I’ve been guiding and working in the wilderness areas in Africa now for quite some time, and often people think you have seen everything, or ask whether you don’t get bored of seeing impala, and lion so regularly.
The answer is no, because even though one has been doing this for several years, things jump out at you, that you may not have even seen before.
The other day I took a guest and Charlie Bailey’s boys, Basil and Humphrey out on a drive to Tagalala. And Just as we started our route we had a very quick glimpse of two honey badgers disappearing into a drainage line.
These mammals are reputed to be tough as nails, and don’t stand for any trouble, taking on spotted hyena and lion, if they come too close or get in their way. Their black and white, warning markings signify that they aren’t to be toiled with, and as their name suggests, do in fact raid bee hives, feeding on the bee larvae. This action of opening up these hives, ripping them apart assists other species like; Greater Honeyguides which aren’t able to open the beehives themselves; but do feed on the wax, eggs and larvae. They are one of the few vertebrates which are adapted to eating beeswax, and have a symbiotic relationship with micro-organisms in their digestive tract, allowing them to digest the wax. They do follow the Honey Badgers, and also utter following calls if they have located a bee hive they need opening, with the Greater Honeyguide leading both Honey badger and human alike to the nearest hive.
There is however the tale, that if you do not open the bee hive and leave something for the Honeyguide, if it has led you to a hive, that next time it will lead you to a python or pride of lions. The irony is I have followed these birds personally several times, and in two occasions, coincidentally I have come across a python.
So Honey Badgers off the bat, my second sighting only of them in the Selous. As we made our journey, another great sighting and a first for me came around the corner. We came across a small clan of Spotted Hyena, nothing unusual, except a young male was attempting to mate with the dominant female; that being a first for me. I have never seen Spotted Hyaena attempt or mate before, and we sat for approximately 20 to 30 minutes as he tried over and over to get it right, inexperience obviously showing.
The challenge with this is that the female has a false penis or pseudoscrotum, with the phallus always being flaccid, but has a large slit at the end. So the male’s penis needs to manoeuvre upwards, almost as if it has its own remote control, allowing entering, for copulation. This as you can imagine is quite the ordeal, and procedure.
Due to the cubs only being fully weaned at 12 to 14 months, with the weaning process only starting at approximately 9 months, the female needs to make sure it eats its fill and enough of it. So she has a high testosterone count, making her bigger and more aggressive, ensuring she eats first and as much as possible. Thus assisting with her production of high calcium milk for the cubs, but the down fall of this is she develops a pseudoscrotum.
So a very special sighting and memory to have been able to witness.