Vulture …

East Africa has seven species of vulture. They are  members of the Accipitridae the family that includes eagles, buzzards, hawks and some of the kites. They are united by the fact that they live mainly on carrion but they are not necessarily each others closest relatives within the family. They are unrelated to the New World Vultures and Condors that evolved separately in the Americas to look quite similar.

Like a lot of heavy birds in warm climates they prefer to wait until the sun has cooked up a few thermals before they take to the wing. Then it’s time to hunt for the day’s meal which they find by sight.

Lappet-faced Vulture waiting for the thermals

It’s not difficult for a human to find dead animals in the savanna – just watch the vultures. Initially they all seem to be going the same way. As you get closer they’re converging from all points of the compass.

Hooded Vulture

There were more than fifty vultures of five different species in this assembly in Kidepo National Park.

Vultures – Kidepo National Park, Uganda

And then the squabbling begins …

Lappet-faced Vultures
White-headed Vulture in the centre

As they get their fill they lumber off.

African White-backed Vulture
Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Waterbuck …

Defassa Waterbuck are large and handsome antelopes that are quite common along the Narus River in Kidepo National Park. They require fairly open grassland and they don’t stray far from water.

Any number of subspecies have been described but they fall into two groups. The more easterly group, Common Waterbuck, was the first described and given the scientific name Kobus ellipsiprymnus. Kobus is an African name given a faux Latin ending. Ellipsiprymnus is from Greek – ellipsi meaning ring and primnos meaning hind part. It was so named because of the white target on the animal’s rump.

The more westerly group was described as a separate species, Defassa Waterbuck, but where the ranges meet they hybridise readily and the two groups are now lumped in the one species. There is no white ring on the rear end of a Defassa Waterbuck. So it now has a scientific name celebrating a feature that it doesn’t have.

Defassa Waterbuck male
Defassa Waterbuck female

Only the males have horns and these are used in competition for access to females.

Defassa Waterbuck

They are said to taste terrible which is quite an advantage when it comes to living with lions and human beings.

Hogs and dogs …

The camp at Kidepo National Park is remarkably relaxed. There is an armed guard at the gate on the road. He or she checks your ID then raises the boom gate … but there’s no fence. You are advised to take your torch out with you at night and to look around for wildlife before stepping away from your door.

Warthogs and jackals wander around the bandas. There are Waterbucks on the soccer pitch. One morning I was obliged to take an alternative route to breakfast because there was a buffalo between me and the restaurant. The following morning a lion could be heard roaring just outside the camp.

The warthogs and jackals are quite habituated to human presence, the jackal is the more cautious as well as the more handsome of the two species.


The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals offers three jackals to choose from – Black-backed, Side-striped and Common. On this basis this guy is a Common Jackal because of the coloration and the black tip to the tail …

but other authorities treat the group a little differently. The name Golden Jackal is preferred to Common and the subspecies that occurs in Africa has recently be proposed as a full species with the name African Golden Wolf.

shamelessly filched from Wikipedia

It can be seen from this phylogenetic tree (other researchers have published different trees} that the Golden Jackal is not closely related to the other two jackals nor is it an immediate neighbour to the African Golden Wolf. The physical similarity between the (Eurasian) Golden Jackal and African Golden Wolf may be explained by parallel evolution.

Just to complicate matters all the wolf-like canids have similar morphology and 78 chromosomes. They can and do hybridise with other canid species in the contact zones.

Specifically, we find gene flow between the ancestors of the dhole and African hunting dog and admixture between the gray wolf, coyote (Canis latrans), golden jackal, and African golden wolf. Additionally, we report gene flow from gray and Ethiopian wolves to the African golden wolf, suggesting that the African golden wolf originated through hybridization between these species. Gopalakrishnan et al.

You’ll notice that I haven’t put a final diagnosis in the Jackal captions.

Inflammation …

Rubor, dolor, calor, tumor and loss of function. That’s the way we all remembered it, four latin words and a short English phrase.

The Latin translates as redness, pain, heat and swelling . They are the signs of inflammation described by Aulus Cornelius Celsus in the first century AD. Loss of function was added by Rudolf Virchow in the 19th century, it can be rendered in Latin but it doesn’t rhyme and he was German.

There were four abscesses now on my arm, the loss of function was an inability to wear my wrist watch. The rubor was only a problem when you looked at it, the dolor however was becoming rather inescapable.The surrounding area was as hard as a rock, indurated is the technical term.

