A study shows that a sprinting cheetah uses the same mechanics as a rear-wheel-drive car, all its power comes from the back. The cheetah's hind limbs have muscles and fibers suited to power running, whereas those on its fore limbs are better for steering and balance. Car manufacturers have got it right thus far, but they're still struggling to keep up with the cheetah on acceleration. A cheetah can go from 0 - 60 mph in under three seconds, an acceleration Porsche owners can only dream about (they're currently at 4.1 seconds to reach 60 mph).
Speed is what has made the cheetah famous, but out of all the big cats in Africa, it's one of the least successful hunters. With its slim body, lack of endurance, and solitary nature, cheetah's are very vulnerable.
Ten Cheetah Facts
- There are only 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild (most of them in Africa)
- Cheetahs can reach a sprinting speed of 114kph (71mph)
- Cheetahs usually live for about 12 years
- A female cheetah raises her cubs alone
- When a cheetah runs, only one foot at a time touches the ground
- As few as 10% of cheetah cubs make it to adulthood
- Cheetahs hunt mainly during the day
- Cheetahs are not good climbers
- Cheetahs don't have fully retractable claws, this helps maintain traction at all times
- Cheetahs are born with their spots, but they are difficult to see under a mantle of bushy back hair
Cheetah Cub, Masai Mara, Kenya -- © Getty Images
Dak'Art 2014 is currently showcasing Africa's most talented contemporary artists in Senegal's capital city, Dakar. The Dakar Biennale of African Contemporary Art (Dak'Art) opened on May 10 and will run for a month. The event is neatly bookended with the St Louis Jazz Festival further north of the capital.
Contemporary art in Africa is woefully underfunded. Stopping at an art gallery, meeting resident artists and exploring their vibrant works, would really be a highlight of any trip to Africa. While craft tours are becoming more popular, and painting/sketching safaris have been on the agenda for a while, many contemporary artists are being showcased in small galleries and Goethe Institutes in relative obscurity. I've been busy putting a list of Art Galleries in Africa together. So if you happen to be in Nairobi, Marrakech or Harare anytime soon, do pop into a gallery, and show your support.
Image - Oil Well By Collin Sekajugo, Rwanda. Medium: Plastic Stitched with steel wire -- AfricanColours
When I was young and foolish I vowed that one day I would bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge. That day came a couple of years ago, and I swear my eyeballs are still on maximum bulge capacity.
Feeling a little apprehensive and in need of encouragement just minutes before the jump, I asked the guy strapping my legs together with some red towels and yellow straps - "Will it feel like I am flying?". "No" he said, "it will feel like you are falling". And indeed, when I put my arms forward in true Wonder Woman style, and leaped off the bridge 111m (364 ft) above the Zambezi river, I fell like a stone. Apparently people have reached speeds of 125 km an hour on this jump. No wonder my eyeballs are still so prominent.
But thanks anyway Shearwater for giving me the opportunity to finally fulfill my bungee destiny and return home with some great video and photos to prove I really was silly enough to do it. For a blow by blow account of the jump, and more about bungee jumps in Africa, see my latest feature -- Bungee Jumping in Africa
I grew up eating flying ants in Malawi, but things change as you become an adult, and my affinity for insect eating abated. I did have the opportunity to taste Mopane worms more recently. The fact that Mopane worms are not worms, but caterpillars (Empire moth larva to be exact), did not make them any more palatable. But I was somewhat game to try them because many rural people throughout Southern Africa eat them, they are healthy ... and I knew my children would appreciate the story.
The opportunity presented itself at the Boma Restaurant on the grounds of the lovely Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. I had bungee jumped first thing in the morning, enjoyed an elephant-back safari in the afternoon, and felt pretty confident going into dinner. The Boma caters to tourists, but its menu is quite authentically African. You are greeted with a little sorghum beer (an acquired taste) and then invited to enjoy the massive buffet spread complete with kudu terrine, roast warthog, sadza, ground nuts, and a vat of Mopane worms (also an acquired taste).
The entertainment was just getting started, and as I wound my way through dancers performing an energetic Ndebele number, I heard a friendly voice say "Just try one, it tastes like biltong". Biltong happens to be my favorite food on the planet. I'm rarely seen without a piece hanging out of my mouth in this part of the world. I looked over to see what this magical food was - and presto, the vat of Mopane worms. They looked quite tempting all fried with garlic and tomatoes, especially if you ignored the black head. I popped one into my mouth and began to chew, and chew, and chew, and chew. Want to know what they tasted like? Read all about it here: The Mopane Worm...
If you happen to be on South Africa's eastern coast during the winter months (June - July), check out the Sardine Run. It takes place along South Africa's Wild Coast and is hailed as one of nature's most spectacular events. It's an underwater version of the great annual migration of wildebeest in East Africa. Every year millions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank (south of South Africa) and move northward to the warmer waters, just along South Africa's east coast. It's not unusual for shoals to be 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, they are clearly visible from the surface of the ocean.
The sardines are followed eagerly by predators. Thousands of dolphins, sharks, sea birds and seals enjoy this fishy banquet. To protect themselves from this onslaught, sardines form into giant balls called 'bait balls' which can measure as large as 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter. While bait balls are difficult to get up close and personal with (they dissolve after ten minutes or so) -- the predators that abound during this time in these waters make for some truly spectacular diving opportunities.
Just to add to the excitement - the Sardine Run also coincides with the annual migration of Humpback Whales that move north for the season into warmer water to mate and calve. Coupled with the occasional African penguin looking for a sardine snack, this is truly a wildlife spectacle not to be missed.
