Monday, September 14, 2015

Stars and stripes - and the end of a chapter.

On Saturday morning I resigned from Pamuzinda.

In the morning I tendered my resignation with 3 months' notice, but by late afternoon, after earnest and frank exchange of ideas, it was agreed that I would leave at once. On Sunday morning I rode through to Harare, and I am now back at home - the end of the chapter of my life at Pamuzinda. The nuts and bolts of why I resigned are not important, suffice to say that this means 3 things -

1) I am now seeking employment, so any suggestions welcome

2) There probably won't be too many more blogs on the wildlife of Pamuzinda/Chengeta. But the blog will continue.

3) I am now seriously getting under Della's feet!

I had one fantastic moment on my ride home to Harare, which I would like to share before getting into today's blog. I was parked at a service station having a coke for breakfast (as you do!) and a minivan pulled up next to me - full to the brim with morning commuters. Suddenly there was a loud Gaggglunkkk sound - as the side door fell off the vehicle. The passengers all ooooohed and aaaaahed - and the driver and his 'conductor' picked the door up and shoved it back into place - grinning all the while at the absurdity of their commercial public transport vehicle falling apart at the seams with paying passengers on board:

Yup - in Africa when things go slightly wrong, we laugh long and loud. At ourselves!

In no time at all they wrestled the errant portal back into place - and the smiles continued all the way. Notice also my trusty motorbike in the background. I had fortunately parked on the other side of the van from the falling door otherwise it could well have been crushed!

So that was the door story. Now for zebras.

Though I have left Pamuzinda, I had recently taken a couple of great zebra pics - and I figured that today the blog will be about stars (the bus guys) and stripes (zebras). Actually mostly about stripes.

Here are some interesting facts about zebra stripes:

Firstly, the stripes on a zebra are like a human fingerprint, and each zebra has a pattern of stripes distinctly different to every other zebra in the world. Kind of like snowflakes are all different; except zebras are bigger than snowflakes. You know?

Secondly, when a baby zebra is born, it 'imprints' the pattern of stripes on its mother - and can pick her out in a herd instantly.

Thirdly an answer to the age-old question - is a zebra white with black stripes . . . . . or black with white ones? Well if you shave all the hair off a zebra, the skin underneath is all black. So the answer is white-on-black.

Fourthly the patterns are thought to provide a 'dazzle' camouflage and make it difficult for predators to identify weak individuals, or indeed how many individuals there are in a herd.

And lastly zebras are able to consciously alter their stripes through carbonization. Not many people know this.

Those regular followers of the blog will know about Shungu the baby zebra. This is him paying a visit to Reception when he was much younger - just look at the stripes on his back legs!

Here is a zebra I photographed earlier in the year - at the start of winter, around June. Notice the light brown shading in the white stripes, as well as the dark stripes on the rear legs:

At this time of the year, having been through about 5 months without a drop of rain, Zimbabwe burns and there are fires everywhere as the vegetation is so dry. Also we are coming out of winter, and the temperatures are rising almost daily - and this is when one of the miracles of the bush takes place - the annual 'carbonization' of the zebras. Here is a herd of zebra that I photographed in a burned section of the park, right next to the road approaching Pamuzinda a couple of days ago:

What happens is that the zebras all congregate on the burnt patches of the veld, and eat the white ash left from burnt trees. As they do so, the carbon in the ash permeates their skin, and they lose their stripes - starting from the legs and moving up the body. This helps them because as they become lighter and whiter, their bodies reflect more light and heat, and they are able to keep cooler.  This is known as 'self-carbonization'. Their necks are the last to turn lighter (you will see in the pic above that their necks are definitely darker as they have not yet carbonized). At the same time, the white stripes on their bodies become broader and the black ones slimmer, and they lose the light brown shading. A really clever trick, no?

So in winter the black stripes are broader and darker to help absorb heat, and in summer the white stripes are broader in order to reflect heat and light.

Compare the legs on these zebras (especially the front one) to the previous photo taken in June . . . .

That is one of my best zebra pics from Pamuzinda!

So what happens if the zebras all eat too much wood ash? Well it is actually quite serious, because they develop a peculiar wooden gait, and stand stock-still, staring into space with vacant eyes . . . .

OK - so maybe I stretched the truth here - did you catch me out? This is a wooden zebra - and there is no such thing as 'zebra carbonization' either! Hope you didn't believe that as well? Zebras eating wood ash to get whiter? Ha ha ha ha!

As I state at the top of the blog - content is 'almost all true'. Today's fun-fibs were actually especially for Sue - who told her friends that 'most' of what I write is true.

However all the other statements and facts in the blog are true. I have genuinely left Pamuzinda, and am seeking alternate employment, so please 'share' this blog on Facebook for me. Maybe someone out there has something for me?

Have a great day!

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