Why African Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas and Zebras, die Afrika Wilde Honde

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas and Zebras, African folktale

African wild dog or die Afrika Wilde Honde in Afrikaans, is a wilding with as many nicknames as, well, a pack of dogs: African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, wild dog, hyena dog, painted wolf, painted dog, or – my favorite – ornate wolf. To the scientific world it is known as Lycaon pictus.

Enjoy the next installment in the series Babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa.

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas and Zebras

When the Ndebele people migrated southwards in the 17th century, along the eastern coast of Africa, pushed by winds and floods, they brought with them their colorful geometric patterns, their beads, and their large, bright smiles. A century or so later they were joined by the Nguni people fleeing eastwards, away from the wars of King Shaka in Natal.

Be it a folktale drawn from a hunter’s observations, or a tale meant to teach youngsters a lesson, it is to them that we owe the story of why the wild dogs hunt impalas and zebras.

At the beginning of time, their story goes, right after God had finished creating all His animals and was wiping his brow, His creatures would all play and live together. It was exciting to be alive, to smell the wind and taste the water, to feel the rain on one’s fur – or skin, or scales, or feathers – and to bask in the sun, and wonder at the stars.

So when the first wild dog became sick – it was a mother wild dog tired after taking care of a big litter of pups – naturally that all the other animals showed their concern.

An Impala with softly curved horns went to seek Hare right away, for Hare had great healing knowledge. Hare gave Impala a calabash full of medicine for Mother Wild Dog. Then he warned Impala not to turn back on its way back to Wild Dog’s den.

Why Wild Dogs Hunt in Packs - Hare gave Impala a calabash of medicine for the African Wild Dog mother.
Why Wild Dogs Hunt in Packs – Hare gave Impala a calabash of medicine for the African Wild Dog mother.

Alas, soon Impala’s nostrils flared picking up the fresh scent of a leopard – instinct above all – and she turned back, looking for a safer path. She held the calabash tightly in her mouth, she did, Oxpecker saw her, and everyone knew that Impala and Oxpecker were as close as heat to fire. Matriarch saw her too. Yet the medicine inside the calabash spilled nevertheless, as Hare predicted. Had Impala perhaps leaped too? She could have… poor Impala.

Zebra went to see Hare next, to ask for medicine for Mother Wild Dog. By now word of Impala’s misfortune had reached Hare, so he wasn’t in the least worried that he had to brew the same potion, for the same patient. Yet when he handed the medicine-filled calabash to Zebra, he gave her the same advice. Do not turn back from your path.

Zebra neighed softly in agreement, a small cloud of steam leaving her nostrils in the cool African dawn. Her short mane shook a bit too, and then she was off at a leisurely walk. Not even a drop will she waste, careful as she was not to spill the calabash. She loved Mother Wild Dog who always made sure to share her findings of fresh grass. Tiny clouds of dust lifted as her hooves touched the ground, the earth still full with moisture and morning dew.

On Zebra went, and the shadows were still long. Focused on her path she was, till something caught her eye. A movement in the grass. A long shadow, a slither. Zebra’s long lashes battered against her soft cheek, her nostrils flared, and more of her front teeth showed off for in the grass, near the road, Black Mamba was nesting. Waiting.

Instinct took over and Zebra turned from her path and, no matter how hard she held onto the calabash, it broke. The medicine spilled, a dark patch on the sandy road still visible today, the Ndebele people whisper.

Zebra neighed like she never neighed before, an anguished high-pitched sound. Her ears flicked back and forth, her eye rolled in her head and she even flicked her tail, lifting then lowering it.

It seemed to last forever, and nobody could tell when the Zebra’s neigh stopped and when the dog’s yelping and howling started. For the Wil Dogs’ den was right behind the turn in the road. The den where Mother Wild Dog lay sick.

Alas, they all knew that the terrible had happened. Mother Wild Dog did not make it.

Wild Dog stepped outside his den and saw Zebra standing over the broken calabash just like he’d seen Impala the day before. Next, Wild Dog howled, and as he lowered his head the call turned into a cackle of laughter, then a rumble of short raspy shouts.

In a blink of an eye another wild dog joined the call, then another, and another. It was heartbreaking to listen, yet everyone knew that things will not end there.

It didn’t, for to this day Wild Dog and his family chase and hunt Impalas and Zebras, this being their revenge for the death of Mother Wild Dog, who could have been saved if only Impala and Zebra would have listened to Hare’s advice and not turn back from their path.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

African Wild Dog

African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, wild dog, hyena dog, painted wolf, painted dog, ornate wolf

Wild dogs live like wolves in a pack led by a male and female pair. Soon, their annual litter becomes the center of their daily lives. The cubs stay with the pack for about two years. Afterwards, some will break away to form their own packs, while others will remain with their mother and father. The average pack consists of ten to fifteen dogs.

AfricanWild Dogs start and end each day with a greeting ceremony, wrestling and playng. If one of the dogs gets hurt, the other dogs will take care of him. They will lick his wounds and bring him food.

