Every now and then Mother Nature unexpectedly allows you a private viewing.
“Vital lives are about action. You can’t feel warmth unless you create it, can’t feel delight until you play, can’t know serendipity unless you risk.”
~ Joan Erickson
We were travelling up river to Puku Flats and on the way we decided to stop at Elephant Valley upstream on the Chobe river from the Chobe Game Lodge. There are times, especially in the morning, when you get there and all is quiet. Other than a Fish Eagle perched in a large Jackalberry tree ever alert surveying the scene, all is still. There is not even a Red-billed Francolin or White Crowned Lapwing down at the water’s edge or a baboon lurking on the white sand banks.
Then there are other times which are unusual and special.
This time from a distance, we saw something special. It was no big dramatic event unfolding but we were privileged to see a small herd of young Sable which had come down to the river to drink. The whole experience took about five minutes and will be remembered for a life time. We were the only ones that saw it – a rare private viewing.
“in African mythology, the Sable symbolises vivacity, velocity, beauty and visual sharpness”.
“Veronica, I know these antelope have a special meaning for you so I hope you enjoy this post”.
I have made a special effort to get into the bush as often as I can but have rarely seen Sable. This is because they are mainly found in the northern part of South Africa and Botswana, in Zimbabwe and Zambia and in a very special part of Angola. I have on rare occasions seen a lone Sable bull drinking down at the Chobe river but usually from a distance. This time we saw a small herd of young Sable, reasonably close. These youngsters did not go straight down to the river’s edge to drink but rather to a small pool a couple of metres away from the water’s edge – the reason crocodiles.
I saw my first Sable in Rhodesia in the 1960s and it made such an impression on my young mind. I was struck by its majesty, an impression which has stayed with me all these years. Long before we had cameras, our favourite sketchings were of Sable and Paradise Wydahs.
“Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked.”
― Elizabeth Berg, The Year of Pleasures
Back in the 60s, one afternoon shamwari Mike Condy’s dad John Condy told us a story, with a cup of tea in hand on their front lawn under their huge Jacaranda trees in front of their family home, about a Sable bull which he found dead with a Lioness, also dead, impaled on its horns. The bulls are big powerful animals, capable of deadly defence with those scimitar-shaped horns.
The young Sable are a dark brown and adult Sable turn jet black after about three years. The adult bull with fully curved horns and a strong jet black appearance is an impressive sight.
The young Sable were very weary when drinking from the river.
They slaked their thirst with long deep draws of water.
Having sated their thirst, it was time to walk back out of Elephant Valley, but there are trees and bushes either side of the valley which make it a great ambush corridor. These two youngsters were having a good look around before walking back out of the valley.
The curvature of the Sable’s horns give an indication of its maturity.
Very young Sable are greyish-brown with minimal distinguishing markings. As they mature their coat becomes a rich reddish-brown, with the belly, haunches and facial markings in greater contrast. At this time the face is largely white, with a wide black stripe running from the forehead to the muzzle, and black stripes from the eye to the muzzle. Once adult, the female’s colour changes gradually with age and status. The facial markings form a mask that contrasts with the neck, shoulders and mane as they become darker. Eventually only the rump is red. The darker colour heightens the line of the face and the front quarters, emphasising the sweep of the long horns. The colour change in the adult male is more dramatic. All parts that were previously red become black, and so contrast even more with the facial mask and light underparts. They mature gracefully!
The Roan Antelope is the closest looking antelope to the Sable. I have never seen a Roan along the Chobe river.
“The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man”.
–Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
The Sable found in southern Africa are said to pale in comparison to the majestic giant Sable, found only in Angola. It is the national symbol of Angola but is threatened with extinction because of poaching. There are estimated to be around 200 of these special antelope remaining in Angola. The coal-black males, which carry scimitar-shaped horns over five feet in length, are featured on the country’s currency and the tail-fins of its airline.
Double click on the image below for more details.
The Giant Sable is described as critically endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species – another one!!!
“Workable solutions for Earth are urgently needed. Saving seals and tigers, or fighting yet another oil pipeline through a wilderness area, while laudable, is merely shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
– Lawrence Anthony
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and then let it be.
Yet again, a great blog!!
Stunning photos and a beautiful storyline,
Thanks for sharing with us.
Best regards, Ian
Thanks Ian – much appreciated. I hope you have found your SA feet again after such wonderful shots in Alaska.