25 November 2010

Cool Elephants

No they were not wearing sunglasses but I really thought the African Elephants at Addo in South Africa were trying hard to be cool during the warm spell we had last week.

If you are their size it is difficult to hide from the sun and they do overheat. Their habit of flapping their ears to expose the blood in the ears to the air order to cool the blood is well known. It is something they do continually when feeding in hot weather. They do however love water and when it is hot they come down to drink several times a day. Something they do then is spray water and mud over their bodies to help the cooling process and they pay particular attention to their ears. It makes sense and the water and mud on the ears will promote the cooling they obtain from the ears. It was nice to see this happen on many occasions and they sprayed water on both the outside surface of the ear and the inside surface between the body and the ear. They also deliberately cover the rest of their bodies in mud and clay. This cools and also provides a layer on the skin which protects them from the sun and irritating insects.

Of course if you give an elephant half a chance most of them will end up in the water and get completely soaked. They were almost human in their playing in the water and in the picture above the elephants in the water seem to be trying to convince the one out of the water saying “come in, the water is great.” The youngsters have the most fun in the water while the larger elephants seem almost reluctant to enter the water. The reason for this is probably their greater bulk which is difficult to haul up the side of a slippery clay surfaced waterhole wall.

They were also so much into staying cool that they totally ignored the boiling photographer in the car (which is a good thing).

21 November 2010

Elephants Picking Daisies

Elephants are incongruous creatures, large and lumbering, they eat and amble around the veld in the Addo National Park in South Africa. The drought has not helped and the vegetation in the park always looks tired, there are no big trees left and most of the growth seems stunted. We tend to blame the mega-herbivores (lovely word!). Anything that gets walked on or eaten by a mega-herbivore is entitled to look jaded.

Then we had some rain over a period of a few weeks and the appearance of the park has suddenly changed. It seems to have been sprinkled from above with yellow flowers! I have been trying to photograph the flowers for years but this event is difficult to predict. The daisies can flower anytime from September to January but often their numbers are too low to be spectacular. The heat of the African sun can also curtail their flowering period.

The only elephant to cooperate was a mother and her calf and even so she was not the ideal model – she seemed more interested in the grazing than posing for the camera. Her calf was also more interested in her mother’s milk than the daisies. I wonder what elephant’s milk looks like – I can imagine that the milk coming from a cow that has grazed on daisies must be yellowish and rich. Think this elephant calf is going to grow big and strong! As I write this, there are clouds gathering, and there is the chance of more rain which should be followed by temperatures in the mid 30degrees. The flowers could be really spectacular this year and I can see myself spending a lot of time waiting for the elephants.

9 November 2010

Rio's Botanical Gardens

Directly below the right arm of the statue of Christ the Redeemer lies Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Gardens. Strolling among the 6,000 different species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees offers a complete change of pace from the throb of Brazil’s iconic first capital.

Founded by the Prince Regent of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil in 1808, the garden was initially used to cultivate spices from the West Indies, including cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. The 350-acre exotic garden was opened to the public in 1832.

The Botanical Gardens are best known for the avenues of Royal Palms photographed above. They line the paths near the entrance and originally, this area was only accessible to the royal family. It is believed that the palms were all grown from the seeds of a single tree known as the Palma Mater. There are over 900 other varieties of palm in the gardens.

Contrasting with the formal layout of the European and Japanese parts of the garden, it was the Amazonia section that interested me most. Wild and alive with a profusion of lush vegetation (and insects), the air was noticeably heavier and warmer than in other parts of the garden.

I was disappointed with the Victoria Regis lilies in the Frei Leandro pond. The pads were less than half the size of those I had first seen years ago in Brazil’s tiny northern neighbour, Guyana.

Birds abound in the Botanical Gardens. I was able to photograph Great Kiskadee and Dusky-legged Guan, but didn’t see any Channel-billed Toucan which also frequent the gardens.

Brazil’s largest Botanical library is at one end of the gardens, next to a well-stocked gift shop and agreeable outdoor cafĂ©.