But the cubs get the most attention. The mother gives birth to up to fifteen babies. There are a lot of mouths to feed and each member of the pack has to help take care of the cubs. At first the pups stay close to the den and they often have a babysitter while the other dogs hunt. When the big dogs return, they bring along meat for the cubs. Sounds whimsical, and it is, as the little ones love these bits of fresh meat.

Young wild dogs start moving along with the pack from the time they are three months. The older dogs will hide them in the bushes before a hunt and will always fetch them after the prey has been caught. The cubs then stand at the front of the feeding queue.

Herds of wild dogs use all kinds of sounds to talk to each other. They bark, chirp and cry.

At one time there were wild dogs in sub-Saharan Africa almost everywhere, but now they only live in a few places. In South Africa there are only 400 left in the wild and they are southern Africa’s most endangered meat eater. The largest group of wild dogs is located in the Kruger National Park.

Wild dogs live in groups of up to fifty and are very social. They migrate over large areas and that’s why they started colliding with people’s new habitats, as humans started building villages and farming on the wild dog’s land. One way to preserve the wild dog is to release herds into new, safe areas.

Die Afrika Wilde Honde

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas Zebras, an African atmospheric  tale - wild dog and pup

Wildehone leef soos wolwe in ‘n trop wat deur ‘n mannetjie en ‘n wyfie gelei word. Hul jaarlikse werpsel word die middelpunt van hul daaglikse lewe. Die welpies bly vir omtrent twee jaar in die trop. Dan kan party van hulle wegbreek om hul eie trop te vorm, terwyl ander by hul ma en pa blye. Die gemiddelde trop bestaan uit tien tot vyftien honde. Hulle begin en eindig elke dag met ‘n groetseremonie: hulle stoei en speel hasieoor dat dit klap. As een van die honde seerkry, pas die ander honde hom op. Hulle lek sy wonde en bring vir hom kos.

Maar die welpies kry die meeste aandag. Die ma kry ‘n werpsel van tot vyftien babas. Dis ‘n klomp monde om te voer en elke lid van die trop moet help om die welpies te versorg. Eers bly die kleintjies naby die gat en hulle het dikwels ‘n babawagter terwyl die ander honde jag. Wanneer die grotes terugkom, bring hulle vleis vir die welpies op. Klink grillerig, maar die kleintjies is dol oor dié happies.

Jong wildehondebegin op drie maande saam met die trop trek. Die ouer honde steek hulle voor ‘n jagtog in die bosse weg en gaan haal hulle nadat ‘n prooi gevang is. Die welpies staan voor in die tou vir kos.

Troppe wildehonde gebruik allerhande klanke om met mekaar te praat. Hulle blaf, kwetter en huil.

Why Wild Dogs Hunt Impalas Zebras, an African atmospheric  tale

Op ‘n tyd was daar suid van die Sahare byna oral wildehonde, maar nou leef hulle net op ‘n paar plekke. In Suid-Afrika is daar net 400 in die natuur oor en hulle is suider-Afrika se mees bedreigde vleiseter. Die grootste groep wildehonde is in die Kruger-wildtuin.

Wildehonde woon in groepe van tot vyftig saam en is baie sosiaal. Hulle trek oor groot gebiede en dis hoekom hulle met mense begin bots het. Mense het op hul grong begin dorpe bou en boer. Een manier om die wildehond te bewaar, is om troppe in nuwe gebiede los te laat.


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Die Kameelperd and The Giraffe Who Reached for God, Story-time

Die Kameelperd . The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks

Die Kameelperd and the Giraffe Who Reached for God is the next story-time installment in die babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series you can enjoy here, on my blog.

Jump to:
Die Kameelperd
The Giraffe
The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks

Die Kameelperd

Die kameelperd is die hoogste dier ter wêreld. Hy is ‘n herkouer en hy verkies om die oop veld tussen doringbome rond te loop waar hy na hartelus die sappige blaartjie bo van die toppe af kan pluk.

Die klein kameelperdjie staan by geboorte al klaar amper twee meter hoog. Wanneer hy volgroeid is, kan hy tot selfs ses meter hoog wees.

Die kameelperd het lang, dun bene, gesplete hoewe en twee knoetsies bokant sy oortjies wat later in langer, velbedekte horings ontwikkel.

Die koei het gewoonlik net een kalfie, en die klein kameelperdjie moet maar buite sy gesinskring vir hom ‘n maat gaan soek wanneer hy die gewilde stoeispel van die kameelperde wil speel. Hierdie speletjie is ‘n eienaardige skouspiel: die twee kameelperdjies probeer om mekaar met hulle nekke onderstebo te stamp. Dit is egter alles sommer speletjies en niemand kry in die proses seer nie.

Hulle aartsvyand is die leeu, en wanneer hulle hom gewaar, maak die jong kameelperd op sy voorkoms staat om hom te beskerm. Hulle velkleur dmelt byna volmaak met die ligen skadukolle tussen die bome saam, en bied hulle goeie beskerming.

