It’s raining, it’s pouring, but the Wildlife isn’t snoring! No, indeed, it’s making the most of this period of regeneration with a massive birthing session. In fact three of our Plains Game Species seem to be surpassing themselves. The first past the post, and possibly the most prolific, were the Impala. I photographed the first one of the season some two weeks ago and now they seem to be everywhere. In fact I photographed a creche of youngsters on our airstrip yesterday with seven in it and only one adult female on guard duty. Having said that the mothers are never far away, and quick to respond to any perceived threat.
Second to produce were our Wildebeest. As I write, 13.12.2018, only four are on view but I expect a deluge over the next few days judging by the behaviour of the expectant females. It would be difficult not to claim that Wildebeest are somewhat ungainly, if only in appearance, but there is some redeeming factor with baby anythings that immediately appeals to our “Ahh” feelings, even if we profess not to have them. And so it is with the Wildebeest. When first born they are a pastel brown in colour but over the coming days rapidly become darker. It will be some months, however, before they begin to truly replicate the appearance of their parents. To watch the recently born young ones playing together, whilst their indulgent Mums look on, cannot but impel you to reach for a camera to try to capture the magic of the moment.
Whether you do or not is, of course, a different story. Some things are hard to capture as an image. You cannot record the ambiance of a moment, the smells, the noises, the wind or its absence, your general feelings at the moment of pressing the shutter. What you can do though, with your image, is create an everlasting memory jog that, to you at least, transports you back to that special moment every time you open the image. This is why, when showing your prize images to friends who were not there at the time, the response is often far more muted than you hoped for. Never mind they’re your images and for you they captured the moment which is one of the more rewarding aspects of Wildlife photography.
The Zebra appear to not want to be left out and I have just seen, and have yet to photograph, a new born Zebra that can have only been a matter of a few days old. Mums often hide their offspring in the bush until they are sound in wind and limb, although a baby Zebra can be running within an hour of its birth. Plains Zebra, which is the species we have here, have a gestation period of 12 to 13 months and the young are often not fully weaned until nearly 12 months old. This part of the life cycle means that a mare cannot breed every year and, in fact, they do so approximately every second year. Both mating season and birthing are spread, to a certain extent, throughout the rainy season, so it is possible to see newly born young at any time during a 4 to 5 month period.
The Wildebeest and Impalas, by contrast, all produce within days of each other. Newborn Zebras, contrary to what one would expect, are actually quite “fluffy”. The mental image of an adult is of a sleek, smooth haired animal with black and white stripes. Apart from being fluffy the youngsters, by contrast, are tri-coloured, having often quite distinct brown stripes running through the white. There are many theories as to the reasons for a Zebra’s colour pattern but, without going into those, certainly one of the effects of the brown in the youngsters’ coat is that the heat, of what sun there is during the rains, is not wasted by the reflection that would have occurred had the non-black areas been pristine white.
In fact many adult Zebras develop brownish tinges, or even stripes, for the same reason during the colder winter season. Conversely during high summer when they are exposed to the full force of the sun’s rays they revert to pure black and white so that the reflective nature of their white stripes is maximised.