Written by Isaiah Banda
As we approach Spring here at Mabula Game Lodge, an extraordinary time for game viewing awaits, offering a sense of bliss and tranquillity before the arrival of the bountiful summer rains. The perfect time to witness the crucial transformation of the reserve, some of the water points, Ngulubi and Mvubu dam continue to overflow creating riverine along the gullies, drawing the majestic animals together and creating predictably delightful Safari drives. The lush vegetation remains low, providing a clear canvas to observe many magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. TPA plain, long winding, buffalo boulevard and Segwagwa plains are sightings hotspot.
It’s been a very fauna-centric month here at Mabula with wildlife that has been hanging around the centre of the reserve stealing the show. The remarkable diversity of the animal kingdom never fails to astonish us here on the reserve. From lions to the mighty elephants, the graceful zebras to the formidable hippos, each animal possesses unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their respective environments.
With winter having thinned the vegetation, the stage is set for remarkable wildlife encounters. Mighty herds of buffalo leisurely graze in the golden morning light, while overhead, graceful birds of prey glide effortlessly, their sharp eyes scanning the ground for the slightest movement.
There is nothing more special and memorable than being in the midst of an elephant herd. I will even go so far as saying that it is food for the soul, especially when you have never had the pleasure of witnessing these giants up close going by their daily activities. I have been privileged to be close to this gentle giants many times, had oppoturnity to be on darting one.
Elephants needs to be respected and understood. They have emotions similar to humans in that they experience loss, they have strong family bonds, and they can be very grumpy. Early warning signs are given if they don’t want you in their space. When a herd accepts your presence and goes about their daily task, which involves eating and drinking mainly, the experience is truly magical that you will never forget it. Which is what happened to us when they accepted our presence on one afternoon safari with my guests around TPA dam.
With a group of eight guests on safari drive out here on Mabula Game Lodge, our mission one afternoon was to find a breeding herd of elephants. We sometimes don’t always find what we’re looking for but on this occasion we did. Approaching a TPA dam, driving through open TPA plain, we spotted big grey bodies moving through the bushes on the eastern side of TPA gully, they seemed to be on the mission of getting to TPA dam, but visibility wasn’t ideal.
With a call on the radio saying they were crossing the gully on the beginning of Tholo road to the dam itself a little further on we continued and found exactly what we wanted, herd on the move crossing the road to the dam. They crossed right infront of our vehicle and begun to drink water. It was so amazing to listen to them taking water with their trunk and water going down their through is totally something to watch and listen to.
Observing these gentle giants going about their day, really watching how they eat and move around, invokes many a question. Their trunks, a concertina of thousands of muscles with prehensile fingers on the end, will befuddle you. The use of their feet and trunks together as tools to extract the juicy roots they seek from the underground makes you realise that they are incredibly intelligent foragers and if they want something enough, they will get it!
We were able to sit with the herd for quite some time as we were the only vehicle left in the area, soaking it all up, the sights and sounds around us. They started to move away from the dam along Tholo road and we followed them. This gave me a thinking to discuss diegsitive system of an elephants. Most of the time we just see these animals go by eating the whole day.
The digestive system is one of the most important systems in an animal’s body. It is responsible for breaking down food into smaller particles and extracting nutrients that the body needs to function properly. This process is essential for the survival of animals, as it provides them with the energy and resources they need to carry out their daily activities.
Three basic types of digestion. Ruminant – multi-compartmented stomach. Hindgut fermentor – simple stomach, but very large and complex large intestine. Monogastric – simple stomach
It begins with the mouth. The digestive process begins with the entrance of food in the mouth. Elephants have a relatively small mouth for the size of their body, which cannot be opened widely. To aid in the initial digestive process, there are well-developed salivary glands in the mouth, along with the mucous glands present in the short esophagus. Together they help to lubricate the rough vegetation that an elephant consumes in its diet.
Stomach is a simple sac that is orientated almost vertically. Ironically, most of the digestion doesn’t take place in the stomach, yet it acts as a storage for the food eaten. From here, it is then ushered into the amazingly large intestines of the elephant– they can stretch up to 19 meters!
Intestine is where most of the digestion of the vegetative diet takes place. At the point at which the small intestine meets the large one, bacteria aids in the fermentative digestion of the cellulose from the plants in the diet. This location is called the caecum and is particularly rich in blood vessels. The caecum is divided into many smaller sacs and the products of digestion are absorbed through its relatively thin walls.