Daar is aansienlike kleurverskille onder kameelperde: die een is bleek van vel met klein, verspreide vlekke, terwyl ‘n ander weer ‘n donkerder vel en meer en groter kolle het.

Die kameelperd het egter ‘n baie lang tong (tot veertig sentimeter lank), waarmee hy boomblaartjies kan afstroop. Hy kan baie goed sien en hulle reuk – en gehoorsintuie is ook baie goed ontwikkel. Hulle kan ook vinnig hardloop. Dis juis omdat die kameelperd hierdie fyn sintuie het, dat bobbejane en ander boksoorte baie graag met hulle saamtrek en hulle as brandwagte gebruik.

Alhoewel jong kameelperdjies net vir die pret met mekaar stoei, sal ouer kameelperde tog ‘n geveg tot die dood toe aanknoop om die leierskap van ‘n trop.

The Giraffe – Did You Know?

Die Kameelperd and The Giraffe Who Reached for God, Story-time
A giraffe with long eyelashes reaching the tree top leaves. Photo by Slawek K, Unsplash

The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world. It is called a ruminant who prefers to walk around the open field between thorn trees, where it chooses, to its heart content, all the juicy leaves growing only on the tree tops.

The calf, the giraffe’s baby, is already almost two meters tall when it is born. When fully grown, it can reach a height of up to six meters.

The giraffe has long, thin legs, split hooves and, when it is born, two lumps above its ears that later develop into longer, skin-covered horns.

The cow, the giraffe mom, has usually only one calf, and the little calf has only to look outside his family circle when he wants to play a game of wrestling with another calf. For a spectator, this game can be a strange spectacle as the two giraffes will push each other using only their muscular necks. However, this is just a game and no one gets hurt in the process.

Their arch-enemy is the lion, and whenever they spot him, the giraffes rely on their appearance to protect themselves. Their skin color blends in almost perfectly with the light and shady spots twinkling between the trees.

There are significant differences between the skin patterns of various giraffes: some have pale skin with small, scattered spots, while others have darker skin with more numerous, larger spots.

But above all, or perhaps to match her neck, the giraffe has a very long tongue, up to forty centimeters long, with which it can even peel off petals. Giraffes can see very well while their smell and hearing senses are also very well developed. They can also run fast. It is precisely because the giraffe has such well tuned senses that baboons and other antelope species like to congregate with the giraffes and use a tower of giraffes, as a group of giraffes is called, as defense.

Sadly, although young giraffes wrestle with each other just for fun, older giraffes will still fight to the death for the leadership of a herd.

Giraffes are well-known throughout Africa for their natural curiosity.

The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks

Die Kameelperd and The Giraffe Who Reached for God, Story-time
The Giraffe Who Reached for God OR Why Giraffes Have such Long Necks. Photo by Gareth More, Unsplash

Word of mouth among the Baobabs, these upside down trees, and among Marula trees, these magical African trees, and, of course, among the Thorn trees… well, rumor on the grapevine goes that long ago, one bright morning, God spoke to His brand new created animals as to their purpose on this earth. 

Now God had called Giraffes thus, in His own words, but on earth, unaware, His different tribes were calling the giraffes on their own mother tongue. The Zulus and Xhosa called it indlulamithi, the Sotho called it thuhlo, while the Shona people called it Twiga.

So when the Giraffe’s turn came, God addressed it softly and so the loving Twiga stretched her neck to heaven to hear Him more clearly. 

She stood on her tiptoes, her round, brown eyes large and focused, her long eyelashes reaching up to her eyebrows, her ears twitching and quivering, giving God her full attention.

God was so pleased with her eagerness that He decided, right then and there, to reward her so He bestowed upon her a long, elegant neck. So she could hear Him better, but also so she could reach the tops of the tallest trees, where He knew that the sweetest of the leaves grew.

And to this day, all animals know that God rewards the extra effort. In Africa.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain

Die Reusagtige Olifant and The Giant Elephant and the Rain are the next chapter in die babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series you can enjoy here, on my blog.

Jump to:
Die Reusagtige Olifant
The Elephant
The Giant Elephant and the Rain, a Folktale Retold

Die Reusagtige Olifant

Die geboorte van ‘n olifantkalfie is ‘n besondere gebeurtenis in die olifantwêreld. Die hele trop kom kyk gewoonlik hierna, en die moeder het regte olifant – “vroedvroue” wat haar bystaan.

Wanneer hy in die wêreld kom, kan die kalfie ‘n massa van tot ‘n honderd kilogram hê. ‘n Volgroeide olifant het ‘n massa van nagenoeg vyf duisend kilogram, wat hom die wêreld se grootste landdier maak.

Die jong olifantkalf word met ‘n slurpie gebore, maar vir die eerste paar weke van sy lewe is dit ‘n nuttelose liggaamsdeel . Hierdie slurp is eintlik net ‘n lang neus wat die olifant het. Hy gebruik dit om voedsel mee in sy mond in te voer. ‘n Olifant se tande slyt baie gou af omdat hy so ‘n groot hoeveelheid kos moet fynkou.

