The savannas of East Africa are famous as the home of big animals like lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos, and huge herds of wildebeest.
It is no surprise then that these savannas are the home to big spiders. The King Baboon Spider (Pelinobius muticus) lives in burrows in the grasslands of Kenya and Tanzania. It is a species of tarantula.
Tarantulas are the kings of the spider world. They are the largest known spiders that have ever lived. The largest spider in the world is the goliath bird-eating tarantula of South America. When its legs are spread out it can be one foot across, roughly the size of a young puppy.
King Baboon Spiders are not quite as big as their cousins in South America, but they can have a leg-span of 8 inches (20 cm). This makes them possibly the largest spider in Africa.
The King Baboon Spider spends most of its time in its burrow dug into the savanna. If you were a locust, worm, cricket, or mouse wandering by the burrow of this spider king though, LOOK OUT!
This spider is known for its aggressive behavior. It rears up on its hind legs, grabs its prey with its front legs and sinks its large fangs into its prey. It repeatedly jerks its head up and down into its prey, stabbing it with its fangs and injecting venom. The venom immobilizes the prey and liquefies its internal organs, making it easier for the King Baboon Spider to slurp up its meal.
King Baboon Spiders need to worry about not becoming meals themselves. They are called baboon spiders because baboons like to eat them, as do many other birds, reptiles, and mammals of the savanna. The King Baboon Spider will aggressively defend itself by hissing and rearing up and waving its arms in a threat display. These spiders hiss by rubbing their first and second pairs of legs together. This behavior is called stridulation and produces a hissing noise the same way a bow rubbing across a violin string does.
One last fact about the Spider King of Africa: the largest King Baboon Spiders are actually queens. Female tarantulas are larger than male tarantulas.
Story by David Brown.
Wild Nature Institute teaches ecological and social lessons in Tanzanian schools with our Juma the Giraffe storybook. We focus on schools in communities adjacent to Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks, where we have been studying giraffes for 7 years. The goal is to inspire the next generation of Tanzanian giraffe conservationists.
Elephants strip off pieces of it for lunch, popping it into their mouths like giant potato chips. The hornbill makes its house inside of it, turning it into a cozy living room. Humans use the fiber from is bark as a material for making ropes, baskets, and many other items.
Welcome to the baobab tree, Africa's "green giant."
Baobabs are some of the oldest and largest trees on Earth. There are nine species of them – six in mainland Africa, two in Madagascar, and one in Australia.
The most famous baobab species is called Adansonia digitata. It is the baobab tree that grows across the savannas of Africa. It is named after a French botanist Michel Adanson, the first scientist to describe it.
This baobab can grow to be more than 25 meters (80 feet tall) and live at least 1500 years.
The growth form of the baobab (the way the tree grows) is called a pachycaul. A pachycaul is a tall tree with a thick trunk and relatively few branches. The baobab grows thicker as it gets older, and a mature baobab can be as much as 10-14 meters (30-45 feet) in diameter.
The baobab is deciduous, meaning that it loses its leaves for some of the year. The baobab is actually leafless for as much as 9 months a year, during the dry season. The branches of the baobab cluster at the top of the tree and look like roots when they are in their leafless state. This gives the baobab the nickname “the upside-down tree”.
From October to December the baobab produces large white flowers. These flowers attract fruit bats, which sip up the nectar the flowers produce and get pollen stuck to them. When a pollen-covered bat flies to the next baobab flower for its nectar snack, it pollinates that flower.
When the flower is pollinated it develops a large fruit around the seeds. The fruit drops to the ground where it becomes a menu item for elephants, black rhinos, and antelope like elands. When the baobab seeds are eaten they pass through the digestive system of their eaters. In the time it takes to be pooped out, the animal has moved some distance away from the parent baobab of the seeds.
The seed eater helps the seed become a new plant by giving it a home away from other trees where it hopefully won’t have to compete for water, sunlight, and growing space from other trees. If the seed successfully germinates and becomes established, then after a few centuries it may become a grand baobab like its parents.
