dung beetles

yes, this is the fabled scarab beetle when he's working his day job.
yes, this is the fabled scarab beetle when he’s working his day job.

the cats are impressive predators, but if you want to see some real mano-a-mano combat, you won’t do better than the lowly dung beetle. dung beetles feed on dung, and they play with their food by rolling it into balls and pushing it into tunnels that they’ve built. brooding pairs also lay their eggs in the balls of dung as protection; the dung then serves as a food source for the beetle larvae. according to wikipedia, a male dung beetle can roll up to 10 times its own weight in dung; as an interesting side note, dung beetles are the only insects that navigate at night by the position of the stars.

despite the ample quantity of dung in the serengeti, dung beetles will try to steal each others’ dung balls, and this leads to heated battles (click on each image to enlarge it):

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the battle is joined … … and the roller is victorious.
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our challenger tries again … … and again is defeated.
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this must be one hell of a ball of dung. knocked down again!


because no one goes on safari to see the rock agama.
because no one goes on safari to see the rock agamas.

the cats of the serengeti: within an hour of arriving in the serengeti, our guide took us to a set of rocks where the lionesses hung out, and over the course of our stay we went back again and again to see what the cats were doing. we also came across lions as we followed the wildebeest: the lions go where the food is.

sometimes, it helped to follow other vehicles.  we found four cheetah cubs when we pulled up alongside one carload of safari-goers; and when our scout heard from a passing driver that a leopard had killed a wildebeest and dragged the carcass up a tree, we were able to find him without too much difficulty. however, it was just by chance that we found some cheetahs that had just killed a wildebeest. the sight was amazing: well-fed and happy, the cats were alert for hyenas that might come in to try to steal their bounty, but they didn’t feel the need to run away when we got close.

on to the photos: first, the lions, because we saw the most of them.

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other cats: you have your cute cheetahs …

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you have your predatory cheetahs …

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and you have your leopards (finally).

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as you can see in the last post, the wildebeest are often accompanied by zebras; and if i’d been on this safari while i was in high school, i’d have majored in zoology at college and studied them. in addition to looking really fabulous – according to wikipedia, it really is white stripes and bellies on a black coat – they are remarkably social animals.  they move in herds (“harems”, usually one stallion and 5-6 mares) by themselves, but they also accompany other foragers on their travels.  we frequently saw lines of wildebeest plodding across the plain with a few zebras standing lookout:

perhaps it’s the uniform.

they’re also very vocal – we heard them whinnying and barking all night long. not the noise i’d expected them to make.

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look at that face. one theory is that the stripes serve as camouflage. which body does the head go with?
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honestly, these guys will hang out with anyone.

again, i could post a hundred photos of zebras, but i’ll do that later.

next: cats

wildebeest on the serengeti

the serengeti airport.

the serengeti ecosystem, in the north of tanzania and the southwest of kenya, stretches over some 12,000 square miles. the serengeti is the home of the maasai, and the name itself comes from the maasai word “serengit,” which means “endless plain.” apart from a few rocky outcroppings, a few forests, and the rare hill, the name describes the area pretty well: unlike ngorongoro crater, there is almost nothing to stop you from looking miles into any direction …

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… that is, nothing except wildebeest. january is prime wildebeest migrating season, and the plains were full of them. by one estimate, 1.2 million wildebeest will travel through the serengeti during their annual migration, along with 750,000 zebra and hundreds of thousands of other game. we surely saw hundreds of thousands of them during our stay. (i lost count after eight.)

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i have more photos of wildebeest, but to avoid gnu overload, i’ll save those for another post, and end with this one of a wildebeest in full gallop instead.  500mm lens, 1/15 second at f/27 while panning – a happy accident.