Hierdie kos is grof en gevolglik word sy maaltande gedurigdeur deur nuwes vervang. Die oues skuif geleidelik meer na agtertoe en dan groei splinternuwe tande in hulle plekke uit. Wanneer hy sestig jaar oud is, het die olifant gewoonlik al ses stele tande gehad. Dan kry hy ook nie weer nuwe tande nie.

Die pragtige voortande van die olifant is sy sierlike wapens wanneer hy om die leierskap van die trop meeding.

Die olifant kan allerhande toertjies geleer word.

Sy oë is swak, maar hy kan baie fyn hoor en ruik. Verder help sy sensitiewe slurp hom om sappige takkies en blaartjes bo van die boomtoppe af te pluk.

In droogtetye grawe olifante met hulle voorpote gate in rivierbeddings en dan slurp hulle die syferwatertjies op.

The Elephant

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain
A matriarch and two elephant calves by a water hole. Photo by Matthew Bradford, Unsplash

The birth of an elephant calf is a special event in the life of a herd of elephants. The entire herd usually comes to assist, and the mother has real elephant – midwives who assist and support her.

When he is born, the calf can weigh up to a hundred kilograms. It sounds like a lot, but an adult elephant has a mass of almost five thousand kilograms, which makes it the world’s largest land animal.

For the first few weeks of its life the baby elephant is quite helpless, and he doesn’t even uses his trunk. Elephants use their trunk, that’s nothing but a long nose, to pick up food and deposit it into their mouth.

Interesting, because the food an elephant eats is pretty coarse, his teeth wear out very quickly as he has to chew such large amounts. So his molars are constantly being replaced by new ones. The old ones gradually move backwards and then brand new teeth grow in their place. By the time he is sixty years old, the elephant can have up to six sets of teeth. After this age he will get no more new teeth.

An elephant’s tusks, his beautiful ivory front teeth, become graceful weapons when he competes for the leadership of his herd.

Elephants are very intelligent and can learn all kinds of tricks, although their eyesight is weak, but they can hear and smell very well. Furthermore, their sensitive trunk helps them to pick juicy twigs and leaves from the tops of the trees. Much like giraffes do.

In times of drought, when water is scarce, the elephants dig holes in riverbeds using their front paws and then swallow the seepage water.

The Giant Elephant and the Rain, a Folktale Retold

A herd of elephants splashing by a water hole. Mist in black and white..Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain
A herd of elephants splashing by a water hole. Mist in black and white. Photo by Richard Jacobs, Unsplash

Long ago, when the Sun and the Moon were the best of friend and none even thought to compete over the blue skies, when man still lived in caves and had just learned to make fire, long ago the Elephant was one of the greatest powers of the world. All animals accepted him. Even the African Crowned Crane. And Elephant was a good king. A powerful one too. Except that the Spirit of Rain, was just as powerful.

But although he was kind, being the only leader among all the animals, men included, the Elephant was quite boastful. He enjoyed to remind everyone what a great leader he was. And everyone agreed, over and over, except for the Spirit of the Rain.

Quite often, the boastful Elephant and the Spirit of the Rain fought. It was very noisy. The Elephant, never losing an opportunity to try convince the Spirit of the Rain into agreeing to what a wonderful leader he, the Elephant, was. The Spirit of the Rain, never giving in.

One hot morning, while they were arguing, again, the Spirit of the Rain burst with anger like never before. He sounded like a cascade throwing its waters over the rocks and into the ocean, not like the young spring he once had been.

‘How dare you?’ The Spirit of the Rain bubbled. ‘How dare you, but an Elephant, to think of yourself being more than me? Me, who quenched your thirst. Me, who made the trees grow to feed you. Me, who cooled your skin and that of your entire herd?’ he plummeted further, from the celestial height of its clouds.

At this, the Elephant lifted his trunk, trumpeted twice, then turned around and left, only his little tail swishing, nonchalantly. After a few steps he slowed down and replied, throwing the words over his shoulder, ‘You do not feed me and thus you are wrong in presuming that you do. For I feed myself. With my trunk.’ And to prove his point he picked a bunch of soft leaves from the heights of the closest tree and swallowed them. ‘Hmm, tasty.’

The Spirit of the Rain let out a low rumble that rolled along the entire length of the horizon, then frowned with the darkest clouds one had ever seen. Then he exhaled the chilliest blow, turned and stormed away.

Die Reusagtige Olifant, The Giant Elephant and the Rain. A bull elephant against stormy clouds. Photo by Geran de Klerk, Unsplash
A bull elephant against stormy clouds. Photo by Geran de Klerk, Unspla. Photo by Geran de Klerk, Unsplash

And life went on. Sunny days came, turned into moon-lit nights that rolled into more bright mornings, hotter as the days became weeks, weeks baking into months. And soon, the only smile left was that of the stars. At night.