The first line of treatment for an abscess hasn’t changed since the time of Galen – remove the cause, drain the pus, rest the part. I carefully sterilised a needle by wiping it on my sleeve, passed it quickly through the top of each abscess and squeezed. A bead of pus began to emerge but then took the form of a maggot. The first one was actually quite easy to deliver. The subsequent ones were harder work but believe me there was no way they were staying in!

Cordylobia anthropophaga

The second of the offenders, shown here adjacent to its recent living quarters is variously known as the Putzi, Tumbu or Mango Fly Cordylobia anthropophaga. The species name translates as man-eater. They are restricted to tropical Africa.

The commonest way to fall foul of them is to hang your damp washing out to dry. The fly lays its eggs in damp places (if not your socks often sandy soil contaminated with faeces), the eggs hatch out and the resulting maggots have a few days to meet with a mammalian host. They burrow into the skin keeping a tiny hole open to the surface for their oxygen needs. When they’ve eaten their fill (8 to 12 days) they emerge, turn into a fly and go looking for some more damp socks.

The answer is to dry your clothes indoors or make sure they are well ironed. In any case no great harm befalls the host.

In my case I had not worn a long-sleeved shirt in the relevant period, I must have contacted the maggots on the ground or in damp vegetation. The relief was almost instantaneous once the maggots were evicted. Pain gave way to itchiness, the induration and redness faded quickly. Three weeks later the sites are still a little red and raised but soon there will be no sign of my heroic endurance, my cutaneous myiasis, my brush with a man-eater.

Kidepo …

our pop-top safari vehicle at the gate of Kidepo N P

Kidepo National Park is located in the far north-east of Uganda. The border with South Sudan forms the northern border of the park, the border with Kenya is to the east. The park covers 1,442km2 and includes the valleys of the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The Kidepo is seasonal, the Narus shrinks to a chain of pools in the dry times but always holds some water to sustain wildlife.

Palms are common along the Kidepo river banks elsewhere it is savanna. The African Sausage tree is well represented and Whistling Thorn is also common,

Kigelia africana

It is a magnificent place to watch large mammals …


and heaven for the bird watcher …

Abyssinian Roller

We have three days here but one of the first things I must do is attend to my arm.

Parting With Pian Upe …

Pian Upe

I think the future for Pian Upe is bright. Continued recovery of the wildlife, some minor upgrades to accommodation and roads could see this become a major tourist destination. The landscape is utterly beautiful. For the moment though this is not the place for close approach to hordes of large mammals.

But it certainly has its charm …


If any one can identify these skinks please drop me a comment …


Acacia …

And whilst we are in Pian Upe, sheltering from the rain and contemplating the names of things. What was the first Acacia ever described? While you’re thinking about that let me introduce you to the Whistling Thorn. It is common in Pian Upe.

Whistling Thorn Vachellia drepanolobium

Otherwise known as Vachellia drepanolobium and an excellent example of a myrmecophyte. That swelling is provided by the plant as housing for the ants you see in the photo. They in turn provide the plant with some protection from browsing herbivores, creatures that have evolved to disregard those spines. Symbiosis between ants and plants has arisen in several groups of plants throughout the tropics and often involves the provision of nectar as ant food as well as living spaces or domatia.

The first Acacia formally described was Acacia nilotica Linnaeus 1773 although the name Acacia was borrowed from an English gardener Phillip Miller who’d used it in 1754. He had borrowed it from Pedanius Dioscorides who had used  the Greek word for thorny ἀκακία (akakia) to describe a tree with medicinal uses in his book Materia Medica dating from the first century AD. Because it was the first described the African nilotica became the type species of the genus Acacia.

Acacias were subsequently described throughout the tropics, in South America and in Australia where it has become the national floral emblem …

Here is the wattle

Emblem of our land

you can stick it in a bottle

or hold it in you hand … Monty Python (Bruce’s sketch).

In fact the genus got to about 1,400 species worth. Science being a tireless quest for an ever more complicated way of simplifying stuff found that there were three groups or subgenera included and it was proposed that the genus be split. Since Acacia was first described in Africa it would be supposed that Africa would hang on to that particular name. The Australians fell sobbing on the ground, “You can’t do that to our national emblem”, they cried.

And so it came to pass that Africa has had to learn a couple of new genus names. The thorny Acacias of Africa, like the myrmacophytic drepanolobium have become Vachellia while thorn deficient ones have become Senegalia. The South Americans formerly known as Acacia are likely to end up in two entirely new genera neither of them named Princia.