Tag Archives | nature

Out of Africa…but first a few words about poop

I think Baronness Von Blixen had the right idea: I wants me a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills, or, even better, a little shack at the Oloololo Gate, at the northwest corner of Masai Mara, which is without doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. On our last day there, driving to the airstrip in our open jeep, I watched a lioness saunter down the road towards me. With a switch of her tail, she strolled past me to join her cubs, who were playing under an acacia tree on the other side of the road.

Right now you’re bracing yourselves for pictures of Big Cats, sunsets, maybe an adorable monkey.  That’s all coming, I promise, but this post is about something else. This post is about ecological balance, the circle of life, the perfect synergy of nature.

In other words, this post is about poop, which, in its own way, is as perfect as the lioness I saw on my last day.  As one of the naturalists who took us on a “walking safari” said, poop isn’t just shit.

Take this, for example:

Yep, that’s elephant poop.  And a rather small offering, compared to some other piles we saw.  Elephant poop, it seems, is filled with lots of undigested material, including seeds and even small seedlings, which eventually (if not eaten by some other creature) will sprout, fertilized by the poop.  Fresh elephant poo is sometimes eaten by baby elephants, because the poo contains all kinds of bacterias and enzymes that the baby elephants need to line their own digestive tracts (think: live culture yogurt). And then of course, sometimes dried dung can be burned for fuel; and it can also be compacted into balls, wrapped in old plastic bags, and voila, a soccer ball for village kids.

Here’s a different kind of poop:

 It sort of looks like a big blob of toothpaste, doesn’t it? Nope. It’s hyena poop and it’s white because hyenas eat bones. They’re part of “the cleanup crew:” vultures, buzzards, hyenas, and jackals. Nice bunch, eh? Hyenas eat flesh, but they also eat bones, so their poop is almost pure calcium.  And then these little beetles need the calcium, so they come along and eat the poop. It’s a win-win poop-based relationship.

But the piece-de-resistance of poop has to be this sample:

 What’s that, you ask? Isn’t it just more elephant poop?

Oh no, my friends, not at all. That is hippo poop. While the hippo is doing his business, he spins his tail around and spreads the poop as widely as he can, on bushes, trees, shrubs, rocks. (Note to self: never to stand behind a hippo, for fear of being be-pooped.)  Their poop works on the trail-of-breadcrumbs method: Hippos spend the day in the river staying cool and then at night, they lumber up to the grasslands to graze. But because hippos are so territorial (each family group has its own section of river), if a hippo should inadvertently splash into the wrong part of the river, he would face the wrath of other hippos.  The path of poop ensures that each hippo family finds its way back to the right part of the river.  You can see the hippo paths–surprisingly narrow for such wide creatures–leading away from the river up to the grasslands, and bespeckled all along with the hippo version of road signs.

See? Poop isn’t just shit. Without poop? There’d be nothing, not even this:

Does anyone know how I get a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills?

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on July 24, 2012 in environment, Travel

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