I've always had the sneaking suspicion that animal group names are more poetic than scientific. Come to find out, that many of them actually are made up by some eccentric lady more than 500 years ago. Dame Juliana Berners wrote an essay on hunting in the Book of St Albans in 1486. In the essay she classified groups of animals with nouns that she simply thought sounded good. And so we have a gaggle of geese, an army of ants, a school of fish, a pride of lions, a troop of baboons and some of my favorites:
A crash of rhinos
A cackle of hyenas
A coalition of cheetahs
An obstinacy of buffalo
A conspiracy of ravens
An intrusion of cockroaches
A murder of crows
A tower of giraffes
A bloat of hippos
A leap of leopards
Some groups of animals have more than one name. You can say a herd of buffalo, a troop or a gang. But I think an obstinacy of buffalo sounds best, don't you? The good thing about group names having their basis in poetry and not science is that we can simply make them up ourselves. How about a snort of hippos, a rumble of elephants, or a polka of leopards?
Tower of Giraffes -- © Getty Images/Theo Allofs
April brings spring to North Africa and autumn to South Africa, with lots of warm rain falling in between. The Egyptians celebrate the arrival of spring by "sniffing the breeze" and picnicking with their families. Coptic Christians in Ethiopia will be relishing some chicken and local brew on Easter Monday (21 April) that's when they break their traditional 55 day fast.
Runners with a slightly mad streak will be puffing through the sands of the Sahara in Morocco, for a grueling 6 day marathon. Sufi's in Fez, Morocco celebrate their spiritual culture. And anyone visiting southern Africa, do go and check out the International Arts Festival in Harare for a bit of music, dance and spoken word at the end of the month. Get more details about all of Africa's major festivals and events this April.
Harare International Arts Festival Poster - © HIFA
Congratulations to Kenya's beautiful Lupita Nyong'o for winning an Oscar last night for Best Supporting Actress!
And now for something completely different ....
20 fun African wildlife facts to liven up your Monday ....
- The flamingos' diet of shrimp-like crustaceans are responsible for its pink color
- Hippos secrete a natural sunscreen that is colored red and eventually turns brown
- Giraffe tongues are dark blue and average around 20 inches in length
- Leopards are strong swimmers and eat fish
- Lions are the only cats that live in groups (prides)
- Warthogs can jump
- Chimpanzee females reach reproductive age at 13
- Male Nile Crocodiles attract females by bellowing, slapping their snouts in the water, and blowing water out of their noses
- Every zebra has a unique stripe pattern, just like human finger prints
- Hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs
- Impalas can jump over 10 meters (33 feet) in a single leap
- Aardvarks have ears like a rabbit, long tails, webbed claws, sharp nails, long snouts, and are not related to pigs (despite their name)
- Both Black and White rhinos are actually gray
- An elephant's trunk contains about 100,000 different muscles
- Cheetahs only need to drink every 3 or 4 days
- Cape Buffalo have good memories, they've been known to attack people that have harmed them years after the event
- Jackal males and females mate for life
- Male Vervet monkeys have a turquoise blue scrotum and a red penis
- Ostriches can sprint up to 43 miles (70 kilometers) an hour and use their wings as rudders to change direction
- An adult Mountain Gorilla will eat about 60 lbs of vegetation per day
Want to See All this Yourself?
- Safari Planner
- Best Time to Go on Safari
- Africa's Top 10 Safari Destinations
- The Great Annual Migration
- Top 10 Animals to See on Safari
Source: National Geographic and Image -- © Getty Images/Frank & Joyce Birek
I'm often asked, "is it necessary to get a guide when visiting Marrakech"? With its myriad of alleyways and shops selling carpets and lamps, that end up all looking the same, it is very easy to get lost in old Marrakech (the medina). But personally, I don't think that's such a bad thing. There are food stalls everywhere, so you won't starve. There are fascinating little shops and courtyards every square inch, so you'll never be bored. There are palaces and mosques to visit, Riad's to marvel at, artisans to photograph, and fresh orange juice to quench your thirst. And there's the marvelous Djemma el Fnaa, the main city square, that is unmissable. It's simple: if you get lost just ask for directions to the Djemma.
But I would recommend a guide if this is your first time in North Africa. The official guides are very well qualified historians for the most part, and will no doubt speak your language. They'll help you focus on the details that make this medieval walled city so unique. It will also help acclimatize you if you feel a little overwhelmed in the bustle. A half day personal tour is just right to orient you, and make you feel comfortable enough to get lost and do some real exploring later on.
But be warned, any tour will take you to a "perfume" shop as well as a carpet shop. It's unavoidable, you just have to go with it. Enjoy it. Accept the cup of tea and don't feel pressure to buy anything. Just give the guy who rolls out the hundred carpets for you to look at, a little tip.
Find out more about Getting an official guide to Marrakech...
Why do flamingos stand on one leg? Previous theories suggested that a single-legged stance helped reduce fatigue, and/or it helped flamingos escape from predators more quickly, by shortening the time to take flight. And do flamingos favor their right or left leg? Is there such a thing as a right-legged or left-legged flamingo, a bit like being right or left-handed?
