Please consider the images to be copyrighted and ask permission before using any of them. Thank you. DEClapp
This is a much delayed return trip to Africa. I spent many many years with at least one visit to Africa. I ended up with well over fifty safari outings and a lot of time crammed into an airplane. These were my favorite trips (even with the flights), my favorite ecosystems, my favorite animal assemblages, and my favorite people. It will be difficult not to spill all my stories in this first Africa post in a couple years. But I am going to pace myself and start off with maybe ten posts that deal with the grazers and browsers of this great continent. If you look back through the ontheroadwithdec posts it is back in 2018 when I last did a series on Africa and then in 2017 and all the years before that there are lots of African posts. In most of those posts there was a lot of predator imagery and gee whiz moments. But the great game parks of southern and east Africa are huge complex systems all functioning from the ground up. Or perhaps from the sun down. It is sunshine, water, elevation, soils, vegetation, microbes and fungi that provide the matrix for those predators to exist. The next level down from the predators are the masses of warthogs, antelope, gazelles, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and elephant; the vegetation eaters – the great mass of vegans that roam the land and feed the lions.
So, I am going to do a series on those aforementioned mammals. Many are called ungulates which nowadays refers simply to a “hoofed” animal. In the earlier days the word ungulate referred to specific groups of hoofed animals but taxonomy has developed to the point where general terms are left behind and specific nomenclature has developed that is more accurate both in field use and now in genetic relationships as well. A bit of background is needed and then we will move right into some chatter about the striped horse of Africa.
There are lots of smaller animals that are usually preyed on and don’t usually predate. These animals include rodents, rabbits & hares, hyrax, elephants, and the various ungulates. There are predators that don’t get our (human) juices running; smaller animals like the bats, moles, shrews, monkeys, aardvark and pangolin. Each of those is in fact a hunter, a predator, but somehow we don’t get all excited about fly-eaters and termite-hunters. So for now we will leave those alone and in the wings waiting for their day to arrive.
There is one last bit of information needed as we look into the grazers and browsers of the African plains (grasslands for the most part) and that is how they are generally divided and classified. About 65,000,000 years ago mammals were sprung free from the dinosaur-dominated world when an asteroid crashed into our planet causing a great and nearly complete annihilation of life at that time. This was the end of the Age of Reptiles and the beginning of the earth and wildlife that we see today. Oh, there have been tens of millions of changes in the past 65,000,000 years but it was at the moment of that great collision that the door opened to life as we know it and the flighted dinosaurs (birds) and shrew-like mammals oozed out from under the diminishing reptilian shadows. The dinosaurs still exist as our feathered vertebrates, the birds; and those tiny mammals have taken over the air, land and sea as bats, gazelles, and whales; oh yes, and as humans, rats, chipmunks, and lemurs.
The common ancestor for all the horses and asses (donkeys) is seen in fossils about 4.5 million years ago; found (surprisingly) in Canada. They entered Eurasia about 3 million years ago (other references say as many as 11 million years ago) and into Africa about 2.3 MYA. The equines (horses) started to develop from a small animal with five toes. Over time the group has evolved to have only one toe on the ground. The many-toed equines and the single-toed group coexisted for millions of years. They were only 20 inches tall back in those post-asteroid millennia and slowly evolved in what is North America today and eventually spread back to Europe, Asia, and finally down into Africa. As the climate changed and the land dried out the more efficient single-toed horses were best suited and survived; the three-toed horses disappeared. There are three zebra types in Africa, all now in the same Genus; The Plains (Burchell’s), the Mountain, and the Grevy’s. There was a fourth, though perhaps it was just another form or population, called the Quagga that lived in southern Africa into the 1800’s.
Let’s look at some images….
The zebra of the southern countries (South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, and Namibia) are a bit different. Climate change during the past few thousand years has isolated populations of all sorts of animals and zebra are no different. The habitat and climate of East Africa requires a great migration where the habitats in southern Africa do not. Oh, the animals move according to the weather and the loss of food sources but they do not move in the great waves that we see in east Africa. They are on different land, different soil, with different plants, and have had to accommodate different pressures. Thus they look a bit different and behave differently as well. This is simply survival of the most fit, the best adapted to the current habitat, and the tendency for a population to look different over time.