Dec 29, 2012

South Africa - Land of Weavers

After whale watching in Gansbaai, touring through the barren arid landscapes of Klein Karoo, visiting an ostrich farm in 0strich capital of the world Oudtshoorn, and cruising along the Garden Route, we stayed two nights at a citrus farm in the little town of Addo, just north of Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape Province. It's known for its citrus farming (it was the greatest producer of lemons in the world last year), as well as for neighboring Addo Elephant National Park. Elephants and citrus farms do not make a good mix, as the local elephants turned out to be a big fan of citrus. So the village hired an army major to shoot them all, and he almost succeeded. Almost, because the original population of  thousands was decimated to a mere 16 in 1920. By 1931, only 3 males and 8 females remained in all of Eastern Cape Province, and Addo Park was founded to protect them from extinction. It took a while for the park to become successful; the fences were not strong enough to keep the elephants within the park's boundaries, and out of harm's way with the farming community. But in 1954, they figured out a way to build a fence out of elevator cables and tram rails, which is still in use today. Interestingly, of the original 3 males only 1 bred, and most of the 8 females had no tusks. Their heritage is still noticeable today, with many of the now 550 elephants in the park having no or very small tusks.

Although originally founded to protect the African Elephant, the park is now a big success story of preservation of the unique Addo habitat. Black Rhino, a unique dung beetle, and many many bird species call this area home.

Some interesting things we saw and learned: all geraniums now blooming in Europe and North America originate from Addo. And many airlines are sponsoring the local spekkieboom, because it is the most efficient neutralizer of their carbon footprint. Unfortunately the local elephants not only like citrus, but also love grazing through fields full of newly planted spekkieboom sprouts. And one of the most interesting sights: a 5 foot long earth worm, shaped exactly like the 'regular' 3-5 inch long type but blown up to gigantic proportions. When our guide picked it up, it started shedding water in the hope to either slip out of his hands or gross him out so much he would voluntarily let go. Neither worked, as our guide had a very specific sense of humor; over lunch he was going to surprise his girlfriend by asking her to close her eyes and hang the worm around her neck pretending it was a necklace. And he was sure she was going to love him even more for that gesture........ 

The birdlife in the park is prolific, and perhaps the most amazing is the fiscal shrike, also known as Jackie Hangman or Butcher Bird for the male's habit of pinning his pray of lizards and large insects to the horned acacia bush in which he made his nest - all of that to lure the ladies in. Guides and shrikes alike are not your ordinary womanizer around here......

We saw many different raptor birds and different type of weavers. Weavers are common across most places we went to in South Africa, and were also all around our rooms at the citrus farm. These little guys are pretty amazing, knotting and weaving nests out of grass and leaves with just their beak. Ever tried to make a knot with just your index and middle finger? 

The male weavers are also womanizing show-offs, hanging and swinging from their newly built basket nests in a motion what looks most like head-banging. Hoping to show the females what a skilled builders they are, they should be ready for an emasculating disappointment. The alpha female of the group has the privilege of checking out the nest, which took him days of hard work, and she chops it right off the branch if there is anything not to her liking. Ouch. Talking about a tough housing market.

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