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Unusual questions people ask on safari

This blog was written by Wayne Lubbe, Bushwise trainer at our Mahlahla campus, who has had his fair share of surprising questions from safari guests!

3 min read

As a field guide you have the privilege of waking up to new adventures and the beautiful African sunrise every morning. You also spend time with guests from all walks of life and you have just a few precious moments to educate them about nature. Sometimes guests ask interesting questions. Here are a few examples.

Are giraffes or hippos in the Big Five?

A giraffe from the neck up, with a few oxpecker birds catching a ride.

Most guests are interested in seeing the iconic African Big Five, but there are many guests that do not know what animals are on this list. Looking at a giraffe or a hippo, you could easily include both animals into the Big Five list just because of their size, but they are not included.

The Big Five originated from the five most dangerous animals to hunt in the old conventional ways of hunting. Even though hippos still kill many people in Africa each year, they are not included on this list. This is because to hunt a hippo would be easy as they are in or around water making them an easy target for most hunters.

Do hippos eat fish? 

A hippo in a lake raising its head out of the water in a big yawn, showing off its large and intimidating teeth.

Guests are usually surprised to hear that a hippo is a grass eater and that they only consume a little bit of meat when there is an opportunity to do so (like when there is a dead animal close to the water). They do not hunt and kill animals themselves, especially not fish. 

Hippos are known to travel vast distances at night to feed on grass and they can be quite fussy when choosing the quality of grass they eat. This is why they are referred to as selective bulk grazers. 

Sometimes, people will get too close to the water because they need to get drinking water or cross the river. If there is a hippo nearby, it can cause  a conflict between very territorial hippos and humans. Hippos cause an estimated 500 human deaths annually (as compared to only 24 for lions). 

Do elephants get drunk from eating marula fruits?

A large bull elephant walking away from the camera, showing us just his legs and tail

Elephants have weak digestion and only digest around 40% of their food. The amount of marula fruits an elephant feeds on and the short amount of time the fruit spends inside the elephant’s stomach just does not have any effect on the elephants.

The average elephant would have to consume around 55 litres of marula juice or about 1,500 fermented marulas for any alcohol to take effect! This myth actually became common after the movie “The gods must be crazy” was released in the 1980s. 

I have personally seen baboons feeding on marula fruit and shortly afterwards becoming restless and excited giving the false impression that they are intoxicated from the fermented fruit. The baboons are in fact just showing the effects of the high sugar content of the fruit.

Do vultures really kill sheep, goats and lambs?

A hooded vulture standing on the ground near a carcass, doing its important job as a scavenger.

This is another question that guests ask from time to time and a belief that has been around for years. The bearded vulture is even referred to as a “lammergeier” which translated means “lamb catcher.” The bearded vulture is in fact a scavenger that eats bones from both fresh and old carcasses and rarely kills its own prey. 

Vultures are scavengers that rarely kill animals and they play a vital part as recyclers, keeping the spread of diseases in control in the ecosystem. A high number of vultures in an area is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Removing them from the natural environment would lead to a detrimental collapse of the ecosystem and increase of certain illnesses directly affecting us. 

Learn from knowledgeable experts like Wayne on a Bushwise course.




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