Had they seen it all? Is that why they beamed? For no one else was.

The land animals were boiling on the hot slopes, water sources reduced to meager ponds not enough to house two fishes. The sea animals were crowded worst than a mall on Christmas Eve would be today. The birds suffered too, out of heat, thirst, withered trees and lack of fruits and insects.

Everyone suffered. Some even pretended they forgot the sight of clouds, the feel of the breeze, the taste of fresh water. Had it even existed? Had it all been a dream?

So they went to see the Elephant. After all, he was their leader. He was the only one who could make it right. Make it rain.

The Elephant did not like to be cornered like that, from the land, from the air, from under the ground. So he tried to shake them off as quickly as he could. And once alone, he called for the majestic Eagle. Who, among others, could make it rain by using only its powerful beak and strong wings.

But the Eagle just shook his head. He was powerless without the clouds.

The Eagle said ‘no more’, he just gave the Elephant a side glance, no more clouds without the Spirit of the Rain.

At this, the Elephant turned red in the face – if this was possible since he was already burning hot. But he shrugged and turned towards the White-breasted Crow, wise old Crow, a bird of many tales…

Crow shook his head, twice left, not in negation but as a twitch he had developed a while back, after the Snaked lost its legs – but this is a story for another time. So Crow shook his head, twice left, and flew away. And no one knew how, but that evening it rained. A bit. Yet it rained.

How animals partied! How they thanked Elephant who was rather full of himself. Again. Basking in the general attention, not for once mentioning Crow’s help.

Until… until one day (actually three days later) when the water that rained was all gone, drank, sipped into the ground, evaporated, and the animals came to Elephant again. To ask for more rain. And the Elephant turned to Crow. But the spot where Crow always stood, the branch he called his own, was empty.

Elephant scratched his head with his trunk. He looked left, searching for Crow, he peered above, he even bent on his front knees and to seek below. But no sign of Crow. Not even a feather. Where was Crow? And what was he to do now? He was alone. Alone he could not make it rain. Alone he could not face all the angry animals. Alone was just that, alone. Cold and lonely, abandoned amidst all the animals that once were his friends.

You might ask about his herd. Well, truth is that Matriarch had taken control over it long ago.

So Elephant did what he should have from the beginning. He turned around and headed for the horizon. And for an opportunity to say he is sorry.

Well, the Spirit of the Rain was not that far away, just at the end of the Savannah. And was very happy to accept Elephant’s apologies, for he, too, was missing the animals, the sea creatures, the green forests and the tiny insects.

But Matriarch, she never abdicated the leadership of the herd. To teach Elephant a lesson or perhaps, perhaps because she quite enjoyed it.

As retold by Patricia Furstenberg, after a Bushman story

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

More elephant stories:

The Elephant and the Sheep

When a lamb meets an elephant calf the two are happy to share a small patch of grass and a tiny water puddle available during the Big-Bad Thirst.

die Olifant en die Skaap

Twee klein stertjies het een dag ontmoet,
Heel per ongeluk onder warm sonstrale het hulle gegroet:
“Hallo, kom ons speel!” met swaaiende sterte wat wys.
Hulle was nie dieselfde nie, tog albei was grys.
Een het groot voete, die ander was korter;
Een glimlag wyd, die ander se mond was kleiner.

Die Mahem and the Legend of the African Crowned Crane

Mahem Crowned Crane. A story fromAfrica

Die Mahem and the Legend of the African Crowned Crane is the next story in die babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series you can enjoy here, on my blog.

Die Mahem

Mahemvoëls bly verkieslik lewenslank in groot reoppe by dieselfde poel of watersloep saam.

Die mahem, of gekroonde kraanvoël, is ‘n pragtige, kleurvolle voël met ‘n flyn kroontjie van goud en swart veertjies wat ‘n mens aan ‘n speldekussing laat dink, op sy kop. Daar is ‘n halfsirkel syagtige swart vere reg onderkant sy snawel. Agter sy oë en onderkant sy kroontjie is daar ‘n gladde helderooi en ‘n spierwit kol.

Die mahem hen bou haar nes tussen die digte riete waar sy dan gedurende Augustus of September haar eiers lê. Pas nadat hulle uitgebroei is, lyk die mahemkuikens net soos klein eendjies, met sulke klein klossies op hulle koppe.

Elke jong mahemkuiken moet sy besondere kolonie se kenmerkende ‘taal’ aanleer, omdat elke trop mahems sy eie besondere manier van gesels het wat waarskynlik vir ander voëls onverstaanbaar is.

Wanneer hy feitlik volgroeid is, word die mahemvoël die tradisionele huweliksdans geleer. Hierdie dans is seker een van die uitsonderlikste skouspele wat mens maar kan sien! Dis ‘n gebuig en edraai dat dit ‘n aardigheid is! Vorentoe en agteruit, dit trippel, die knieë buig, die vlerke word geklap en dan wip die danser skielik hoog die lug in – en alles lyk of dit op die maat van musiek gedoen word! Aan die einde van die dans, bied die een mahem die ander gulhartig geurige stukkies mos aan.

