most colorful bird

The plumage on the lilac-breasted roller bird is gorgeous. The creature sports eight different colors to give it the impression of a mesmerizing rainbow.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa and the national bird of both Botswana and Kenya, the lilac bird is known to perch on treetops by the roadside so it can pounce on rodents and insects moving about on the ground.

An aggressive little fluff—especially when intruders get too close to their nest—these birds are also renowned for the rolling flight pattern that sees them dip and dive from high in the sky in torpedo-like motion.

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Nature Travel

The beauty of Madagascar’s giant Baobab trees

The Grandidier’s Baobabs (Palmate adansonia) are giant trees indigenous to Africa, predominantly on Madagascar’s beautiful island.

Baobabs can live up to 800 to 1000 years with their unique ability to act as a water storage tank—the trees can store up to 32 gallons of water in their thick trunks. Both the animals and locals tap the trees for H20 during the dry season.

The heart of many African remedies and folklore, the iconic Baobab is often referred to as the “Tree of Life.”

The beauty of Madagascar’s giant Baobab trees
Photo: Beth Moon

The 80-plus foot trees have a circumference of 108 feet. They also feature on a 250-meter path called the Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar’s Menabe region. The tree is famous for producing surreal white, bat-pollinated flowers as well.

“A Caliban of a tree, grizzled, distorted old goblin with the girth of a giant, the hide of a rhinoceros, twiggy fingers clutching at empty air and the disposition of a guardian angel,” once wrote the novelist Ernestine Hill about the Baobab’s immensity.

Unfortunately, baobab trees are at risk of extinction due to climate change, with more than ten thousand disappearing each year.

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Animals

Gorgeous eyelashes of the Secretary bird

The Secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is your new favorite bird.

Endemic to Africa and the national bird of Sudan, the Secretary bird looks like a combination of an eagle and a crane. Its snake-stomping legs can deliver up to 43 pounds of force. The raptor is also known for its speed, earning the nickname “devil’s horse.”

But what’s most recognizable about this 4-foot terrestrial bird of prey is its beautiful, elongated eyelashes and eyelash-like feathers.

Don’t be ashamed to admit if the Secretarybird has better eyelashes than you.

Gorgeous eyelashes of the Secretary bird
Gorgeous eyelashes of the Secretary bird
Gorgeous eyelashes of the Secretary bird
Gorgeous eyelashes of the Secretary bird
Categories
Animals

The Great Blue Turaco

The beautiful Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata) is a bird from West and Central Africa’s tropical forests. 

The birds weigh up to three pounds and grow up to 30 inches long, about a pheasant’s size. While not the most competent flyers, they are excellent climbers, spending most of their time hanging out in the trees.

Great Blue Turaco

While the great blue turaco sings sweet melodies and snacks on fruit, leaves, and flowers, it’s most famous for its mix of vibrant colors. 

With blue running across its head and upper breasts, the bird also flashes a black crest, a teal belly, and a red and tipped beak that gives it the impression of wearing lipstick. It also sports a stunning dark blue mohawk.  

One of the most sought after bird species by birders, the Great Blue Turaco is also widely regarded as a bird that brings good luck. 

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Animals Nature

The African Dung Beetle navigates Earth using the stars

Not sure what’s more amazing about the African dung beetle, one that it rolls immaculate balls out of other animals dung or that it navigates from home to manure piles and back via celestial cues.

“These clever insects use the polarized light of the moon to navigate in a straight line,” writes Popular Mechanics. “Their eyes cannot see individual stars but a group of stars together, like the Milky Way, is dense enough to create a luminous line for them to follow.”

No stars, no problem! When the sun gets blocked or is directly overhead, the beetle uses its antennae to perceive wind signals. This way it can roll across the desert without getting lost.

But entomologist and photographer Piotr (Peter) Naskrecki of the Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique believes the Kheper subaeneus beetles are more interesting for what they do for mother Earth. 

Few animals are as important to the African savanna ecosystem as the dung beetles and without their thankless toil the entire ecosystem would soon collapse, covered in a thick layer of waste. 

Piotr Naskrecki

Keep in mind that the gathered feces, in which the beetle rolls into big balls, often weigh more than the beetle itself.

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Animals Nature

Lost and Found: The Somali Elephant Shrew is back!

The Somali Sengi, also known as the Somali Elephant Shrew, is back after a 50-year hiatus. The small insectivorous mammal endemic to Somalia was deemed extinct since the 1970s by the Global Wildlife Conservation’s list of lost species. 

But scientists recently rediscovered a thriving population of Somali Sengi in Djibouti. 

“Here we report new evidence that the Somali Sengi is currently extant,” says the study.

“These data include voucher specimens, georeferenced occurrence localities, body measurements, habitat parameters, and DNA sequences. While the species is historically documented as endemic to Somalia, these new records are from the neighboring Republic of Djibouti and thus expand the Somali Sengi’s known range in the Horn of Africa.”

The adorable mouse-sized creature features a long snout that allows it to suck up ants into its trunk-like nose. The animal is also known to pick up speeds of 19 miles per hour. 

The shrew is neither elephant nor shrew, to be exact, but a distant relative to aardvarks, hyraxes, and manatees.  

Lost for half a century and found, let’s hope we never lose sight of the adorable Somali Sengi again.  

Lost and Found: The Somali Elephant Shrew is back!
Photo: pum_eva from Getty Images via Canva Pro
Lost and Found: The Somali Elephant Shrew is back!
Photo: Courtesy of Steven Heritage
Categories
Animals Nature

The strange but fabulous Shoebill Stork

The Shoebill Stork is your new favorite bird.  

Amazingly huge, the Shoebill Stork (Balaeniceps rex) may be one of the most prehistoric dinosaur looking birds alive (note: the cassowary might be the other). 

An ambush predator with a height up to 5 feet, the bird stands for long periods before engaging in a vicious attack on pray. It is known to use its bulbous shoe-shaped bill to attack crocodiles when provoked. 

However, the big bird is docile with humans — it is quite common to get into staring contest with them. 

The bird is endangered, however, with only 5,000 – 8,000 left in the world in the swamps of East-Central Africa. 

Witness the bird in all its hugeness below.

The strange but fabulous Shoebill Stork
Photo: Twitter/shannonmstirone
The strange but fabulous Shoebill Stork
Photo: Twitter/DeathmatchJay
The strange but fabulous Shoebill Stork
Photo: Twitter/hollowknight
Categories
Travel

The True Size of Africa

Africa is a massive continent. But for whatever reason, map makers make it appear smaller than its “true true” size. As Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski reminds us, “the map is not the territory.” Lines are ultimately arbitrary.

Map design is deceptive. But computer-graphics designer Ka Kraise took it upon himself to ‘fight against rampant immappancy,’ in particular the popular Mercator projection originated by Gerardus Mercator in 1569 which tends to exaggerate the size of continents and countries more than others. Greenland, for instance, is 14 times larger than Africa.

As you can see above, Kraise illustrates the reality of Africa’s size, which is “larger than the USA, China, Japan, and all of Europe, combined!” The Economist revisualized Kraise’s map as well.

Kudos to Kraise for illuminating our ignorance about geographical knowledge, pointing the finger at Western and Asian students who tend to inflate the size of their countries when in actuality Africa makes everyone else look so small.

Read more in The Economist: ‘The true true size of Africa’