Baobabs are very important parts of their savanna neighborhoods. They provide homes and food for many species of animals. The interior of the baobab stores water, a very valuable commodity in hot and dry savanna ecosystems. Elephants strip the bark off of the baobabs and eat it for its moisture. The baobab can usually regrow the bark, but the gashes of the elephants can leave scars.
Humans have a very long history with baobabs. Sometimes the massive trunks of a thousand-year-old baobab tree has a large hollow in it. Humans have used these hollows for livestock corrals, shelter from the sun, and sometimes even permanent homes. Many other animals use these hollows to nest and live in also.
Scientists study the largest and oldest baobabs across Africa. They have found that many of the largest baobabs appear to be dying off in the early years of the 21st century. Nobody is sure why this baobab die-off is happening. Could it be global warming causing increasing droughts, pushing the oldest and largest baobabs beyond what they can tolerate? The baobab scientists across Africa are trying to figure this out so that these essential ‘green giants’ of the African savanna ecosystems can survive the 21st century and beyond.
Story by David Brown. Photos by Wild Nature Institute.
Giraffes and elephants are known and loved by people all over the world; both by people who live in the same countries as these animals, and people who know them from zoos, story books, toys, and films.
Surely the universal love for these species will help protect their populations in the wild because people want to protect them?
A recent study by French scientist Franck Courchamp and colleagues suggests this may not be the case. Courchamp and his colleagues determined the ten most charismatic species of animals to people using several types of information including surveys of school children and frequency or appearance on zoo websites. They determined that the ten most charismatic animals are the tiger, the lion, the elephant, the giraffe, the leopard, the panda, the cheetah, the polar bear, the gray wolf, and the gorilla.
All of these species have experienced severe population declines over the last century and are critically imperiled in the wild. Courchamp et al. performed surveys and polls about the public’s awareness of whether these charismatic animals are endangered. From this data they determined that the public is largely not aware that these well-known and loved animals are endangered and in need of urgent conservation.
Celebrating Africa’s Giants exists to help develop this public awareness and conservation engagement for giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and their fellow savanna inhabitants and their ecosystems. Our goal is to help these species remain popular in films and books and in the wild for the 21st century and beyond.
Story by David Brown. Photos by Wild Nature Institute.
The Society of Illustrators is the premiere showcase for illustrators, featuring 400 pieces of the most outstanding works created throughout each year. Open to artists worldwide, thousands of entries are considered by a jury of professionals, which include renowned illustrators, art directors and designers. This year, on the Society of Illustrators' 60th anniversary of publication, Wild Nature Institute is proud to announce that an image by Kayla Harren from our new children's book, Our Elephant Neighbours, was accepted in the annual exhibit! The book was produced in collaboration with our partners at PAMS Foundation here in Tanzania.
Congratulations once again to the extremely talented and deserving Kayla Harren. We are so lucky to have Kayla bringing to life the stories of Africa's giants - giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceroses - for children in Tanzania and around the world through her captivating images. The illustrator-author team of Kayla Harren and Monica Bond together have created Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbours, and the in-progress Helping Brother Rhinoceros, all of which are used in educational programs designed to teach themes of individuality, empathy, and teamwork while inspiring children to love and care for Africa's precious wildlife.
An elephant herd leisurely grazes through a savanna in central Kenya. A small elephant calf playfully chases his older sister through the brush while their mother, the matriarch (leader) of the herd, strips bark from a large acacia tree with her tusks and grabs leaves with her trunk. As the matriarch approaches the next tree buffet she suddenly halts. She starts shaking her head and throwing dust over her shoulder, signs of great agitation. She sounds an alarm call and the entire herd of a dozen elephants runs shrieking away from the trees.
There are no lions or other predators around, and there are no people – these are the things that usually agitate elephants and make them run away.
What could be threatening the elephants and make them go screaming away from the trees?
Dr. Lucy King has studied that question. It turns out that it was something small that scares elephants when they get close to certain trees.
A mouse? No, it is only a myth that elephants are scared of mice.
Elephants are scared of bees.
African honeybees are very aggressive. They form swarms of thousands of bees that attack any animal that gets too close to their hives. They sting their victim as a single unit, delivering thousands of stings within seconds.
