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The Fact of the Day is a place where we talk about a short fact of the day that can be about ‘wild animals’, ‘cool stories’, as long as it is interesting and fun.  A fun fact that can be told at any time.  A true fun fact that will be memorable and make you laugh.
Giraffe Conservation Foundation

Giraffe conservationists win tech award

Giraffe Conservation Foundation

THE Namibia-based Giraffe Conservation Foundation was the recipient of the Conservation Tech Award by EarthRanger last Wednesday.

EarthRanger is a computer program of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the award was developed to catalyse innovation and development in conservation solutions. It recognises organisations using technology to protect endangered species, monitor ecological changes and animal behaviour, and promote peaceful human-wildlife coexistence.

“The Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s (GCF) work embodies what we are looking to recognise and encourage through this grant,” said Jes Lefcourt, director of EarthRanger.

“GCF is approaching big, continent-wide challenges that don’t have simple solutions, and is applying a host of technologies in creative ways, ranging from large-scale animal tracking to advanced artificial intelligence models for identifying individual animals.

“We hope that the grant aids in GCF’s work and that others will be inspired to join the effort to empower conservation through technology,” he said.

As a user of the EarthRanger software, GCF has used machine learning, rapid geospatial data management and visualisation to understand giraffes in unprecedented ways and advocate their protection.

For example, according to GCF director Stephanie Fennessy, the foundation created the Twiga Tracker initiative, which is the largest GPS satellite tracking study ever conducted on giraffes. With help from its partners, GCF has successfully collared more than 250 individual giraffes in 12 countries with solar-powered tracking devices to follow their migration patterns, observe their interactions with their environments, and aid in anti-poaching efforts.

GCF is also conducting repeated surveys of giraffe populations using pattern recognition and machine learning to compile a database of all known individual giraffes in key conservation landscapes, in addition to using genetics to reclassify giraffe taxonomy from one to four distinct species, a story which The Namibian covered in May.

Fennessy said that while the foundation hopes to inspire a passion to protect this species, which plays a vital role in maintaining balance in ecosystems, the giraffe is still challenged by habitat loss, human population growth, disease and poaching, which have consequently resulted in a third of the population being lost over the last 30 years.

“GCF is putting often-hyped technology to the test in real-world rugged field environments, pairing technology with local community knowledge, and helping researchers do less data-wrangling and more science,” said Tanya Birch, program manager at Google Earth Outreach and a member of the selection committee.

“With strong track records showing impact at conserving giraffe, the award can be a launching pad for novel applications of tech.”

The Conservation Tech Award consists of two N$225 000 prizes. GCF and the Lion Guardians in Kenya were the two winners. Applications were evaluated based on an assessment of innovativeness, potential for scalability, clarity of success metrics, clarity of next steps, and likelihood of having impact.

This year, the applicant pool included nearly 100 applications from organisations on six continents and 32 countries, all involved in vital conservation efforts around the world. Fenessey said that access to conservation technology continues to change the face of conservation. It has been shown to aid efforts even through the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing conservationists to do more with less and continue their work amid the significant challenges of decreased budgets and increased illegal activity such as trade and poaching.

GCF is the only organisation in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe in the wild throughout Africa.

From their base in Windhoek, they currently are involved in giraffe conservation efforts in 16 African countries.

Toro River Lodges | Big 5 Safari

The Story of the Impala

The Fact Of The Day

The Impala is a very successful antelope species.

The Impala’s diet consists of both grass and browses, so they are termed ‘mixed feeders’. Being able to eat many types of vegetation benefits them, as it enables them to always have options for sustenance no matter the season.

Toro River Lodges | Big 5 Safari
Impalas are the only antelope species in Southern Africa with “metatarsal glands” above the hoof of the hind legs.

Impalas do need to always remain close to a water source, as they are water dependent, and hence will generally be within a 5km radius of the water that they drink daily.

The Impala is very proper in their mannerisms regarding personal hygiene, and consistently keep up with their grooming, as is evident in their shiny coats.

They have teeth specially made for this, with their lower incisors being loose in their sockets. The teeth splay open and provide a comb that passes through the impala’s coat, removing dirt and parasites.

Impala is also very social, and help each other out in grooming, as it is hard to reach some places by one’s self. This is called allo-grooming.

Toro River Lodges | Big 5 Safari
Fact of the Day: always an eye out for danger, impalas stay in groups which gives them a better chance at survival with more eyes watching out.

One impala grooms another in the hard to reach places, and then in return, the groomed impala will help out its comrade by doing the same. And amazingly, the impalas will groom each other for the same amount of time.

There’s no skimping out with the Impalas!

The impalas also have excellent senses, with large ears for hearing, and huge eyes that provide exceptional vision. And their eyes, like most antelope, are on the sides of their heads, which gives them fantastic peripheral vision.

All predators like to eat impala, yet their numbers are continually vast. One reason is that the Impalas are highly athletic. These antelope are very fast, and can jump as high as three meters and far as 12m long!

They often like to display their athleticism in front of predators, jumping and bounding, as if to say, “See my agility and speed! I’m not worth the effort of being hunted!”

The Impala also has a unique “follow me” sign on their rump, which looks very much like a McDonalds ‘M’ symbol. More impalas survive by following behind the other, and it creates a “middleman” safety effect.

Toro River Lodges | Big 5 Safari
Impalas are extremely fast and agile, able to run speeds faster than 60km/h. They are capable of leaping up to 10m in length and 3m in height. They use their tremendous speed and agility to avoid predation, and they also don’t mind showing off. Impalas will often spring and dash about, just to show any predators watching that trying to hunt them isn’t worth the effort!