Die mahem eet graag grond, paddas en insekte. Hy jaag gewoonlik die insekte uit hulle skuilplekke deur met sy poot op die grond te stamp.

Wnneer die herfstyd aanbreek, verlaat die mahems hulle tuiste in groot swerms om na warmer woonplekke te gaan soek. Hulle vlieg op ‘n hoogte van tot vyf duisend meter in die tradisionele V – formasie oor die woenstyn, en het slegs hulle instink om hulle na hul bestemming te stuur.

Die Mahem and the Legend of the African Crowned Crane, babadiertjies van Afrika
The African Crane wears his head feathers like a crown. Photo by Peter Neumann, Unsplash

The African Crowned Crane

The African Crowned Cranes are birds that prefer to stay together at the same pool of water for most of their life in large herds of cranes, or a dances of cranes.

The Mahem, or Crowned Crane, is a beautiful, colorful bird with a flying crown of gold and black feathers that reminds one of a pincushion perched upon its head. There is a short brush of silky black feathers just below its bill too. Behind his eyes, towards its temples, towards the crown there is a smooth bright red spot near a pure white one.

The Mahem hen builds its nest between the dense reeds; there she lays eggs during August or September. Just after they have hatched, the Mahem chicks look just like little ducklings, with tiny tufts on their heads.

Every Crowned Crane chick must learn its colony’s distinctive ‘language’, because each herd of mahems has its own particular way of talking that is probably unintelligible to other birds.

When he is almost fully grown, the Mahem chick is taught the traditional wedding dance. This dance is probably one of the most exceptional spectacles one can see, full of bending and twisting! Then forward and backward it goes, the bird bends its knees, it flaps its wings and then the dancer suddenly swings high into the air – while everything seems to be executed to the beat of a happy music! At the end of the dance, one Mahem bird offers the other one a generous, fragrant piece of moss.

The Crowned Crane likes to eat grass seeds, frogs and insects. He usually chases the insects out of their hiding places by bumping the ground with his foot.

When autumn arrives, the Mahems leave their homes in large flocks in search for warmer lands. They fly at an altitude of up to five thousand meters in the traditional V – formation over the desert and across great distances with only their instinct to guide them to their destination.

Their Afrikaans name, Mahem, is a good imitation of their call.

The Legend of the African Crowned Crane, a story

Long, so long ago, when the clouds still held hands with the foamy tips of the waves and the sun and the moon still smiled at each other all day long, an African king found himself separated from his companions while they were all out hunting in the hot, dry, inhospitable grasslands.

Had the king strayed away while watching some small game? Had his men moved on, presuming the king was following them? Nobody knew. Fact was, the king found himself all on his own on this side of the grassland. And his men found themselves without their ruler – on the other side of the savanna. Unable to spot one another, no matter how high his men jumped.

When the king realized he was lost he gasped for air, even if he was a king. And he felt his heart beating faster, a lot faster, like he’d been running, although he hadn’t. And his palms turning sweaty on his spear. He felt like this all of a sudden and then he felt his mouth dry and reached for his water. Which he had none of, for being a king he carried only his kingly spear, and nothing else. His men carried his water. And his soft blankets to set upon the dry grass for rest. And the tents to make good shade. And the food.

But mostly the water, that he craved now more than ever. And so the king, lost and alone, looked left and right, front and back, and all he saw was dry grass stretching forever. And realized he did not know how to find the oasis where the royal court had set up camp. He did not know it for he never cared for such things, such findings, he always had his men which he paid to do it.

Which were not with him anymore.

And the day was hot, suddenly even hotter, the sun right above his head, and the king was lost and alone, with not even his own shadow for company. Later, when he thought back on that day, the king remembered stomping his foot and thinking that he might die of thirst if he did not find water soon enough. Only that on that precise moment, lost in the grassland, all alone, without not even his shadow for company, the king just thought of water and how he’d even trade his famous spear for some.

Then he saw some movement in the distance. ‘What was that?’ thought the king. ‘His court?’ He better get there. ‘But what if it’s lions?’ So he used his hunting skills, approaching without being known. It took him a while, and half way through it he realized he was stalking Zebras, not his men. But Zebras were horses with stripes, right? Zebras were friendly, Surely they will help the king.

Eventually he reached the Zebras, who were swishing their tails, their ears perched, grazing nearby. They knew well he’s coming and they knew he was alone.

‘Please help me,’ said the king to the zebra that looked like a chief, for it ate the most abundant spot of grass. ‘I am all lost and without my court. I want to find my men. Can you lead me to them?’ But the zebra chief just munched quietly. Eventually it turned away from the king, snorted a message to its herd, then replied, ‘Why should we help you, since you and your men have hunted us, chased us from our waterhole, taken away our weak and our old?’