These attacks can kill people, but are they enough to kill or harm an elephant? “Yes,” says Dr. King. “It seems that over the millennia elephants have learned to avoid trees with beehives. We think this must have come from elephants trying to forage in Acacia trees, accidentally knocking open a wild beehive and as a consequence being stung in the face, around the eyes and up the trunk.”
Dr. King collected data to show that elephants are afraid of bees. “We have collected a lot of anecdotal stories about this from herdsmen, farmers and rangers who have witnessed elephants being stung by wild bees. They run away as quickly as possible!” she explains. “I recorded the sound of very disturbed angry bees and played it back to families of elephants resting under trees using a hidden wireless speaker system to see how they might react should a wild hive be disturbed nearby. They ran away just like the anecdotes suggested. I've witnessed one family running from real beehives and it’s true - they just get out of there as fast as possible.”
Written by David Brown.
We spent a wonderful two days with Mike Chedester, Director of Education for the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Palm Desert, California. The Living Desert is generously supporting Wild Nature Institute's "Celebrating Africa's Giants" environmental education program to conserve Africa's mega-herbivores giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceroses.
Mike visited 4 primary schools and 2 secondary schools in the Tarangire-Manyara region where we have been implementing giraffe-themed educational programs. The teachers and students were warm and welcoming and we all had a wonderful time.
The Living Desert is not only financially supporting our giraffe education program in Tanzania, but they are implementing the program at the zoo and in schools in Palm Desert, including using our children's book Juma the Giraffe to teach about giraffe physiology, ecology, and conservation. This creates a bridge between Tanzanian and American children as they simultaneously explore the unique beauty of this magnificent mega-herbivore. On October 1, the Living Desert is launching their 'Year of the Giraffe' with fun and games and lots of cool information about giraffes. Giraffe scientist and Wild Nature Institute's California program director David Brown will be speaking at the kick-off event as part of the Desert Conservation Speaker Series.
An illustration from Juma the Giraffe was accepted into the 2017 Communication Arts Illustration Annual and won an award of excellence. Communication Arts is a professional journal for designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, agencies, illustrators, photographers, and others involved in visual communications. For over 58 years, CA showcases the current best in design, advertising, photography, illustration, and typography.
Of the 3,995 entries to the 58th Illustration Annual, only 178 were accepted, representing the work of 159 artists, making the Illustration Annual the most exclusive major illustration competition in the world. Big congratulations to Kayla Harren, the extremely talented illustrator of Juma the Giraffe! See more of her images at www.kaylaharren.com.
We are excited to report that the distribution of our giraffe-themed environmental education materials in Tanzania has been a resounding success. This month's distribution is a follow-up to the teacher’s workshop we hosted last October, where teachers received advance copies of our giraffe storybooks, activity books, and posters, and learned about lesson plans and activities to accompany the books and posters.
Thanks to Wild Nature Institute’s educational consultant, award-winning science teacher Lise Levy, and a terrific community organizer from our partner organization Masai Advancement Association (MAA), over the past month we have delivered a Swahili version of our Juma the Giraffe storybook and Juma poster, another poster about the amazing physiology of giraffes, and an activity book Twiga Na Rafiki Zake (Giraffe and Friends) to more than 4,600 children in 14 schools surrounding Tarangire and Lake Manyara national parks! We will be monitoring how the books and lesson plans are being used, and making more visits to the schools to help implement the fun learning activities.
The goals of our giraffe-themed environmental education project are:
Welcome to Celebrating Africa's Giants: Environmental Education for Conservation of Giraffes, Elephants, and Rhinoceros.
Giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros are Africa’s giants, majestically roaming across savanna landscapes and awing safari-goers and zoo visitors around the world. These largest of land mammals play critical ecological roles where they live, but they are endangered due to conflicts with humans.
We are a team of conservation scientists, educators, illustrators, and designers who develop and distribute innovative, culturally relevant Environmental Education materials.
Our children's books, posters, activities, and lesson plans are for children, their parents and educators in Tanzania, America, and around the world.