Another way impalas keep in contact, is by the glands that are on their ankles. When impalas kick up their back legs, they activate these “metatarsal glands” leaving a trail for the other impala to follow. This way if some are scattered or lost during a predator’s attack, they can find the herd again. No man left behind.

But there is yet still another reason for the successful numbers of impala, and this is a result of impalas’ breeding habits.

Throughout the year, female and young impalas stay together in groups, called breeding herds. While males associates with the groups, they form their own groups called bachelor herds.

As January draws near its end, and days grow shorter, the male impala’s testosterone levels are increased. And so they separate from their bachelor groups, with intentions of claiming and setting up their own territory.

Ideally, these territories need to have the best of everything, like food, water, etc. The goal is to attract the ladies. So they must provide them with a home worth living in.
The impala males, which are called rams, run around, chasing away contenders.

They roar and make a lot of ruckuses. Their hopes are to sound much bigger and fiercer than they actually are, to avoid having actual conflict. This is also how they force the ladies into their territory.

But at times, battles do ensue, with the clashing of horns.

When May comes around, so comes the peak of the rut. And all the female impalas are ready for ‘love making’.

And within a three week period, the impala rams are constantly fighting off intruders, and mating. They do this so much to the extent that they forget to eat and groom. And so a male can usually only hold a territory for 8 days, before another male comes around, much fitter, and takes it and the females away.

And after these three weeks, all the female impalas have been mated.

6 to 6.5 months pass, in late November or early December, comes the flood of the impala lambs. Amazingly, however, female impalas can delay giving birth for a couples weeks if weather conditions are not good.

Toro River Lodges | Big 5 Safari
The Impala is certainly one Africa’s most graceful antelope species.

All are born at once. However, there is only so many lambs which can be eaten, so a vast majority survives. And hence, the impala antelope continues to thrive throughout Africa.

Leopard Big 5 | Toro River Lodges

‘Big 5, Big Cats’

Leopards are one of Africa’s big cats, and even more impressively, one of Africa’s well known Big 5.

But what gives them such an honorable title?

The leopard is known for its elusiveness, its agility, and also a very opportunistic lifestyle. They are extremely adaptable, able to live in a variety of habitats. They can be found in such extremes from the high temperatures of the Kalahari Desert to the freezing mountain ranges of the Himalayas! They have the widest range of all the big cats.

But what really sets leopards apart is that they have extraordinarily powerful jaws, as well as exceedingly strong neck and shoulder muscles. These big cats are able to put these muscles to use by having the capability to lift prey that is two-three times their weight into a tree. They do this to provide protection for themselves and to keep their prey from being taken by other predators. As often times, scavenging lions and hyenas, will readily steal the leopards’ kill because they are larger than the leopard.

So in order to avoid the other purloining predators, a leopard generally chooses to take prey that is much smaller than themselves, as it is easier to carry it up a tree, and so their main food source tends to be impalas, duiker, steenbok and any other smaller antelope.

However, leopards being such highly opportunistic hunters, have been found to consume anything from insects and reptiles to rodents and large antelope. And even more impressively, though it is extremely rare, it has been reported that even small giraffes have been killed and drug into the trees by leopards!

And so putting into perspective this amazing cat’s ability to lift prey two-three times their size, we can look at a leopard’s size. A male leopard weighs between 37-90kg (82-200lbs), which is larger than female leopards. And this means that a 200lb male leopard can technically lift 600lbs with its neck muscles alone. And, if that wasn’t enough, pull it up a tree.

Would you like to try and lift 600 lbs with your mouth and climb up a tree? That’s why leopards deserve their place in Big 5, and that’s why Toro River Lodges is a Big 5 conservancy.

Cheetah | Toro River Lodges

How to keep Young Cheetah Cubs safe

The Fact Of The Day

Cheetah generally gives birth to 3-5 cubs at a time. The cubs must be moved at a young age from place to place by their mother every few days, this helps them survive due to predators. In addition, the cubs must remain hidden in her chosen place,  while the mother hunts for food.

Therefore, the many little spots on the Cheetah cubs’ fur helps them blend into the tall grass, camouflaging them out of sight of predators. Another interesting way the cubs are kept safe is the silvery white colored mane, called a ‘mantle’, that runs from the top of their heads to the end of their backs.

As a result, this mantle, which looks quite like a mohawk hairstyle, gives the Cubs the appearance of a Honey Badger! Especially relevant, Honey Badgers are well known by all animals as a force to be reckoned with. They are tough mammals and are fierce fighters.

No predator likes messing with a Honey Badger!

Zebras | Toro River Lodges

Zebras have stripes! Why?

The Fact Of The Day

There have been multiple theories and studies done on why the zebras have stripes. As it is clearly a unique pattern in the animal kingdom, and frankly, it seems to stand out more when compared to other animal patterns.

Surely such an extreme of black and white would make an animal more of a target? But interestingly enough, some have suggested that the stripes do still serve a purpose of camouflage!

How? When zebras are running as a group, the many black and white stripes can actually be quite confusing for predators. For in the eyes of a predator, the zebras seem to become a frenzied unison of stripes. This makes it more difficult to single out the weakest zebras. Which is what a predator, like a lion, must do in order to efficiently hunt and kill its prey.

But a more intriguing theory is that the stripes are actually used against disease-carrying tsetse flies!
These nasty little flies have a difficult time recognizing striped surfaces, and therefore they are less liking to land on the striped pelt of the zebra.

Yet another possible reason for the stripes is thermoregulation.
Due to the fact that zebras digest food less efficiently than other grazers, zebras have to spend a lot more eating during the heat of the day. And long hours in the hot African sun, as you can imagine, is quite trying!
So, therefore, in order to control their body heat, the zebra’s stripes are amazingly able to generate small-scale breezes over the zebra’s body, when the light and dark stripes heat up at different rates.