South Africa

Why do Zebra's have stripes?

The zebra’s striped coat is simultaneously extraordinary and stunning. So wondrous, in fact, that many people have imagined it to be evidence of God’s infinitely artistic hand. Over the years, there have been many more rational explanations, but that all-important scientific consensus has remained elusive.

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Charles Darwin certainly found the zebra’s stripes to be a conundrum. In The Descent of Man, he dismissed the idea they could act as camouflage, citingWilliam Burchell’s observations of a herd:

Their sleek ribs glistened in the sun, and the brightness and regularity of their striped coats presented a picture of extraordinary beauty, in which probably they are not surpassed by any other quadruped.

Although both males and female zebras are similarly striped, Darwin hedged that “he who attributes the white and dark vertical stripes on the flanks of various antelopes to sexual selection, will probably extend the same view to the … beautiful zebra.” In other words, the stripes help males and females make sensible choices about whom they mate with.

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Alfred Russel Wallace begged to differ. “It is in the evening, or on moonlight nights, when they go to drink, that they are chiefly exposed to attack,” he wrote inDarwinism. “In twilight they are not at all conspicuous, the stripes of white and black so merging together into a grey tint it is difficult to see them at a little distance.” There are other possibilities too. Perhaps the stripes act as some kind of zoological barcode, allowing one individual to recognise another. It has been suggested they could somehow help with thermoregulation. It is believed that the zebra’s stripes work like camouflage, according to the National Geographic. When zebras stand together, it is harder for predators to determine how many zebras are in the group. The stripes may also make the zebra appear unattractive to smaller predators, such as bloodsucking horseflies, which can spread disease. In addition, the stripes may work as a natural sunscreen.

Each zebra’s stripes are unique. Just as no two human fingerprints are alike, no two zebras have the same stripe pattern.

Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis, has puzzled over contrasting colouration in mammals before. Now, in a new study published in Nature Communications this week, he and his colleagues have focused their attention on the zebra.

They take a completely original approach, stepping back from one species of zebra and attempting to account for the differences in patterning across different species and subspecies of zebras, horses and asses. Is there anything about the habitat or ecology of these different equids that hints at the function of stripes?

Mabalingwe Zebra fowl  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Zebra fowl  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

“I was amazed by our results,” says Caro. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.” Where there are tsetse flies, for instance, the equids tend to come in stripes. Where there aren’t, they don’t.

The idea that flies don’t like stripes dates back at least to 1930. Since then, there have been several studies that have provided experimental support, with flies preferring to alight on all-black or all-white surfaces rather than on stripes. The authors also stress the burden of blood sucking insects: both tsetse flies and horseflies are the vectors for significant and often-fatal diseases in horses; they are probably also capable of draining a significant amount of blood (several hundred millilitres in a day, apparently).

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Why the crocodile and lion avoid preying on the Waterbuck

Worldwide confusion exists over the waterbuck’s name.  It is frequently and incorrectly used to refer to the lechwe and the sitatunga, two species that are considered aquatic in their behaviour.  The waterbuck, however, is not aquatic but terrestrial and is usually found in close vicinity to water rich environments.  Waterbuck have a reputation for smelly and unpalatable meat.  This is due to a musky oil secreted by glands found primarily in the skin of the flanks which forms a waterproof layer around the hair and protects the skin when the waterbuck enters water.  Many incidents have been reported where crocodile and lion have avoided preying on waterbuck because of their unpleasant smell.

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck standing  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck standing  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Adult bulls are 20-25% heavier than adult cows.  Old bulls tend to become smelly as a result of the secretions of the subcutaneous oil glands. With a light breeze, experienced hunters claim they can smell them up to 500 m away.

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck   |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck   |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Waterbuck are generally peaceful but can become highly aggressive when wounded, captured or under social stress when they do not hesitate to defend themselves.  When potential danger is detected they frequently retreat into water and submerge with only the nostrils above the surface.  Waterbuck are good swimmers and are capable of crossing flooded rivers.  They are known to swim to islands in lakes in order to graze.

