It’s the small things that bring the wild to life
BY: Louise Pavid
Chasing the big five is always the number one priority for most bushveld newcomers. The thrill of spotting a leopard or having an elephant stand within metres of you is prized above all else. Yet, it’s often the case that the smaller things are what makes an experience in the wild most memorable.
There is staggering beauty and intricacy in the wild that is often overlooked in the pursuit of more iconic mammals. The iridescence of a Burchell’s starling’s feathers as they gleam in the light, brought on, not by pigment, but by layers of protein keratin stacked together in such a way that it delivers a sort of optical illusion that surpasses any human imagination and enters the realm of nature’s ingenious patterns and designs.
Iconic insects inhabit their own ecological niches, playing vital roles in the maintenance of healthy, natural landscapes and delighting us in their behaviour. Rolling balls of fresh dung, fastidiously built and moved by dung beetles, not only provide an essential cleaning service, but also keep the constant rotation of Earth’s nutrient cycle.
An eight-legged beauty cast in a vast matrix of silken scaffolds. Garden orb-web spiders are intricately decorated with red, yellow and black as a warning of toxicity. Beauty in the wild is not meaningless. Her markings caution against eating her – it will be regretful! Despite her colourful warnings, her bite is not dangerous to humans.
Animal architecture is not driven by learning, but rather instinct. Potter wasps are ancestrally and genetically hard-wired to build perfect spheres out of mud to house offspring they will never meet. Precise, calculated construction provides safety for larvae. And paralysed caterpillars are built into this muddy tomb to serve as live, fresh feeding until the new wasp breaks free, ready to repeat the cycle.
It’s one thing to appreciate the smaller things, but it would be a mistake to neglect the venue that plays host to all things wild. The landscape of South Africa’s Lowveld is veiled in verdant beauty and defended by the buttresses of the Drakensberg mountains. The sheer scale of the landscape in its entirety boggles the mind and defies the capacity of what can be imagined. You don’t need a pride of lions to be captivated and awe-inspired –, all you need to do is look around.