A friend of mine lent me a lovely book about the animals of the Mara, and that, combined with some interesting things I discovered from the guides on my safari trip, meant that I learned a lot of fascinating, amazing and fun facts about some of the animals of the Mara!
Hippos are herbivores, who spend all day lounging in the mud, almost fully submerged in water, and they come out onto the land at night to graze (they mostly eat grass). They are excellent swimmers, although they mostly prefer to stay near the banks of rivers and lakes so that they can stand up in the water rather than float or tread water. They can hold their breath underwater for up to 15 minutes, but on average they submerge for 5-6 minutes at a time before coming up for air. Hippos are massively aggressive, and will defend their territory fiercely, and can easily kill a human, although they won’t actually eat you afterwards. They live in families of around 10-15, usually with one male and lots of females, and some of the young.
When they defecate, they flap their tail quickly back and forth with a “thwap-thwap-thwap” noise, to spray their faeces far and wide. It looks a lot like shit, quite literally hitting a fan. Trust me, I’ve seen (and heard) it.
My favourite hippo fact? Young males are tolerated in a family, but they must show respect by defecating in the face of the alpha male. Possibly the most hilarious way to show respect I’ve ever heard of.
Male giraffes will taste the urine of the females to check if they are on heat/ovulating. I saw them doing this in the Mara. Literally a female stood there and peed, and the male bent down to taste it – It’s gross but weirdly funny to watch. According to my book, observers can tell if the female is ovulating or not by the type of grimace the male makes after tasting the wee, although I’m not yet up on my giraffe grimaces, so I couldn’t tell.
You can tell if a baby elephant is less than 1 year old from it’s height – babies under 1 can still walk under their mum’s tummy, but over the age of 1 they are generally too tall for that. Another fascinating fact is that if you want to tell the difference between male and female elephants, look just behind the front legs – female elephants have 2 breasts up on their chest, just behind the front legs, much like humans do!
Also, elephants have something like 9 sets of teeth in a lifetime. So just like how humans have 3 (baby teeth, adult teeth and wisdom teeth), their tusks will periodically fall out and re-grow. However older elephants often lose their tusks altogether in the end.
Leopards and Cheetahs
When I first arrived in the Mara, I wasn’t sure I could have spotted the difference between a leopard and a cheetah. However very quickly the differences become quite obvious.
First, the spots. Cheetahs have individual black spots that look a little like thumbprints all over. Leopards have small clusters of spots – in groups of 5 or so, often slightly different colour, and clustered in a pattern like little flowers.
Cheetahs are much slimmer than leopards – while a leopard is similar in build to a lion or other big cats, cheetahs are slightly more elongated and slender – with a shape much more like a greyhound (large chest and narrow at the hips). This is due to the speed of a cheetah when running.
Leopards climb trees, dragging their kill up into the branches so it can eat undisturbed. Cheetahs can’t climb trees and as they are slightly smaller, often have to give up their kill if approached by another predator such as a lion.
And lastly, cheetahs have a black line going from the corner of the eye down to the mouth, which looks very striking, and leopards do not. Personally, I think cheetahs are rather more beautiful than leopards too, although that’s just my opinion.
After reading about these creatures, I was a little but gutted that I couldn’t see one, as they are nocturnal, but they have impressed me as possibly the most hardcore of animals. The size of a regular British badger (give or take), they live in burrows, and hunt snakes and reptiles as well as other things. Honey badgers got their name as they like to climb trees and eat honey from beehives. They have mega-loose skin, so that if a predator catches them, they can swivel around and bite them back.
Honey badgers are super-aggressive, and will think nothing of attacking an actual pride of lions if they feel threatened. When attacking humans, they go for the genitals. Hardcore little nutters!
For any of you Terry Pratchett fans out there (and if you’re not, I repeat, go out and buy a Discworld book NOW) – honey badgers are the animal equivalent of the Nac Mac Feegles. I can totally picture them yelling “Ach Crivens! Can ya mama nae sew? Stitch this!” before barrelling into a group of surprised lions to start some shit. I can also picture them headbutting large predators if they so much as look at them funny.
There is also a rather nice silly video about honey badgers for those of you who are so inclined.
Wildebeasts are actually Gnu’s – who knew? Gnu is the Maasai name for them – They are a type of antelope, but most closely resemble goats in their appearance and behaviours.
Other very awesome animals I learned about, but sadly couldn’t see as they were nocturnal include the Antbear and the Aardwolf. The Aardwolf is literally like a hyena, but exclusively eats ants like an Aardvark. Madness