School of Thought: Eight Things South Africa Taught Me

WWF May 14, 2014 0

By Marsea Nelson, guest blogger for WWF Travel

Diverse landscapes, impressive infrastructure and the big five make South Africa an ideal safari destination. Our guest blogger Marsea Nelson recently traveled across South Africa  and reports on what she learned.

1. Distinguishing the difference between a white rhino and a black rhino is actually easy.
Though there are several differences, the first few times I saw rhinos in South Africa I had trouble distinguishing between the two types of rhinos. After all, even though one is called “black” and the other “white,” they’re actually similar in color.  Then someone told me to focus on the mouth—a black rhino’s jaw is pointed and a white rhino’s is square. This significant feature makes them much easier to identify. The white rhino’s square jaw is where its name originated – the Afrikaans word wyd derives from the Dutch, “wijd” (wide), is in reference to the animal’s wide muzzle.

White rhino. Photo © Mark Hickey

White rhinos have a square jaw. Photo © Mark Hickey

Black rhinos have a much more pointed jaw. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism

Black rhinos have a much more pointed jaw. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Becoming a morning person is easy.
If my snooze button could talk, it would tell you that I’m not normally a morning person. But in Africa, animals are often most active before the day’s heat sets in. Couple that with the promise of a multicolored sunrise stretching across the sky, and bouncing out of bed becomes easy.

3. There’s another “Big Five.”
While out in the African bush, most safari-goers hope to catch a glimpse of the “Big Five”— the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino. But another group of animals—the hyena, wildebeest, vulture, warthog and marabou stork—have been given the dubious distinction of being the continent’s “Ugly Five.”

Wildebeest. Photo courtesy of Lompopo Tourism.

Wildebeest. Photo courtesy of Lompopo Tourism.

4. South Africa has 11 official languages.
Most South Africans speak more than one language, and though English is largely understood throughout the country, it’s only the first language for about 10 percent of the population. During my travels, I loved picking up words from the other languages, including “yebo,” which means “yes” in Zulu.

5. A hippo’s looks can be deceiving.
Given its short legs and wide girth, a hippo would be no match for a human when on firm ground – or so I thought. Once I learned it can run up to 30 miles per hour and is one of the continent’s deadliest animals, I made sure to keep my distance.

Hippos in South Africa. Photo © Denise Ramsey.

Hippos in South Africa. Photo © Denise Ramsey.

6. Wild dogs are chatter boxes.
Wild dogs are incredibly social animals and use complex vocalizations to communicate. Even before spotting a pack in the bush, you can often hear them chirping or twittering. My personal favorite is the “hoo” call, which sounds like an owl. A dog will use that vocalization when it has lost its pack.

Wild dog. Photo © Marsea Nelson

Wild dog. Photo © Marsea Nelson

7. The more eyes the better.
Safari guides have an unbelievable ability to spot animals in the wild, so it’s tempting to solely depend on them to scan the surroundings. But the more people actively looking, the better the chance of seeing wildlife, most of which is well-camouflaged in the bush. Even my novice eyes managed to spy a lion and a black rhino that no one else in my group saw. An added bonus is getting to brag about it for the rest of the day.

Travelers scouting in South Africa. Photo © Natural Habitat Adventures

Travelers scouting in South Africa. Photo © Natural Habitat Adventures

8. South Africa’s rhinos are in jeopardy.
In several Asian countries, rhino horn is erroneously believed to have health benefits, and demand is on the rise. As a result, there’s been a sharp increase in South Africa’s rhino poaching —up 7,000 percent since 2007. Thankfully, conservation organizations like WWF are working to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Travel to South Africa with WWF and NatHab.

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