West Africa is not exactly known for its abundant animal wildlife in any form. If you want to see wild elephants and lions roaming around – then head east and south from here.

Whilst driving around Mali, the most wild animal you will see is ummm .. errr, goats?  Donkeys aplenty, cows – scrawny as they are – loads of them, sheep, chickens and goats – all have the run of the streets.  Even the guinea-fowl have been tamed!  Well, they are a strange cross-breed and look more like guinea-chicken-fowl.  Nope, in this part of West Africa all the “wild” animals have gone.  Well to be more accurate they were hunted out and eaten, a long time ago now.  Actually, I lie – I saw a squirrel the other day.  Just the one, mind you.

I love watching wild animals and driving around game parks trying to spot them hiding in the bushes.  In South Africa there are so many game farms/parks to spend hours upon hours “hunting” beasts that we are quite spoilt.  In fact, today marks “1 week to go” until we will be sitting in the Kruger Park, South Africa.  Yup, we are finally getting to escape from Mali… Hurrah!  Not just escape, but to spend a whole 9 days just watching animals.  How awesome.  That is super soothing to the soul and I can’t wait.  This will be first time in Kruger since I bought my DSLR two years ago.  You have been warned… 😉

Equally awesome will be the fact that we can make ourselves a long-awaited-for bacon & eggs for breakfast.  Eggs alone don’t always, errrr, crack it and satisfy the tummy in quite the same way!  And biltong…oooooh… chilli-bites…mmmmmm… slurp… OK, hang on… get a grip – back to business in Mali…

I’m determined to find and keep an eye out for things of interest whilst out and about in the bush.  There are a few birds around – but with the drilling being a noisy, dusty affair – they usually stay far away.  I’ve seen a range of starlings, bee-eaters, hornbills, lilac-breasted and European rollers as well as parrots (parakeets), the violet turaco and the fork-tailed drongo to name but a few.  I forgot my bird book at home and have no way of identifying all of the ones I have seen here.  Mind you, my bird book is “Southern African” (there is an online version, but it’s not nearly as comprehensive as the one in print), and there are many birds in West Africa that wouldn’t feature in it in any case.  I have slowly been making my way through a list of “The Birds of the Gambia“.  It’s the closest I can find online to where I am situated in Mali…  There’s quite a list and I still have a way to go to get through it.  This is where I must mention that flipping through a book with illustrations is far more gratifying than clicking on links and then finding out there is not even a photo/illustration to help you with your identification process. Yay for books… , that’s old-school me for you.

Zorro Birds (until properly identified)

In lieu of the fact that I can’t find many birds close enough to snap, I’ve developed a new-found interest in Praying Mantis instead.  There are not many around, in fact I have only seen four. But all four were very different to each other in shape, size and colouring.  They are the most curious creatures!  Unlike most bugs, which will try to get out of your way – these guys turn their heads and look at you as though they are sizing you up.  They don’t always stay super still for photographs though, so it does take some number of attempts to get a relatively clear photo.  I’m disappointed to find out that one of their closest relatives is the cockroach.  What I also didn’t realise is that there is approximately 2200 species of mantis!  So no – I don’t know what these 4 are either!.. The smallest of them all could be ameles spallanzania – otherwise known as the European Dwarf Mantis.  They cannot live by water.  This one has come to the right place then!

Upside-down mantis

Sit still, stop chasing flies and look at me - dammit! European Dwarf Mantis

I, sadly, have to admit to even naming a couple of them.  The large green one was Matilda, the one with the “eye” on the wings was just called “Crick”. Don’t ask me why.

Crick, skulking

"I have more than just eyes in the back of my head, you know"

An interesting choice of poses - for a mug shot

Matilda hung around for a few days.  She even played dead for one whole day.  I did wonder why the ants didn’t carry her off.. Even more sadly, I woke one morning to find remnants of Matilda – a leg here, a portion of wing there, lying on the door-step.  I suspect one of the resident geckos for Matilda’s demise.  It’s a gecko-eat-mantis kind of world we live in here at camp.. c’est la vie.

Recovering, after having played dead for a day

Worse yet, it may be that Matilda was erroneously named with a girl’s name!  After an initial attempt at identification it looks likely that Matilda is/was a sphodromantis viridis – or African Mantis (appropriate, no?) and due to having eight segmented abdomens as opposed to six, I shall have to posthumously rename him Matthew. (Again, don’t ask me why)  And if it were a male, then it may not have been a gecko after all… In the mantis world “boy meets girl, girl eats boy”… Yikes.

This is what a pre-attack mantis face looks like. This shot resulted in the death of a flip-flop.

Thankfully I can report that I haven’t seen too many spiders, or snakes.  Neither of which I will ever develop an interest in.  I’ve had my close encounter with an adder of one sort or another.  It doesn’t end well for the snake, I have to say.  I was sitting very close to the ground logging some drill core.  I was about 20cm from the wall behind me and a mere 10cm off the ground when I turned around and saw this snake – about 40cm long slithering behind my backside, between my “seat” and the wall.  I moved so fast, on instinct, I could have out-paced Usain Bolt.  Not what you are supposed to do, I know – but I have lived to tell the tale.  I think I scared the snake as much as it scared me as it promptly hid under the seat I was sitting on seconds beforehand.  In these parts, snakes are not tolerated at all and unfortunately snake met with machete-wielding guard.   Suffice to say, I didn’t get a good look at it in order to try to determine exactly what it was.

That incident was over 2 years ago, and it still gives me a shiver to think about it. Bleurgh.

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