Africa's animal kingdom Matira Magazin

By the way

No question about it: A group of elephants with flapping ears and deep rumble coming toward us is a moving experience. We could also spend hours just watching a cheetah mother with her young. Naturally everyone seeks such impressions while on game drives in the Maasai Mara, but these show only a small segment of the plentitude of life in the savannah. The real action takes place among the innumerable tiny inhabitants of the grasslands; they are, when we recognize them at all, only noticed along the way.

By the way

Reinhard Radkes column on African wildlife

For ecologists it is banality: Big events occur in miniature. The smaller the observed dimension is, so much faster the number of species involved climbs and even more so, the numbers of individuals. Without the quadrillions of decomposers – bacteria, fungi, microbes and tiny articulates – there would not be a fertile soil structure and thus no grass. And the, hardly countable, insects have an ecological impact far greater than that of the large animals.

Soldiers and workers of a macrotermes species, from a mount close to Lake Baringo. In the Serengeti ecosystem, termites consume more plant matter than all hooved animals together.

For example, termites in the Serengeti eco system eat more grass than all hoofed animals together, spiders and ants utilize more meat than lions and hyenas combined.
But don’t worry; no one will be encouraged here to dig for nematodes through the top soil or to slither after the creepy crawlies with a macro lens (although that can we very rewarding, indeed!).


Solifuges, also called camel spiders or sun spiders are nocturnal and rarely seen. This one I found at the Serena Lodge in the Mara triangle. Articulates like spiders and ants eat more meat than all Serengeti lions and hyaenas combined.
A praying mantis caught a grasshopper. In the grasslands a miniature predator-prey-war rages, as savage as between lions and grazers. The smaller the scale, the more numerous the players.

But photographers and filmmakers should rather find it quite worthwhile to keep an eye on the colorful swarms of birds that one meets at every step and turn in the savannah.
There are more than 450 species of birds in the Maasai Mara. They provide not only attractive motives, but often display a fascinating behavior as well. And we are not even talking about spectacular birds of prey here!

A flycatcher making a catch – the next step up the food-chain.

Here is a small selection of inconspicuous species that upon closer notice can make every game drive into an impressive experience or a photographic challenge. Really too bad, to just let them stand there “by the wayside”.

Wattled plovers standing small beside some zebras. Many birds are hardly noticed by visitors to African parks, though their lives are not less exciting…


A crowned plover providing shade for her chick in the midday sun. Crowned plover are precocial, the chicks leave the shallow nest immediately after hatching and follow the parents. The older birds pick the first food morsels for them; but after a few hours, the chicks can collect small insects by themselves.
Kiebitz und Ferkel
A crowned plover defending its nest from a warthog piglet. The plover have inconspicuous nests in open grassland that they energetically and loudly defend against all troublemakers.


A grey-backed fiscal attempting to prey upon a small snake. The tiny, pencil-thin snake has coiled itself tightly together to protect its head. The shrike was not able to grasp it and finally gave up after several minutes.
A ground hornbill has caught a snake. The reptile is killed with fierce blows and then swallowed at whole. Hornbills are very effective hunters, their prey ranges from spiders and grasshoppers to snakes and tortoises. Even palm-sized species can be chiseled open with their massive beak!

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