Why is today Obi Wan Kenobi's favorite day of the year? I'll let you figure it out (big hint in the title of this post). It's the perfect time and place therefore to remind everyone to check out Tunisia for your next holiday destination. While recent events have put some travelers off visiting, most of the tourist areas are well away from any potential political/urban hotspots. Just to be safe, double check the news before you go as the situation can change.
Tunisia is a wonderful place to visit especially for families. With its busy bazaars, great beaches, Roman amphitheaters, steam trains, desert dunes, and Troglodyte dwellings, Tunisia is a lot of fun to explore.
If you have a Star Wars fan in your midst they'll love Tunisia even more. Many of the Star Wars movies were filmed on location in Southern Tunisia, it is the Planet Tatooine. You can stumble upon original movie sets, nicely preserved in the dry air of the Yardangs. Better yet, you can spend a night in Luke Skywalker's home which is now a budget hotel.
Find out more about Star Wars Tours in Tunisia...
Image © Anouk Zijlma - Ksar Haddada, otherwise known as Mos Eisley, Southern Tunisia
With the terrible news last week, relating to 16 sherpas who lost their lives on Mount Everest, it reminded me of this piece I wrote a few years ago. It's still very relevant today. So if you're planning to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, please spare a thought for the porters who will make your trip possible.
Too often, people look to cut the costs of their trek. A Kilimanjaro trek should cost around $3,000 - $5,000. Some of the price discrepancy reflects the route you choose to take, the quality of the food, and the quality of your equipment. But anything significantly cheaper, and you should understand that the tour operator may be saving costs by overloading and underpaying your porters. Do not cut costs and go cheap when you climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
An organization called Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is doing its best to encourage all Kilimanjaro operators to adhere to basic rules regarding equal pay as well as safety for porters. A porter does not need to be educated, employment is scarce and life is hard. It's the perfect recipe for abuse and exploitation to take place. Porters die from exhaustion, and hypothermia every year, because they're overloaded and there's no way they can carry enough food, clothing or shelter for themselves. It is partly your responsibility as a climber to find out from KPAP if the company you are trekking with adheres to their basic guidelines. Please watch this video to get an idea of the stakes, it ends with this quote:
Don't agree to get a cheap trip unless you are prepared to watch a young lad in tears trying to drag your 40 kilos of baggage up the mountain. You're putting him in danger as well as making him suffer.
Image of porters packing up before going up Mount Kilimanjaro - © Erika Bloom
Going on safari with your children is probably one of the most exciting and rewarding adventures you can enjoy as a family. But, taking your family on safari in Africa isn't cheap, so you want to pick the right safari tour, and country, in order to get the most out of it. I've written an article that will help you plan the right safari for your family. There are tips on keeping the children happy en route, as well as specific family-friendly safari recommendations.
While renting your own car and booking an independent safari is probably the best way to go when you have children, you should keep in mind that lodges and safari operators may have age restrictions. It's not only that they want to keep potential noisy or bored children off their safari vehicles, but driving in an open Land Rover among wild animals can be dangerous. Campsites can also attract hippos, elephants, lions and hyenas at night -- you don't want your young child to think it may be fun to leave your tent and pet them.
Find out more about family safaris in Africa, where to go, and the best places to stay.
Image of a Newborn Elephant; © David Hutchinson
It's Fall in South Africa, and that translates into lots of sunshine and clear skies. Perfect to enjoy several foodie feasts this May that include the Good Food and Wine Festival in Cape Town, as well as the Royal Show in Durban. For those seeking more flamboyant fare, head to the lovely coastal town of Knysna and enjoy the Pink Loeri Mardi Gras.
Just further north, Harare's International Arts Festival gets underway the first week of May. This international festival is gaining in popularity year by year and attracts performers from around the globe. But it's the local artists that truly shine, so do make the effort to support them if possible.
In Ghana, the wonderful Aboakyer Festival gets into full swing in Winneba along the Cape Coast. The festival includes traditional dancing, hunting, colorful processions, brass bands and more. In Morocco the fragrant Rose Festival takes place in the stunning Dades Valley.
The continent will be celebrating Labour Day on May 1st, so make sure you take that into consideration if you are traveling. Banks and government offices will be closed that day.
More details about: May Festivals in Africa
Image of Knysna, South Africa -- © South African Tourism
While exploring the Garden Route on a recent family vacation in South Africa, we came upon the "Safari Ostrich Show Farm" a few miles outside of Oudtsdoorn. Oudstdoorn is the ostrich capital of the world and I'd long harbored the dream of riding an ostrich. In Africa my dreams tend to come true.
We started off with a tour of the farm, and lucked out being the only people there, so we enjoyed a private tour with Darnie, a wonderful guide. My two sons were hooked from the start. We got to watch tiny babies hatch in the incubator, touch and feel various ostrich eggs, shells, feathers, leather and learn everything there is to know about these fascinating birds.
After a tractor ride, an anatomy lesson, hand feeding of the birds, standing on ostrich shells, feeling a "full" ostrich shell, and sitting on an ostrich for a photo-op, we were ready for the finale -- riding an ostrich ourselves! Unfortunately the weight limit is around 80 kilos, so my husband was designated camera man. Which ended up not working out, as video requires a steady hand, and it's hard to stay steady when you are on the ground laughing.
We signed some indemnity forms (which in this part of the world means you're about to have a lot of fun), donned some work pants and got ready to ride. To keep the ostrich calm as you mount, they place a small bag over its small head. The whole thing is less than dignified, but I was too busy figuring out how to wrap my legs around its chest and get a decent grip on the wing bones in order to avoid falling off. Two handlers were on hand to help so if felt somewhat secure at this stage. The bag was removed, my ostrich could see, and we were off!