The end of the process- Because the elephant only digests and makes good use of 40% of its intake, the intestine is also key in the formation of faeces and the efficient absorption of water. The size of the faeces is often used to determine the age of the elephant as it retains the shape formed by the walls of the rectum, indicating its size.
Elephants seem to hold enormous appeal. I am not quite sure what it is about this marvelous animal that captivates us so. Whether it is the unimaginable size or that wondrous and unusual body? Or perhaps we are drawn to the herd and the close sense of family they share with humans? Or maybe their deeply emotional personalities? Whatever it is, of one thing I am quite certain; our connection to the elephant runs very, very deep.
Predators have been abundance this month, with lions found on a zebra kill on bottom serengeti plains. We have just missed the kill with just a few seconds. Upon our arrival we found single lioness on the kill, soon she started doing contact call probably calling members of the family it was not long male and female appered out of the thicket waling into the plain to come and join her on the kill.
Lions have specialised teeth to suit their diet and lifestyle. The pre-molars and molars have evolved into the carnassial sheer which is effective at slicing through skin and muscle from the bone into swallowable chunks. 50% of meat extraction is done through puling motions of the neck and 30% using paws.
Being obligate carnivores, lions have no requirement for carbohydrates in their diet, therefore do not produce salivary amylase within the buccal cavity. Digestive system of a lion is very interesting. It is always a pleasure to watch them feeding on their kill. Imaginating how the system work until the enter it always facinate me.
Lions oesophagus (food pipe) is approximately 70-80cm. Chunks of food are swallowed and travel through the oesophagus to the stomach by peristalsis. Lions stomach is approximately 20% of their bodyweight. This is to enable storage of sizeable, infrequent meals. The average length between kills in the wild is 3.5 days depending on what they killed to feed, it can go up to 8 days.
Stomach consists of four functionally distinct zones; the oesophageal region, where there is some bacterial growth but no glandular secretions. The cardiac region has alkaline mucus secreting glands, consisting of glycoproteins, which protects the stomach lining from being digested by the proteolytic enzymes and acid.
The Fundus gland and pyloric regions are the sites of other gastric secretions, including hydrochloric acid which provides a low pH within the stomach in order to kill any bacteria consumed, and cause hydrolysis of proteins and polysaccharides alongside denaturation of proteins. The proenzyme pepsinogen is activated by the low pH, forming pepsin, to begin protein digestion. The broken-down food exits via the pyloric region and enters the small intestine.
The entire length of the adult lion small intestine is 6 to 7 metres, comprising the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. The gall bladder secretes bile for emulsification of fats. Pancreatic enzymes, including trypsin, amylase and lipase, are released into the duodenum to aid digestion of large protein, carbohydrate and lipid molecules into amino acids, monosaccarides, fatty acids and glycerol ready for absorption.
Finger like villi cells, provide a large surface area for the absorption of essential nutrients, primarily within the jejunum. Unlike herbivores, carnivores have no requirement for the caecum. In lions, it is approximately 10cm and positioned in reverse to that of the human tract. It allows consumption of bone fragments and porcupine quills without blocking the tract.
The large intestine of an adult lion is approximately 1 metre. Its main function is the absorption of water and electrolytes. The intestine of domestic cats maintains bacterial colonies comparable to herbivores. These protect against invading bacteria, stimulate gastrointestinal function such as motility and digest fibre sources to produce volatile fatty acids.
Recent research has revealed that carnivores have hind-gut fermentation of poorly enzymatically digestible tissues, such as fur and bones, resulting in slow-release leptin and satiation for longer between kills. The simple digestive tract of lions allows for efficient digestion of prey animals but, in contrast with herbivores, limited digestion of more complex fibre sources.
Buffalos are herbivorous animal that primarily feeds on grass. Its digestive system is designed to break down the tough and fibrous material that makes up the majority of its diet. The ability to digest plant material allows buffalo to occupy a niche in their environment, where they compete with other grazing animals for limited resources, this is called interspecies competition.
