Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Elephants, Ostriches, and the Mighty Baobob Tree

Thundering. Towering. Too heavy to fly. Elephants. Baobob trees. Ostriches. They are giants and there are still places where these giants rule the land. Welcome to Tarangire National Park!

African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) are the heaviest land animal on
Planet Earth and are the second tallest, only shorter than giraffes.

Tanzania borders Rwanda and stretches east to the Indian Ocean. Tanzania conserves many large wild areas, among them Serengeti National Park and Selous Game Reserve (this reserve alone is twice the size of Rwanda). Michele and I visited Tarangire National Park and were blown away by some the giants we saw.

Sunrise at Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park protects 2850 square kilometers of wild lands, but migratory herds of herbivores spread out over an area seven times that size during the wet season. During the dry season, many of the animals flock back to the park for food and especially water in the swamps and the Tarangire River. 

Elephants live in family groups led by a matriarch. Mature male elephants
live on their own and only join the groups for mating. In this picture, a
herd of females and young cross the Tarangire River.

Tarangire is a mix of tropical grassland, woodland, and wetland. These habitat types meet and mix and thus support a huge variety of organisms. For example, the bird list for the park contains over 550 species; that is more than all the bird species found in the states of Missouri and New York combined. We saw 145 species of birds in the two full days we were there, including birds that are only found within the region, the yellow-collared love-bird, the ashy starling, the rufous-tailed weaver, and the grey-headed silverbill.

Baobob trees (Adansonia digitata) can grow for thousands
of years. This species can be found in savannas throughout tropical
Africa and supports many species of bats, birds, insects, monkeys, and
even people (who cook the leaves and collect caterpillars for protein).

Ostriches (Struthio camelus) are the largest living bird on the planet. They
are almost entirely herbivorous (plant-eating). Males and females form mixed
flocks, but here three males shuffle their wings in unison (nice shot Michele!).

Just how big is a baobob tree? Count more than 100 cattle egrets in the
baobob on the left. Note that the left baobob is nowhere near as large as
the one to the right. Baobobs are not tall trees (maximum 25 meters), but
their giant crowns have an imposing presence on their surroundings.

Female ostriches have different colored feathers than males. Both males
and females stand about 2 meters tall, and adults weigh in between
90-130 kilograms (that' a big bird).

Elephants are strict herbivores; they eat grasses and leaves mainly but
can eat bark, fruits, and roots. Each day they can eat 100-300 kilograms of
food (I weigh about 75 kilograms), which is about 4% of their body weight.

Sunset at Tarangire... look closely for the elephant! 

Works Cited
  • “Annotated Checklist of Missouri Birds.” The Audubon Society of Missouri. Accessed 2 August 2011. http://mobirds.org/MBRC/MOChecklist.asp

  • Donegan, K. 2002. "Struthio camelus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 02, 2011 http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Struthio_camelus.html.

  • "Checklist of the birds of New York State."  Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, Inc. Accessed 2 August 2011. http://www.npwrc.usgs.govnystate.html

  • Hankey, Andrew. “Adansonia digitata.” South African National Biodiversity Institute Website Plantzafrica.com. Accessed 2 August 2011. http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantab/adansondigit.htm

  • Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 02, 2011. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html.

  • "Tarangire National Park.” Tanzania National Parks. Accessed 2 August 2011. http://www.tanzaniaparks.com/tarangire.html

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