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One of South Africa's best restaurants can be found in Bela-Bela

Excellent service and fine cuisine

L’Orange Bleue, the restaurant of Thaba Pitsi Nature Reserve (4 star TGCSA) has earned a proud reputation for its excellent service and fine cuisine (Best & only restaurant from the Limpopo in the Top 100 - awarded a Bibendum by Michelin guide NEOS, as well as four stars in the 2003-04-05-06-07-08 edition of Magazine's Top 100 South African restaurants - Selected by BBC Food program as being one of the best Restaurant of SA - selected for Off the Menu BBC show), complimented by a selection of quality wines and liqueurs – for connoisseurs of good living!

This Belgian-French restaurant located at the foot of the Waterberg mountain (17km from Bela Bela) is housed in a turn-of-the 20th century farmhouse, converted into a restaurant with modernity, style and hot orange and blue tastefully decorated.

From Wine magazine’s “TOP 100 restaurants”: “If Bela-Bela is mentioned in your guide” says the Michelin Guide for South Africa, “it is due to Thaba Pitsi...”. The couple who left Belgium to bring this unlikely spot to the gastronomic world’s attention, are Marc (formerly an international rally driver) and Nathalie (a former model). Their restaurant L’Orange Bleue received a Bibendum smiling face signifying quality. Housed in a rebuild farmhouse with a vivid interior, modern furniture and an open-plan kitchen, the restaurant is rescued from the pages of a designer magazine by a quirky sense of humour. The food is simplicity at its best....

Aperitifs can be enjoyed on their thatched terrace, surrounded by the Bushveld atmosphere, while more active guests can work up an aperitif playing a game of tennis or petanque (the French game of "boules"). The main attraction however is the exquisite cuisine, prepared with passion. "A la Carte" dinners accompanied by the chef's specialities from the ingredients for a gastronomic experience. Personal attention and meticulous service are complimented by sheer Latin hospitality. The ambience of the bushveld, the interesting decor and the delicious Belgian/French cuisine make for an unforgettable romantic Afro-European experience.

L'Orange Bleue is the perfect place to celebrate special birthdays, anniversaries, engagements and other private, social or corporate events – truly the ultimate intimate hideaway!

They change our menu every 2 months.  On request, they can also prepare different kinds od splits with crocodile, sucking pig or lamb.

Mabalingwe boast over 250 bird species

The Limpopo Province, with its vast unexplored areas and diverse habitats, offers one of the most exciting birding destinations in Southern Africa.

Habitats range from vast tracts of montane grassland to afro-temperate forests, bushveld and wetlands. Over 600 bird species have been recorded in the province, of which 420 are resident.

Birdlife abounds in Limpopo and provides even the most discerning birder with boundless pleasure. The birds most frequently admired remain the raptors, some of which are the following: African Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, Black Eagle, Crowned Eagle and the Giant Eagle Owl.

The De Wildt Shingwedzi Cheetah Ranch a must for Mabalingwe visitors

The De Wildt Shingwedzi Cheetah Ranch was established in 1998. Situated in the foothills of the majestic Waterberg Mountains, deep in the heart of the bushveld, the cheetah and wild dogs flourish in this unspoiled environment.

During a two hour tour, visitors have the opportunity to see and learn more about cheetah,
wild dogs, caracal, serval, African Wild Cat and vultures. Watch cheetahs running at high speed chasing a lure or engage in the rare opportunity to meet a cheetah up close and hear it purr.....

Nature lovers will enjoy the spectacular birdlife and abundant game, including hippo, kudu, impala, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, eland, waterbuck and other species such as ostrich and crocodile. A vulture restaurant for free flying vultures is also in operation and up to 140 vultures have been seen feasting on a carcass.

Malaria free and unspoiled by sophisticated development, the ranch is set in the heart of the magical Waterberg bushveld, a mere 160km from Pretoria.

A visit to the sanctuary promises to be an unforgettable experience.