The king sighed and looked down, for he knew he’d done wrong and had no answer to the zebra’s words. Except that he was sorry. But by the time he opened his mouth the zebras were already far away.

When a trumpeting reached the king’s ears and a thumping shook the ground… The elephants! Surely they will carry him to his men. Surely.

So the king approach the matriarch, the elephant queen, and asked her, like from one royalty to another, asked her for help. Yet she, too, refused! ‘We do not help those who want to kill us,’ she said while gently, ever so gently touched, with her gigantic trunk, the ivory necklace the king carried around his neck. The king gasped and lost his words, for he thought that was the end of him, but the elephant slowly moved away, taking her herd with her. Leaving but a cloud of dust behind. And a lost and lonely king.

Next, the king saw a herd of antelopes and, although he suspected their answer, he asked them too. Of course they refused, had he forgotten that the majestic antelopes were a king’s favorite hunting pray?

The Legend of the African Crowned Crane. Photo by Charl Durand, Unsplash
The Legend of the African Crowned Crane. Photo by Charl Durand, Unsplash

The king let himself drop to the ground, not minding the prickly grass. He even let go of his spear, for what use will he have of it? And let his head drop on his knees and shut his eyes tight. What went through his mind? Remorse? Fear? Thoughts of a final, desperate plan to reach his men again?

The king was so lost in thought that he did not feel the shadows circling overhead. He did not feel the flutter of the wings. He did not hear the ‘mahem-mahem-mahem’ sudden chatter. He did feel, however, a soft brush against his arm just as he was dreaming he was in his kingly tent again, with his men.

When the king looked up, he saw that he was surrounded by a flock of long-legged, long-necked birds. The king could not remember their names, for he felt so weak and so thirsty. Yet he tried, for he was still a king, skilled in fighting for survival, he tried once more and, with his voice barely a whisper, he begged the big birds to help him.

Can you imagine? The birds did not turn away. The king thought he’s surely dreaming.

Can you believe it? The big birds made shade for him, while a few only flew away, shortly to return with water in their strong beaks, which they gave to the king. The king was sure he’s imagining.

And, can you picture it? The big birds led the king to his court. No, they did not picked him up, using their strong beaks to hold onto his garments and they did not flew him to his court. That would have been a sight! They simply walked near him, nudging him, pushing him, dragging him slightly, to the oasis, the nearest one at that, where his court was.

As soon as he saw his men, as soon as he felt safe, as soon as he drank and sat in the thick shade of his kingly tent, the grateful king ordered his personal goldsmith to make a crown of gold for each one of the crane birds. He had remembered now what they were. Of course, he ordered a feast for them too. A feast fit for kings.

And the following day, the entire dance of cranes flew off wearing their shiny, gold crowns gleaming in the sun so bright that the king had to shade is eyes. Calling good-bye, ‘mahem-mahem-mahem.’

The king and his court waved good-bye and the cranes called back, ‘mahem-mahem,’ till they were out of sight. The king smiled and felt his heart filled with gratitude, wondering if he’ll ever see his saviours again.

He saw them, sooner that he imagined, for the following day the cranes returned with bare heads, telling the king and his men that the other animals had become envious and angry when they saw the golden crowns upon their heads, and heard how they got them. From whom they got them! So the animals, the zebras, the elephants, the antelopes, had ambushed the cranes and stolen the crowns. Not for themselves, but to destroyed them and what they stood for.

The king bowed his head and thought. Then he gave two orders.

One, that no zebras, no elephants, no antelopes, no rhino, no hippos… ever to be hunt again.

And second, that new crowns made, but not of gold, like his kingly symbols, but of golden feathers, as light as the freedom, feathers that could not be removed. And as soon as the new crowns were made, each crane flew off wearing its gold-feathery diadem. Never to be taken away.

This is the story of how the African cranes received their beautiful, shimmering crowns of gold that they still carry today, perched upon their heads, and became known as the Crowned Cranes.

(as retold by Patricia Furstenberg)

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

Die Onooglike Vlakvark and Why the Warthog is on his Knees

Die Onooglike Vlakvark and Why the Warthog is on his Knees

Die Onooglike Vlakvark, the Strange-Looking Warthog and Why the Warthog is on his Knees is the next story in babadiertjies van Afrika, baby animals from Africa series.

Die Vlakvark, the Warthog, is a really cute animal and he can become quite tame once he learns that food is easily available 🙂 as you can see from these pictures I took during one of our outing in the African bush-veld.

Die Onooglike Vlakvark

Die klein vlakvarkie word in ‘n sorgvuldig uitgesoekte gat of onder die grond gebore. Die toegewyde ouers pas hulle kleingoed baie getrou op. Die ou moedervlakvark sal selfs ‘n olifant aandurf as sy vermoed dat haar kleintjie in gevaar verkeer. Die ou beer het weer die gewoonte om die lêplek agteruit binne te gaan om seker te maak dat geen aanvaller op sy hakke is nie.

