Commentary on news, politics, sports, religion, TV and movies
Tom Tangney

Photos: Tom's trip to South Africa

South Africa is rightly proud of its animal kingdom. The rand (South African money) features big game animals on all its various banknotes - the rhinoceros, the elephant, the lion, the buffalo, and the leopard. The Big Five, as they're called by big-game hunters, are the focus of most every African safari.

But the two weeks I spent in South Africa this spring happened to fall outside of the safari season, so I have no sightings to report of any of the Big Five. But what I missed out on in scale, I more than made up for in animal novelty. I'm talking about dozens of meerkats on the prairie, penguins on the beach, and baboons on the highways - all living in the wild but all also close enough for me to touch ... if I dared, which I wisely didn't.

In addition to these encounters with my own personal Big Three (baboon, meerkat, and penguin), I was lucky enough to also spot turtles the size of manhole covers lumbering through the brush, mountain-goat type creatures high in the Swartberg Pass, hundreds of ostriches being raised on farms, and countless unusual birds flitting everywhere. Without even trying, I got a great sense of just how exotic and plentiful the animal world of South Africa is, even without the big game animals.

Here's a representative sampling of photos of my Big Three - the meerkat, the baboon, and the penguin.

MEERKATS

We had to get up at 4 in the morning in order to meet our guide in time for a pre-dawn hike into desert prairie land near the town of Oudtshoorn. An extended family of meerkats, about 20 strong, including a trio of newborns, live together in a series of underground burrows. We had to be there before the sun rose to watch the meerkats' morning ritual.

First, a single meerkat pops his head out, to check for the first sign of sun.

meerkat1

A little later, a few more meerkats brave the chilly exposure but they soon all huddle around each other to stay warm.

meerkat2

We humans are bundled up too.

meerkat3

Gradually, more and more meerkats stand on their hind legs to await the sun.

DSCF0082

Then BLAM, the sun hits them all with full force. They stand at attention, the better to soak up the warm rays.


DSCF0086

Like father, like son? All meerkats must learn to stand on their hind legs in order to better survey their surroundings for predators. They have binocular-like vision but they need to literally extend themselves to see over the brush.

DSCF0096

While most of the adults spend the day foraging for food, some must stay behind to babysit the youngsters.

DSCF0111

DSCF0108

BABOONS

We'd only been in South Africa a couple of hours when we drove by a highway sign: Beware of Baboons. We had a good laugh and continued on our merry way, at about 70 miles an hour. Then as we drove around a blind corner in the mountains, we suddenly had to swerve and brake. A dozen baboons had appeared out of nowhere - some were sitting on top of the guard rail screeching, others were scampering back and forth on the roadway, and still others perched on rocks jutting out of the side of the mountain, peering down at us quizzically. We were so caught of guard by this, none of us thought of taking a picture. But the next time this happened, about a week later on a completely different stretch of road, we were ready.

DSCF0213-1

DSCF0211

DSCF0214

DSCF0216

PENGUINS

You can't help but realize just how far south SOUTH Africa really is when you come across a full blown colony of penguins. These jackass penguins, yes, that's their name, live on a stretch of the Cape (of Good Hope) Peninsula called Boulders Beach. They number about 3000 and can wander freely about this now protected natural environment.

DSCF0203

DSCF0205

DSCF0195

DSCF0191

DSCF0192

DSCF0202




ATTENTION COMMENTERS: We've changed our comments, but want to keep you in the conversation.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus
Tom on KIRO Radio
Join Tom Tangney and the rest of the radio crew every day KIRO Radio.

About Tom Tangney
By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

In the community
Do you know a student who stands out in the classroom, school and community?
Help make their dreams come true by nominating them for a $1,000 scholarship and a chance to earn a $10,000 Grand Prize. Brought to you by KIRO Radio and Comprehensive Wealth Management.

Do you know an exceptional citizen who has impacted and inspired others?
KIRO Radio and WSECU would like to recognize six oustanding citizens this year. Nominate them to be recognized and to receive a $2,000 charitable grant.