Buffalos have a four-chambered stomach that allows it to break down and ferment tough plant material more efficiently. This process is known as rumination and takes place in the first two chambers of the stomach, where bacteria break down cellulose, a carbohydrate found in plant material, into simpler compounds that the buffalo can digest. The buffalo then regurgitates the partially digested food, known as cud, and chews it again before swallowing it. From here the food then passes on to the third and fourth stomach to be digested further.
The benefit of the ruminant digestive system for buffalo is that it allows them to obtain nutrients from plant material that is otherwise indigestible to other animals. The microorganisms in the rumen are able to break down the cellulose and other complex carbohydrates into usable forms of energy, allowing buffalo to survive on a diet of tough, fibrous vegetation.
Zebras are other animals on Mabula with an interesting dijestive system, they are herbivorous animals and unlike ruminants, zebras have a hindgut fermentation digestive system. With this digestive system, the zebra’s food passes through the small intestine where some nutrients are absorbed and then moves on to the cecum, which is a large pouch-like structure located at the beginning of the large intestine.
The cecum is populated with bacteria and other microorganisms, which help to break down the fibrous plant material into simpler molecules that the zebra can digest. The partially digested food then moves on to the colon, where more nutrients are absorbed.
The nature of a zebra’s diet and the way its digestive system works means that there is a lot of gas that builds up in the stomach giving it quite a bloated look. Because of this, it’s often a little more difficult to tell a pregnant zebra apart from the others, which may very well be the case with this female. The benefit of the hindgut fermentation digestive system for zebras is that it allows them to digest and obtain nutrients from tough, fibrous plant material, which is abundant in their natural habitat.
Additionally, the cecum and colon in zebras are relatively large compared to other animals, allowing for a more efficient breakdown of plant material. Moreover, the hindgut fermentation system is less complex than the multi-chambered stomach of ruminants, which means that zebras require less energy to digest their food. This is an advantage in the wild, where energy resources can be scarce. the zebra’s long, complex digestive tract and specialized cecum, also allow these animals to gain as much nutrition from the vegetation that they eat.
August 26th marks World Painted Dog Day. These majestic creatures are also known as African wild dogs or African hunting dogs. There are an estimated 6,600 adult and yearling wild dogs left in the wild. Since wild dogs are a pack species (average 10 individuals), this translates to only 660 packs (or breeding females). Population size is continuing to decline because of ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation, conflict with humans, and infectious disease.
Wild dogs are carnivorous animal and like other carnivores, the species has a monogastric digestive system, meaning that it has a single-chambered stomach. The dog’s teeth are designed for tearing and shredding meat, and their strong jaw muscles help to break down the food into smaller pieces.
Wild dog’s digestive system works by breaking down food into smaller particles through mechanical and chemical digestion. Once in the stomach, the food is mixed with digestive juices and acids, which further break down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Digested food then moves into the small intestine, where the nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the body’s cells.
Unlike ruminants, which require a longer time to digest cellulose and other complex carbohydrates, wild dogs are able to obtain energy and nutrients from their prey quickly. This is vital for their hunting lifestyle.
The benefit of the monogastric digestive system for wild dogs is that it allows for the quick and efficient digestion of meat. This is especially important for wild dogs, which have to hunt and scavenge for their food in the wild.
The monogastric digestive system of wild dogs is well-suited to their carnivorous diet and provides them with a quick and efficient way to obtain the nutrients they need to support their hunting lifestyle and survive in the wild.
A cheetah’s digestive system is similar to the humans. It consists of the esophagus, the stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Cheetah are Felidae family and Felidae usually have 30 teeth in their permanent dentition: 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars and 2 molars in the maxilla; 6 incisors, 2 canines, 4 premolars and 2 molars in the mandible.
With cheetahs the cheek teeth are very narrow and together with the small roots incapable of dealing with large bones. Carnivores have a simple stomach, a predominant small intestinal tract and diminished large intestinal tract with a reduction in the distinction between colon and rectum. Felines have a relatively small colon, its length is only about 20% of the total length of their digestive tract.
Most components are absorbed in the small intestine. The wall of the small intestine has villi to enlarge its surface and maximise absorption. In the small intestine, the duodenum is a mixing site and absorption mainly takes place in the jejunum. Monosaccharides, amino acids and peptides are actively absorbed. Carrier proteins transfer these nutrients across the intestinal wall.