Die vlakvark is ‘n baie lelike dier. Hy het ‘n plat kop met yslike groot, krom slagtande en sulke eienaardige, vratagtige uitgroeisels aan sy gesig. Op sy rug langs het hy ‘n maanhaar van herde, stekelrige hare, en sy growwe, grys vel het en daar sulke yl. grys bruin haartjies. Sy gevaarlike slagtande is sy wapens, maar hy gebruik hulle ook om wortels mee uit te grawe. Die vlakvark eet graag boomwortels, gras en selfs voëleiers of klein soogdiertjies. Verder is hy ook lief vir bessies en veldvrugte.

Hierdie dier het baie vyande, en die kleintjies kry dit nie altyd reg om die gevare wat in die lang gras skuil, te ontduik nie. Wanneer gevaar dreig, maak hulle soms of hulle dood is, en sodra die vyand ‘nentjie weg is, laat vat hulle s al wat hulle kan na die opening van hulle blyplek. Die aanvaller skrik gewoonlik só geweldig dat die varkie reeds diep in die veiligheid van die gat is voordat hy weer tot verhaal kom.

Terwyl die klein vlakvarkies wortels en ander lekkernye uitgrawe, ontstaan daar dikwels sulke ‘onderonsies’ tussen hulle, wat dan op luidrugtige wyse uit die weg geruim word.

Die Onooglike Vlakvark and Why the Warthog is on his Knees

The Strange-Looking Warthog

The baby warthog, called a piglet, is born in a carefully selected den underground. The den was made by aardvarks. The devoted warthog parents take good care of their little piglets. The warthog mother. the sow, will even dare an elephant if she thinks her little one is in danger. The warthog often enters his lair backwards to make sure no enemy is on his heels.

The warthog might not be the prettiest of animals. He has a flat head with huge, curved fangs and strange, warty growths on his face, but these are just thick growths of skin, paddings for when males fight during mating season. Along his back the warthog has a mane of long, thick, prickly hair. His skin is coarse and gray and here and there there might be a few sparse gray hairs. His fangs are dangerous weapons, but he also uses them to dig out roots. The warthog likes to eat tree roots, grass and even bird eggs or small mammals. He also loves berries and wild fruits.

This animal has many enemies, and the piglets don’t always manage to evade the dangers lurking in the tall grass. When danger threatens, the warthog piglets often pretend to be dead, and as soon as the enemy is gone they make it for the opening of their den. The attacker is usually so surprised by their sudden awakening that the piglets are already safe before he even recovers and realizes that his meal has run away.

Quarrels often spark between the little warthogs while they dig up roots and other delicacies, but the noisy piglets are dutifully and lovingly silenced by their mother.

a white warthog

Why the Warthog is on his Knees

Warthog was very proud of his cozy home, warm and dry, made in an old termite mound. It had taken him a long tome to get it ready. He had worked and worked on his house through day or night, not knowing of their passing, through rain and thunder, not hearing their rattle, not feeling his muscles aching, nor his tummy growling, never stopping until it was perfect.

And eventually he went out and about. To look for tasty roots, more now for he had a pantry to stuff. To quench his thirst after the long labor. But also to chat. For whenever he was at the watering hole Warthog would brag, to Giraffe, to Gazelle, and to anyone who would listen – or just step within his voice range – brag about how perfect his home was. How his home was the best in the entire world. How it was the coziest, the driest, the darkest, the deepest…

He was particularly proud of its entrance which he dug out a little bit extra, okay, a whole lot extra, spending more time on it than on the rest of his home, to make it very wide and oh so grand.

Till one day when Warthog saw Lion approaching his home and panicked.

“Oh, no! I made my entrance so big and grand, and look at me now! Lion will have no problem following me in,” he cried. “Lion will eat me in my own home!”

a warthog asking a question and a story
a warthog asking a question and for a story

Warthog knew he had to act quickly. But what was to be done? Luckily for him he remembered one of Jackal’s old tricks. So he ran outside, to the side roof his house, and pretended to hold up the roof with his body.

“Help!” soon cried the Warthog, “I am being crushed! Run Lion, before the roof falls.”

But what Warthog didn’t know was that clever Lion had seen this trick before. And he had learned his lesson. And now Lion was roaring mad that the Warthog had tried the old trick on him. He roared so loudly that Warthog fell to his knees. And Warthog begged Lion for mercy, right then and there, by his home he was so proud of and had told everyone about it. Over and over.

So Lion decided that, as a punishment, Warthog should stay like way, on his knees.

“You shall remain on your knees,” the mighty Lion roared. “Or else I’ll come back, storm right through your grand entrance, and eat you.”

And that’s why, to this day, you see the Warthog feeding on his knees while his bottom is in the air and his snout digs in the dirt.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

multicultural kids books

Now in Afrikaans: Drie populêre kinderboeke, nou beskibaar in Afrikaans. Helder en kleurvolle illustrasies en beminlike karakters wat opwindende avonture deel. Vir kinders en ouers om saam te geniet.