Well, recent empirical evidence suggests that flamingos stand on one leg to conserve body heat. If they put two legs in the water, rather than one, they would lose too much heat. Flamingos spend a lot of time wading, so this one-legged stance is particularly beneficial to them. There's also no such thing as a south-paw (leg) in the flamingo world, they change legs willy-nilly.
For more, check out this BBC's report.
Image of a Flamingo Sleeping On One Leg -- Getty Images/Chuck Eckert
Right now, more than 1.5 million wildebeest are delivering new calves at the rate of 8,000 newborns per day. They are eagerly photographed by thousands of tourists who have come to watch this incredible synchronized birthing event take place in southern Serengeti, Tanzania. The next six weeks will deliver almost half a million baby wildebeest calves onto the soft grasses of the Ndutu plains.
Not all will survive of course. This is a booming time for tourists taking photos of cute little calves, but also for the predators that enjoy a feast of plenty. Hyenas, jackals, lion, birds of prey and many others are out in force as the birthing begins. This is one reason why it is thought that wildebeest all have their babies within the same short time period. They hope to overwhelm the opposition with choice, and hopefully save their own babies in the muddle.
So if you can't time your safari for the great migration as it crosses from Tanzania into Kenya, the birthing is an amazing alternative time to witness a spectacle that is hard to put into words. An additional bonus for those living in colder climes, is the sunny escape February in northern Tanzania offers!
Image of wildebeest birthing, Ndutu, Tanzania - Getty Images/Annie Katz
Valentine's day is not widely celebrated in Africa, except by the more affluent urban folks. But Africa is very much involved in our Valentine's day celebrations. More than 70% of all cocoa beans are grown on African soil, so your Valentine chocolates are likely to have originated in Africa. And around 800 million flowers will be making their way from Kenya's Lake Naivasha region to markets throughout Europe for the Valentine's day rush.
Flowers are Kenya's biggest export earner, and growers employ more than 70,000 people. (In the US, the 200 million roses shipped for February 14th, come primarily from Columbia and Ecuador). In the past decade Ethiopia has gone from earning less than a million US Dollars from flower exports, to $190 million by 2012 and is expected to rise to $550 million by 2016. Flowers may even beat out Ethiopia's other big "green" export moneymaker - Qat. Further south, South Africa has also become a major player in the flower industry.
Unfortunately the sheer amount of pesticides, water, fuel, packaging, and chemical preservatives used to keep the flowers in a perfect state on their long journey, means the carbon footprint of this industry is not exactly fragrant. Quite frankly it stinks. The flower business is also notorious for the mistreatment of its workers. Kenya's flower industry is dominated by multinationals who own vast flower farms. They employ thousands of people as temporary workers, housed in very shabby conditions and earning the bare minimum. As a consumer this Valentine's Day, you can help by buying flowers that have been sustainably grown (and preferably still from Africa!)
Image © Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
It's zany zebra Monday and I'll start with a question. Are zebras white with black stripes, or black with white stripes? Turns out that in the womb, teeny tiny zebra embryos are in fact brown. Their white stripes develop a little later on and their brown stripes turn black as they mature after birth. Another big zebra question is - Why? Why the stripes? Scientists have been puzzling over this one for many decades. A recent scientific breakthrough shows that it could be a way to ward off biting insects. Does this mean that our safari khakis should really be a more racy black and white outfit? Because I've had plenty of tsetse fly bites ruin a game drive, and a simple striped solution would suit me just fine. I'd also love to see game rangers sport some stripey shorts.
Without further ado, here are ten fun facts about zebras to help chase away the Monday blues.
Zany Zebra Facts
- Zebras are black with white stripes
- A zebra's stripes help ward off biting insects (source)
- Zebra's sleep standing up
- Zebras live in harems (usually one male with up to six females)
- Zebras can kick hard, they've been known to kill hyenas
- Zebra belong to the Equus genus (along with horses and donkeys)
- There are 3 species of zebra: Grevy's, Burchell's, and Mountain zebra
- Zebras live up to 25 years
- No two zebras are alike, their stripe patterns are unique like our finger prints
- Zebras always look healthy (a personal and completely unscientific observation)
Despite the general lack of snow in Africa, athletes from 3 (possibly 4) African nations will compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (7 - 23 February). It will be the first time both Togo and Zimbabwe are represented at a Winter Olympics. The athletes are largely self-financed and share a common dream that embodies the Olympic spirit. None are expected to medal (and some of them have barely set foot in the countries they represent ...)
For most of these athletes, just qualifying for the Olympics and getting to Sochi is reason enough to celebrate. Just ask the young Sive Speelman, a South African athlete who narrowly missed his chance to compete in Sochi. It would have been the "feel-good" story of these winter Olympics, dashed by South Africa's own Olympic committee (SASCOC). Speelman comes from a poor background, and grew up in rural Eastern Cape, an area that does actually see snowfall most years. He would have been one of the very few black Alpine skiers to compete at any winter Olympics. Speelman found out just a few days before the event that the SASCOC ruled he did not qualify to compete, despite being invited to Sochi by the IOC.