Fats are absorbed by passive diffusion after micelle formation. Short-chain fatty aids are absorbed in the bloodstream without the need for bile salts. Minerals and water-soluble vitamins are absorbed by diffusion and carrier-mediated transport.
Fat-soluble vitamins are transferred across the brush border by passive diffusion. Digesta have higher oxygen content and move at a higher velocity in the proximal part of the digestive tract. When the content reaches the large intestine, there is no more oxygen present and bacteria commence fermentation.
Cats have essential nutrients that are not essential in any other mammalian family. It is plausible that, because cats consume high levels of protein, some enzymes have been deleted or altered. Two amino acids are essential in cats. Taurine is one of the most abundant free amino acids in mammalian tissue.
The enzymes responsible for the synthesis of taurine from cysteine or cysteinesulphinic acid, cysteine dioxygenase and cysteinesulphinic acid decarboxylase are present but the activities of the enzymes are low. Arginine is synthesized from citrulline by the sequential action of enzymes. As in taurine, the activity of enzymes, pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthase and ornithine aminotransferase is low, which results in low levels of citrulline.
The digestive system play important roles. It breaks down food into nutrients and also acts as a protective barrier against harmful bacteria.
While out on safari drive we get to see different types of animals and share all exciting stories and their behaviour with our guests, we often get carried away with predators, however herbivores are also facinating. Looking into the evolution of each of these mammals, it is interesting that each of the five largest herbivores, approximately 1000kg, have distinct combinations of diet and digestive systems.
Hippos are grazing, non-ruminant foregut fermenter. Despite the bulky appearance, hippos are herbivores and primarily graze on grasses and aquatic plants using their lips to pluck the short grasslands. They most often venture out at night to graze and only need to consume up to 60 kg, 3% of their body weight of vegetation in a single night this amount of graze is much lower than most other herbivores.
Hippos require less food than their body size would suggest because they tend to save a huge amount of energy by spending most of their time in the water resting during the day which is not subject to great temperature fluctuations found in terrestrial habitats.
While not true ruminants, hippos have a specialized three-chambered stomach that allows them to ferment and break down cellulose effectively, although they do not chew the cud. This process releases essential nutrients from the fibrous plant material.
Giraffes are browsing ruminant. They are browsers, which means they feed on leaves, buds, and fruits of trees and shrubs. Their long necks allow them to reach the most nutritious tree leaves high up in the canopy that other animals cannot. In addition, their narrow muzzle and long tongue, often over 45 cm in length, allow them to pluck the most nutritious leaves with the highest protein content from between big thorns.
Because of their size, giraffes have a relatively low metabolic mass of about 17% of their body mass and therefore obtain sufficient energy from consuming only 3.4% of their body weight in browse per day. Giraffes have a complex four-chambered stomach that aids in the fermentation and digestion of fibrous plant material.
They rely on gut bacteria to break down cellulose and extract nutrients from tough foliage, making them the largest ruminant. The high quality of a giraffe’s food source allows for easy breakdown into very small particles and thus reduces gut retention time. Giraffes have a relatively fast digestion process.
From the water-loving hippos to the tree-reaching giraffe, the grass-grazing buffaloes, and the versatile elephants, and those keeping others awake at night, predators, these animals play crucial roles in their ecosystems. Understanding their distinct combinations of diet and digestive systems not only provides valuable insights into their ecological significance but also highlights the delicate balance of nature that sustains them.
As we continue to appreciate and protect these incredible animals, we also recognize the importance of preserving their habitats for generations to come. It always fascinates me how every species has evolved to fulfil a specific niche in the ecosystem, and how every species’ survival depends on this entangled web of connections and balance between animal and environment.
As the sun ascends higher in the sky, a beloved safari tradition unfolds, prompting a pause in your explorations. Mugs of hot chocolate and freshly ground coffee, tea, rusks and homemade bescuits while listening to birds songs and sound of the bush.
Paired with delectable breakfast treats like freshly baked crossants, muffins and many more to choose from.
As guides who has spent countless hours exploring the captivating landscapes and beauty of fauna and flora of Mabula, it is our duty to make sure that we share all these incredible beauty so they can have a long lasting memory when they go back home
African sunrises and sunsets are deeply emotional. This magical time of day awakens a deep-rooted desire for peace and tranquility and reminds us of the earth’s capacity for unimaginable beauty
Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.